Plan D gets local support
Local governing bodies see mostly good, and a little bad, in the proposed revision for the White River National Forest Plan.
Pitkin County commissioners and the Aspen City Council heard from several staff members and representatives of interest groups Tuesday as part of an information-gathering effort. Another such meeting is scheduled for late January.
Members of both boards expressed support Tuesday for some of the contents of Alternative D, the preferred alternative prepared by White River National Forest officials. County commission Chairwoman Leslie Lamont urged consultant Robert Shultz, retained by the governments for guidance on the issue, to make it clear that local officials are behind the planning process for the forest.
“I want to emphasize that we support the process,” Lamont said. “There’s a lot of people saying we should go back to the drawing board, but I think the process is working.”
But some parts of the proposed plan are also of particular concern to the boards.
The plan fails to address the possibility of an aerial transportation corridor between Buttermilk Mountain and the Snowmass ski area, Shultz noted.
Also, the amount of new wilderness recommended by Alternative D is less locally than many people would like to see. Shultz said some of the elected officials would prefer to see wilderness recommendations more in line with Alternative I – a plan developed and submitted by the Aspen Wilderness Workshop and included in the final six alternatives. Wilderness can be recommended in a National Forest management plan, but it must be designated by Congress.
A third issue the officials said they want the Forest Service to do more work on is the designation of an area near Warren Lakes, on Smuggler Mountain, as “carnivore habitat.” The plan’s prescribed management technique for carnivore habitat is to allow it to be logged, to create intermediate-aged stands of lodgepole pine 20 to 50 years down the road.
The Skico is currently preparing a policy position on the forest plan, Shultz said, but he doesn’t know to what degree it will coincide with those of the local governments.
The Skico has broken ranks with other ski areas within the forest, in that the company is not asking the Forest Service to allow further increases in its permit areas. Other ski corporations have attacked Alternative D in the press and pressured White River officials to allow more acreage for ski area expansion.
Commissioner Mick Ireland pointed out that the quest for expansion is driven by real estate development rather than any significant growth in skier demand.
Lamont said the commissioners frequently talk with officials from other ski towns. Deficits in social services, housing, transportation and other services in those communities are a frequent topic.
“I find it just laughable that the other ski areas are blasting this [forest plan] when they can’t even service their present populations,” Lamont said.
Shultz said he believes, based on his experience working as a consultant for the White River National Forest, that forest officials will listen carefully to the elected officials’ comments.
Schultz said he will submit a draft of the comments in two weeks. City and county staffers will then have an opportunity to make additions and improvements to that draft before it reaches the elected officials, he said.
On about Jan. 15, Shultz said, the elected officials will receive copies of the document, along with recommendations on what final policy should be, he said. But the document will also ask the elected officials for direction as to what other aspects of the forest plan should be addressed in the final comments.
Shultz said he and city and county staffers hope to receive that direction in a Jan. 25 work session. Ideally, the two boards will be in agreement on the policies suggested in the comment document at that time, and will pass resolutions in support for the document, Shultz said.
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