McInnis plan for forest made public |

McInnis plan for forest made public

Heather McGregor

For the first time in a five-month, behind-the-scenes process, U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis has begun unveiling the specifics of his proposed “Blended Plan” for the White River National Forest.McInnis unveiled county-by-county details for Eagle and Summit counties on Tuesday, and for Garfield County on Wednesday.He also released proposed language for instream flow water rights, which was endorsed Wednesday by the Colorado River Water Conservation District board.McInnis plans to release the specifics of his plan within Pitkin County today and Rio Blanco County numbers next week, said press secretary Josh Penry.The deadline for public comment on the White River National Forest Plan, which will govern forest use for the next 15 years, is May 9.Environmentalists, meanwhile, complained about McInnis’ secretly developed plan and “the high-handed backroom wheeling and dealing he’s doing to promote it.”Aspen Wilderness Workshop director Sloan Shoemaker said he was refused a copy of the proposal because it’s still in draft form.”Yet McInnis is happy to parade it around to sympathetic state legislators and county commissioners, who are equally happy to write him a blank check of support for a plan that is incomplete, constantly changing and lacking such necessary elements as maps,” Shoemaker said.McInnis’ Blended Plan, previously called the Common Sense Alternative and Modified Alternative C, is the result of input from motorized forest users, ski areas, county commissioners and town councils in the region.”We’ve deferred to the judgment of locals,” Penry said.The Garfield County commissioners met Feb. 24 with McInnis staffers to discuss forest-plan issues, but did not take public comment.McInnis’ management summary for Garfield County, released Wednesday, deals with wilderness, wild rivers, a scenic byway, wildlife habitat and ski area expansions. It’s a chart that compares the Blended Plan to the existing forest plan and the Forest Service’s preferred Alternative D.It does not offer figures for timber cuts, road closures or snowmobile routes and play areas.Point by point, here is the Blended Plan proposal:-No new wilderness. Alternative D calls for a 17,577-acre addition to the Flat Tops Wilderness called Sweetwater. But the area wasn’t included in the Blended Plan on the recommendation of the Garfield County commissioners. Penry said the area “did not have a high ranking for wilderness values.”-One 1,135-acre area on Deadhorse Creek to be a special interest area with limited use. Deadhorse Creek is the creek that fills and drains Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon.The Forest Service recommended 11,400 acres of special interest limited use for Deadhorse, along with 4,550 acres on Mitchell Creek and 6,290 acres of Main Elk Creek.-A 7,296-acre wild river recommendation for Deep Creek. This proposal is far bigger than the 2,500 acres in Alternative D, and would protect the rugged, scenic canyon in eastern Garfield County.-Proposes calling the New Castle-to-Buford road the “Flat Tops Trail,” and creating a 749-acre corridor along the road as a scenic byway.”This gives the road an increased prestige,” Penry said. “It’s so people can experience the forest from the scenic byway without actually going in and causing damage to the forest.”-Maintains the 5,282-acre permit area for Sunlight Mountain Resort, and reserves 2,000 acres for the Rifle Ski Area, which remains undeveloped.Penry said the Rifle City Council and the Garfield County commissioners asked for the Rifle Ski Area to “stay on the table.” If promoters actually wanted to develop the project, which lies south of Rulison, they would still have to go through a full-blown environmental review process.-Sets aside 23,411 acres for deer and elk winter range. This is an increase from the 14,722 acres in the existing plan and 16,430 acres in Alternative D.Penry said the increased acreage comes at the expense of “some popular snowmobile areas,” though he did not know where. He said snowmobile groups have agreed to close off the areas to give big game more winter habitat.”They knew they were going to have to give up some ground, and this is a prime example,” he said.-Sets aside another 40,000 acres for elk habitat. The existing plan includes 16,000 acres, and Alternative D recommends 71,787 acres. Penry said McInnis sought instead to focus on winter range for the season when elk “are in the most jeopardy.”-No bighorn sheep habitat. Alternative D recommends 15,294 acres.Penry said bighorn sheep habitat is recommended in other counties, based on comments from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.-The new instream flow water language simply states: “The White River National Forest will work with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to provide instream flows wherever such flows are determined to be beneficial and consistent with the purposes of the forest.”McInnis asked the Forest Service to delete any language implying that established water rights could be taken from any public or private owner.The instream flow language is not part of any specific alternative. It is part of the forest-wide goals and objectives that will help guide Forest Service actions and decisions.Staffers for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, a 15-county Western Slope water agency, shaped the language, and the River District’s board endorsed the language during its meeting Wednesday.”McInnis’ water language requires the Forest Service to abide by the same rules as all other water users in the state,” said River District spokesman Chris Treese.”In contrast, the Forest Service’s proposed management plan would compel water diversion special-use permit holders to forfeit historical water rights when permits are issued or up for renewal,” he said.

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