White River forest plan released
The U.S. Forest Service decided Tuesday that humans deserve as much consideration as wildlife in the sprawling White River National Forest.
The federal agency released a management plan for the 2.3 million-acre forest which places as much emphasis on increasing recreation opportunities for humans as it does enhancing habitat for wildlife.
The final forest plan is significantly different from the Forest Service’s preferred alternative in 1999 which placed “the least emphasis on development for human uses or recreation,” according to a summary of the plan.
“Balancing environmental needs with the needs of people seeking to enjoy and rely on the forest is a challenge we land managers face every day,” said Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle. She believes the plan accomplishes that balance between needs of nature and needs of man.
Conservation groups labeled the changes from the 1999 alternative a disappointment. Colorado Congressman Scott McInnis, who pushed for changes, labeled them a “marked and meaningful improvement.”
Conservationists say the final plan doesn’t do enough to protect roadless areas, maintain minimum streamflows or limit logging and ski area expansion.
McInnis said the plan provides a better balance between conservation and recreation.
The plan also boosts the amount of acres that would receive wilderness protection.
The direction of the forest plan is significant because it will dictate management of the national forest for the next 15 years, including 491,000 acres of public lands in Pitkin County. The White River National Forest ranks fifth in the country in visitor recreation days.
The Forest Service worked on the plan for five years before finalizing it Tuesday. When agency officials disclosed in 1999 that their preferred alternative featured conservation, it was hailed as a precedent-setting way to manage a national forest.
Two years later, the plan no longer appears to be such a groundbreaker.
“We’re responding to the comments we received,” Ketelle explained when asked at a press conference about the change in direction.
The Forest Service received about 14,000 comments from special interest groups, environmental groups, corporations and individuals while working on the plan. None were more important than those of McInnis, whose district includes the White River National Forest and who chairs the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.
@ATD Sub heds:McInnis hails changes
@ATD body copy: McInnis had criticized what he called a “seismic shift” in the management philosophy when the Forest Service indicated the conservation plan was its favorite in 1999.
He crafted his own forest plan and acknowledged yesterday that “it appears that the Forest Service was substantially persuaded by the merits of our road map.”
Ketelle acknowledged that the team working on the forest plan gave “a great deal of consideration” to the McInnis proposal. “I would characterize it as the most complete comment we received,” she said.
McInnis said in a prepared statement that the equal emphasis to recreation and conservation makes the final plan a better product.
“At first blush, it appears the Forest Service has reasonably balanced the right of this generation to experience and enjoy this forest with the imperative that it is protected for those that come after us,” his statement said. “It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it represents real progress.”
@ATD Sub heds:Conservationists disagree
@ATD body copy: Environmental groups didn’t share McInnis’ enthusiasm.
“It’s definitely a bit of a retreat from Alternative D,” said Richard Compton, director of the White River Conservation Project. Alternative D was the 1999 proposal that promoted conservation.
Compton said representatives of a coalition of environmental groups discussed the plan Tuesday and agreed that treatment of roadless areas, protection of streamflows and designation of areas for logging were among the disappointments.
The Forest Service recognized about 640,000 acres in the forest as roadless areas. About 13 percent, or 82,000 acres, are recommended for wilderness while another 19 percent are in management areas that are mostly for non-motorized uses.
But about two-thirds of the acreage is in areas where motorized uses are allowed and most of that amount is eligible for some level of development.
Compton said conservation groups wanted protection for a greater amount of roadless areas.
The Forest Service had stated in Alternative D that it would exercise federal rights over other water users to maintain minimum streamflows in at least 10 percent of the forest’s waterways. The final plan backs off from that assertion.
“The final plan includes vague promises to protect resources, but offers no meaningful direction on how much protection is needed and how it will be provided,” said a statement by Trout Unlimited. “The Forest Service is saying to the public ‘trust us’ – but without binding standards, that requests the public to take a difficult leap of faith.”
The forest plan envisions average annual harvests of timber on 1,030 acres, producing up to 12 million board feet. That is up substantially from the 8 million board feet harvest contemplated by Alternative D, said Jamey Fidel, spokesman for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop.
But Fidel also said he was avoiding the temptation to add up and subtract outcomes on issues to determine who won and who lost.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge the strengths of the plan, like the designation of wilderness,” he said.
The final plan recommends creation of two new wilderness areas of a combined 62,000 acres – both close to the middle Roaring Fork Valley (see related story). Another 20,000 acres are recommended for addition to existing wilderness.
The 82,000 acres pegged for wilderness are an increase from 47,000 acres in the preferred alternative.
“Those are definitely the highlights of the plan as far as I’m concerned,” said Compton.
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