Sportsmen take aim at McInnis proposal
Four major Colorado hunting and fishing groups have attacked a White River National Forest management plan created by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and others.
The groups object to the congressman’s plan for not limiting motorized recreation in the forest, and for trying to eliminate protection for minimum stream flows on federal lands. An April 20 letter, addressed to McInnis, outlined their complaints. Copies were sent to the press.
The letter expresses disappointment that major constituencies such as angling, hunting and conservation groups were not involved in drafting McInnis’ alternative plan. Leaders of Colorado Trout Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, Federation of Fly Fishers and the Colorado Wildlife Federation signed the letter.
Diane Gansauer, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, said her group objects to the lack of any travel management provisions in McInnis’ plan. The federation is a wildlife conservation organization with 5,400 members, mostly sportsmen, Gansauer said. About 75 percent of the members are Colorado residents.
“Travel management is of particular concern to us,” Gansauer said. “There is, without exaggeration, nothing that we get more complaints about than misuse of off-road vehicles on public lands,” she said.
Gansauer said her group has sent comments to the White River National Forest administration in support of Alternative D, the preferred alternative selected by the U.S. Forest Service. She said her group is concerned that Alternative D, which she said came out of a very thorough planning process, was attacked by off-road vehicle advocacy groups.
“It was slammed as soon as it came out of the gate, for being biased toward environmental extremists. That’s nonsense,” Gansauer said.
She said her group supports Alternative D, and applauds the Forest Service’s effort to create a plan that preserves wildlife habitat for the long term.
“What our endorsement means is we support the basic values represented in that alternative,” Gansauer said. “It gives high priority to the protection of species and habitat.”
David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said his 7,000-member chapter of the national organization supports Alternative I, a plan produced by conservation groups, including the local Aspen Wilderness Workshop. But he said Alternative D is an acceptable compromise.
“We felt that D was a step in the right direction,” Nickum said.
Nickum said he was disappointed that in drafting their alternative, the McInnis group wasn’t in touch with Trout Unlimited and other sportsmen’s groups.
“It looks as if he has overlooked a big part of his constituency, especially in terms of White River National Forest users,” Nickum said. He said many Trout Unlimited members, even those who live elsewhere in the state, often fish in White River National Forest waters, staying in Western Slope lodging and contributing in various ways to the economy.
Don Gibbs, vice president in charge of membership for the Eastern Rocky Mountain Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, said his group has concerns about water issues in the White River planning process.
“One of the things that fired my rocket was our understanding is that it kind of pushes the Forest Service out of the stream-flow business and gives that whole responsibility to the state,” Gibbs said.
McInnis has condemned the Forest Service practice of “requiring bypass flows.” That practice requires that water users who take water from National Forest streams leave enough water in the stream to support fish and other aquatic life. This is done according to federal law, but bypasses Colorado law.
Gibbs said he’s concerned that McInnis’ plan is “commercially driven,” motivated by desire to please ski area operators. He said new snowmaking to accommodate ski area expansions might be a threat to fish populations, if too much water is taken from streams.
McInnis has received campaign contributions from several executives who operate ski areas on White River National Forest lands. According to a Federal Election Commission Web site, McInnis campaign coffers were boosted by gifts totaling $3,500 from six Vail Associates executives two weeks before the Forest Service’s draft forest plan was released last August.
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