Workshop sees some good and bad in new Forest Plan
The Aspen Wilderness Workshop, a 32-year-old local environmental group, has released its reaction to the recommended version of a revised White River National Forest Plan.
At a press conference in Basalt Monday, Workshop staffers Beverly Compton and Sloan Shoemaker told members of the press which aspects of the plan they support and which they don’t.
Of the six alternative versions created, White River officials presented Alternative D as their preferred alternative. It calls for active management of the National Forest to achieve healthy ecosystems and biological diversity, with low emphasis on development for human recreation.
Compton said the Forest Management Plan is the Workshop’s biggest issue right now, and it should be a top priority for the community, too.
Shoemaker said he’s pleased the White River management has stuck its neck out and is taking a lot of heat for Alternative D’s policy of declaring all forest roads closed unless posted “open.”
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“It’s easy to rip out a `closed’ sign and proceed,” Shoemaker said. The violators can then just say there was no sign. “There’s no incentive to rip out an `open’ sign,” he said.
The policy on snowmobile use proposed in Alternative D also meets with the Workshop’s approval. Snowmobile use has long been the dominant use in all areas of the forest except wilderness, and the new White River management plan would create large non-motorized areas outside wilderness.
Compton said packed snowmobile tracks in backcountry snow change the predator balance by allowing coyotes to travel at higher elevations and compete with rarer carnivores such as the lynx, recently traced to this area after reintroduction in the San Juan Mountains last winter.
The plan would create a special habitat classification for predators, acknowledging that lynx, wolverine and marten require more undisturbed space than much of the wildlife in the forest.
“That’s a big step for habitat protection,” Compton said.
Shoemaker praised the plan for restricting ski areas from expanding outside their present permit areas, and not designating any further aerial transportation corridors.
“It’s no longer appropriate to give away public lands to create real estate windfalls for wealthy developers,” he said.
But there is also a lot the Workshop doesn’t agree with in Alternative D.
The White River National Forest has 298,000 acres of roadless land qualified for wilderness designation, according to Workshop information. But the plan only calls for 47,200 acres of new wilderness. While the White River forest already is one-third wilderness, Shoemaker pointed out that only 5 percent of Colorado’s land base is wilderness, and most of the privately owned land is subject to development.
Moreover, most of the existing wilderness is at high elevations, under snow for much of the year. Lower elevation wilderness land is needed for habitat, to preserve biodiversity, Shoemaker said. “Clearly, wilderness is in the vast minority,” he said.
The Workshop also disagrees with the Forest Service on how to manage land to provide lynx habitat. Shoemaker said Alternative D calls for cutting timber to foster the growth of lynx populations, on the theory that the cat’s favorite prey, snowshoe hares, thrive in “early succession forest,” the new growth of brush and saplings after an area is logged.
Calling this policy “logging for lynx,” Shoemaker said scientists of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also take issue with the practice, observing that the diet of lynx in the southern Rockies is more varied and less dependent on snowshoe hares.
Shoemaker and Compton praised the Forest Service for trying to anticipate new trail uses, in the light of the fact that mountain biking, a big backcountry use, was barely on the horizon when the last forest plan was written.
The White River National Forest Plan was released at the end of July. The forest plan must be examined for its potential impacts, as specified in the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). For any action requiring an environmental impact statement the agency involved must present at least four alternative courses of action and analyze the possible impacts of each on the environment.
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