McInnis unveils plan for White River National Forest |

McInnis unveils plan for White River National Forest

Robert Weller The Associated Press

DENVER – A proposed management plan for the White River National Forest is under attack by forces that oppose recreation restrictions and environmentalists who claim it doesn’t go far enough to protect threatened wildlife.

Rep. Scott McInnis, backed by the ski industry, unveiled his own plan Monday to manage the forest by permitting more ski terrain development and increased motorized access to backcountry roads.

“It is important to dispel the myth circulated by the more extreme elements in this forest debate that the White River National Forest is widely abused, misused and unprotected,” said McInnis, R-Colo.

In a separate development, representatives of the National Forest Protection Alliance and the Forest Conservation Council notified the Forest Service of their intent to sue over the plan.

They contended the plan would fail to protect the lynx, recently declared a federally threatened species.

They also recommended agency officials suspend the planning process and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the best way to protect the lynx and other wildlife.

White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle said McInnis’ objectives are similar to those of the Forest Service agency. “There will be some give and take,” she said.

In response to the threat of a lawsuit by the environmental groups, she said, “We’ve been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that our forest plan revision will meet lynx habitat requirements.”

While logging and mining have declined in the 2.3 million-acre forest, there has been a big increase in recreational use and dramatic growth in towns along its boundaries. Combined, the factors have put unprecedented pressure on the forest.

Planners began work on the management plan in 1997, saying the existing plan, written in 1984, cannot cope with the explosion of visitors.

The agency’s preferred strategy is designed to put a higher priority on physical and biological resources than on human uses. It sets limits on a number of those uses, ranging from ski terrain to motorized off-road vehicles.

The Forest Service has held dozens of hearings and received more than 12,000 comments on its proposal. The deadline for public comment is today.

Under the Forest Service plan, 4,800 acres is open for off-road group use, compared with 30,357 acres in McInnis’ plan.

The agency’s plan also proposed 43,000 acres for existing and potential ski areas, compared with 58,000 acres in McInnis’ plan.

The Forest Service also wants to set aside 47,100 additional acres as wilderness, compared with 16,022 additional acres proposed by McInnis.

Referring to the lynx, McInnis’ plan stated, “There is not a viable lynx population in the forest. It is not clear whether a significant population of lynx ever existed, and whatever ecological niche the lynx may have filled has been assumed by other predators.”

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