White River Forest faces yet another plan | AspenTimes.com

White River Forest faces yet another plan

The White River National Forest is gearing up to begin the process of assessing how to “protect” 300,000 acres of roadless lands in the forest.

In October, President Bill Clinton ordered the start of a planning process aimed at protecting all the currently roadless lands in the entire National Forest system.

It will be up to the public and the Forest Service to suggest what kind of “protection” those lands will ultimately receive.

However, unlike the local forest-plan update, the final decision on the national roadless management plan will be made in Washington, D.C., by either the head of the Agriculture Department or the chief of the Forest Service, said Lynn Kolund of the WRNF.

That final decision on protecting roadless areas could be anything from banning new roads and development, to changing management procedures, to earmarking some of the roadless lands as wilderness, or some combination of those options.

The roadless directive presents the WRNF with some good news and bad news.

The good news is that, thanks to the ongoing forest-plan update, the WRNF already has cataloged and inventoried the 300,000 acres of roadless lands in the forest, said Kolund. That 300,000-acre total does not include the existing wilderness areas in the White River, he noted.

Thus, the local agency “is in pretty good shape” when it comes to compiling the significant amount of detailed information on the roadless areas that will be the focus of Clinton’s roadless initiative, said Dan Hormaechea, forest planner.

The bad news is that the president’s plan is a completely separate process from the ongoing forest-plan update, said Kolund. The roadless initiative will require ample public comment, then a separate draft Environmental Impact Statement, more public comment and a Final EIS.

The 300,000 acres identified in the forest-plan revision were evaluated with regard to their potential to become wilderness areas, Kolund said, and Clinton’s initiative does not call for all roadless lands to be eyed as potential wilderness. The agency will have to do another round of analysis on those lands to determine a range of protective measures besides wilderness designations, he said.

Thus, Forest Service staffers will be working to wrap up the controversial forest-plan process while undertaking the new effort to assess the various alternatives for protecting just the roadless areas in the forest, said Kolund.

However, since the roadless data is in hand, Hormaechea said, there’s a chance staffers can work on both the forest-plan update and the roadless initiative at the same time. If the timing of both efforts works out so that is possible, “it would save time and money,” he noted.

Gathering public comment on the roadless plan will begin locally on Monday, Dec. 6, when the Forest Service holds an open house to provide details on Clinton’s request. The open house will be in Glenwood Springs at the First Choice Inn in West Glenwood, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The first round of public comments on the roadless plan will be accepted up until Dec. 20. Then a draft EIS will be prepared, public comment accepted, a final EIS will be issued and then a decision will be made in Washington.

Kolund said the agency is basically in the “scoping” process on the roadless plan, in that it is seeking public comment about what it thinks the primary issues and concerns are over roadless areas and trying to get a handle on what “protecting” those lands really means.

Although “protect” means different things to different people, Kolund said he would expect that banning roadbuilding, timbering and mining in current roadless areas would be three alternatives that would come up for consideration.

Additional information on the roadless initiative can be found online at http://roadless.fs.fed.us or by calling Kolund at 945-3249.

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