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Appealing plan

Bob Berwyn

Several groups confirmed this week they will appeal the recently revised White River National Forest plan, challenging sections of the document dealing with motorized use, logging and ski area expansions.And some ski resorts may also be preparing appeals to be filed if their concerns can’t be allayed during an informal disposition process.Forest Service officials acknowledged that two appeals have already been received at the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. The appeals deadline is Sept. 5. The office of Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth is subsequently expected to rule on the appeals within 160 days, although that period could be extended.The revised forest plan was released in June after a contentious and politically charged process that took five years and cost $5 million. Together with other regulations and environmental laws, the plan guides site-specific land-use decisions on the 2.3 million acres forest, stretching from the Continental Divide to the Colorado Plateau and encompassing many of the country’s biggest mountain resorts (including Vail), along with remote chunks of rugged Rocky Mountain backcountry wilderness.Among other things, it helps determine the shape of future ski area expansions, where mountain biking and snowmobiling is allowed and where new campgrounds or trails might be developed.When White River Forest officials released the plan in June, they touted it as a carefully crafted compromise, striking a balance among varied and competing interest groups, but a number of special interest groups are apparently still not satisfied.Motorized users are concerned the plan will unduly limit access for all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, while environmental groups, for example, claim the plan is biased toward approving ski area expansions and leaves too much of the forest open to logging and road building.&quotMore than 40 routes will be closed based on the proposed management prescriptions,&quot says John Martin, president and chairman of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition. Martin says his organization will file an appeal before the deadline in an effort to maintain motorized access.&quotWe’re getting really tired of picking through the leftovers,&quot Martin says, explaining that motorized users have seen their recreational options dwindle steadily.He took aim at the planning process, charging that the Forest Service ignored its multiple-use mandate and undermined public confidence by ignoring input from the motorized community.&quotIf they really think people trust government, they haven’t been watching the news the last decade,&quot Martin says. &quotWe really want them to plan for what people need for access to the forest.&quotSnowmobilers are also concerned in the plan could affect their recreational opportunities.&quotWe’re still studying it, but we are part of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition appeal,&quot says Charlie Cox, president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association. &quotWe expected to be restricted to trails at the lower elevations in areas that are important for wildlife, but we think those restrictions should apply to other users, too. What’s fair for one group is fair for another.&quotSources close to the ski industry say that several resorts operating under permit from the White River National Forest are also preparing appeals, with some of those focusing on trying to get clarification where parts of the plan conflict with each other.Forest officials said previously that they’d heard concerns about language in the plan relating to mitigation for the permanent conversion of lynx habitat, as well as with roadless management prescriptions adjacent to ski areas. Some resorts also expressed concerns with language relating to stream flows.Conversely, environmental watchdog group Colorado Wild says it will also appeal the plan, including sections dealing with ski area expansions, logging and roadless areas. Long-time activist Rocky Smith says the Forest Service used faulty data to justify additional widening of ski resort boundaries, particularly in Summit County.Like the motorized users, Colorado Wild will also appeal parts of the plan that determine which areas are suitable for motorized and off-road travel. Environmental groups have also complained that the plan did not do more to preserve large un-roaded areas as potential wilderness preserves.&quotThey can’t say they’ll fix everything in the travel management process,&quot Smith says. &quotThey need to fix some these things in the plan itself.&quot


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