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Road ban poses local impacts

Jeremy Heiman

A proposal to ban construction of roads on National Forest lands which are now roadless will apply to a number of tracts of land in the Aspen area.

The U.S. Forest Service announced its Roadless Area Conservation Proposal in December, and a draft environmental impact statement on the proposal was released May 9. A public comment period on the proposal will end July 17.

At 19,900 acres, the Sloan Peak area, immediately south of Ruedi Reservoir, is one of the largest local areas that would qualify, said Sloan Shoemaker, conservation director for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop.

Hay Park, between Dinkle Lake and Capitol Creek, is an 11,000-acre tract which would also qualify.

Other areas include the 8,500-acre North Woody, recommended for wilderness designation in the draft forest management plan for the White River National Forest, and more than 20,000 acres on Basalt Mountain.

The announcement of the proposal in December followed a moratorium on road building on National Forest lands which began 18 months ago. The proposed ban on construction of additional roads into roadless areas was launched because it had become clear the remaining undisturbed land was limited, explained Sue Froeschle, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest.

“I think the key thing is there’s an increasing scarcity of tracts that are completely roadless,” Froeschle said. Being lost was the opportunity for scientific study of intact ecosystems. These losses have concerned forest officials for some time, she said.

“This is an issue we’ve been dealing with for 25 years or more,” Froeschle said. “The people in Washington are stepping up to the plate, finally,” she said.

Locally, White River National Forest officials will host a public information meeting on the roadless initiative on June 5 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the 1st Choice Inns in Glenwood Springs.

Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck is behind the proposal, which calls for an end to road construction on nearly one-fourth of the 192 million acres of National Forest land in the United States.

It’s important to remember, Froeschle added, that keeping roadless areas roadless will not change present uses of that land.

“Areas that are now open to snowmobiles will remain open,” she said. The proposal will affect timber cutting, she said, to the extent that road construction is required to remove trees.

To qualify for protection under the Roadless Area Conservation Proposal, Froeschle said, an area must exceed 5,000 acres. White River National Forest staff members inventoried its roadless areas as one of the studies necessary for the creation of a new forest management plan, a process that is still ongoing.

“We had a huge effort that ended in September,” she said. “We feel like ours is a very current inventory.”

But members of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop see it differently.

“There’s a huge discrepancy between what the Forest Service says is roadless and what we say is roadless,” said Beverly Compton, the group’s executive director.

The workshop is currently conducting its own inventory of roadless areas in the White River, using a computer mapping and data base program known as GIS to analyze forest land. The Forest Service says the White River has 650,000 acres that qualify as roadless, while the workshop believes the figure is more like one million acres, Compton said.

Froeschle admitted that White River officials may have missed some areas which should have qualified as roadless. She said Wilderness Workshop volunteers may have more first-hand knowledge of some areas of the forest.

“We certainly want to work with them,” Froeschle said. “It’s very valuable to us to have their input.”

Shoemaker said the Wilderness Workshop is doing its own inventory of roadless lands this summer, because members feel the way the Forest Service has done its inventory is too restrictive.

Randy Parsons, president of the White River Forest Alliance, a Roaring Fork Valley group which advocates for motorized forms of recreation, said he thinks the roadless proposal has a political smell to it.

“My personal feeling is they’re creating de facto wilderness without going through Congress,” Parsons said. Noting that it’s only a few months before the presidential election, he said the Clinton administration is “trying to get this stuff locked up before they go out of office.”


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