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New roadless rule will affect White River National Forest

Jeremy Heiman

A rule banning the creation of new roads in national forest lands nationwide could limit future logging projects and the building of ski areas in the White River National Forest.

But it won’t greatly affect current activities on nearby national forest lands, experts say. The rule, handed down by U.S. Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck Friday, has been years in the making and will be incorporated into the White River National Forest management plan due out in August.

Sue Froeschle, a public information specialist for the White River National Forest, said the rule is officially called the “Roadless Area Conservation Final Rule.” It takes effect in 60 days.

Some large roadless areas near Aspen would be protected by the rule. They include much of Basalt Mountain, a large tract on the north side of Red Table Mountain and much of the headwaters of Thompson Creek, west of Carbondale, said Richard Compton, mapping specialist for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop.

The rule would probably cancel logging expansion plans on Basalt Mountain. But it won’t affect existing roads.

“It won’t have that much effect on what people are doing today,” Compton said.

The roadless rule allows existing ski areas to expand within the boundaries of their special-use permits and the road-building and timber-cutting necessary to construct ski runs.

“To allay the concerns of the ski industry, this doesn’t suspend or modify any existing permit,” Froeschle said. “If they wanted to exceed an existing permit, that’s another ball game.”

The rule would definitely limit new ski areas, she continued. And timber sales in roadless areas will be restricted.

“We’re not a big timber forest,” Froeschle said, “so it will have far less effect on us than states that have a bigger timber industry.” Colorado’s dry climate produces smaller trees that take much longer to grow than those in the Pacific Northwest.

However, two sales of dead timber planned for the Flat Tops area north of Glenwood Springs will be affected, Compton said. Both timber sales have been defined and packaged by Forest Service staff, but neither has been put out for bids.

The Dome Peak timber sale is entirely in a roadless area, Compton said. Though the area has been studied for a timber sale, some Forest Service officials have placed it in an inventory of roadless areas.

Part of the South Quartzite timber sale is also roadless, Compton said. When mapping roadless areas, he said, Forest Service mappers drew the roadless boundary to exclude the proposed South Quartzite timber sale, rather than strictly excluding the areas affected by roads.

“There’s a lot of roadless area they’re trying to fudge,” Compton said.

Froeschle said White River National Forest officials must study the rule in detail to determine how to incorporate it into the forest management plan, now in its final stages.

“This is the first time we’ve seen it,” Froeschle said. “We don’t know yet what all its impacts will be on the White River National Forest.”

A roadless area preservation plan has been under discussion since the passage of the Wilderness Bill in 1964. Inventories of roadless areas were created in the 1970s and 1980s.

Discussion of a roadless rule has had a lot of attention throughout the eight years of the Clinton administration. An interim roadless rule was instituted in February 1999, and public comments were taken nationwide.

The Forest Service received 119,000 comments, many of which called for permanent protection of remaining inventoried roadless areas, Froeschle said. In May 2000, the agency released a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed roadless rule.

The Forest Service’s Dombeck announced the imposition of the rule at the behest of the Clinton administration. The final rule was handed down Friday, just two weeks before President Clinton is to leave office.

Froeschle said the rule would be difficult to overturn, either by the new Bush administration or by Congress, because a similarly long and arduous public process would have to be followed.


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