Environmentalists appeal White River plan | VailDaily.com

Environmentalists appeal White River plan

Jane Stebbins

The primary concern of BSA members is that the recently revised Forest Plan doesn’t do enough to separate user groups in the forest.

The 10-year-old ski organization represents the interests of human-powered, winter, backcountry users, including skiers, snowshoers and snowboarders. Members also advocate the creation, preservation and management of non-motorized areas on public lands.

“The levels and location of motorized winter recreation allowed under the Forest Plan will likely cause conflicts with other users,” said Kim Hedberg, the BSA’s executive director. “It sets the stage for potentially contentious and problematic winter travel management planning in the future.”

There is nothing in the plan that provides for monitoring conflicts, Hedberg added.

“If there are conflicts, no one’s going to know unless everyone writes letters,” she said. “It’s in the regulations that they have to deal with conflicts. It seems it should be in the plan that they monitor for them, too.”

BSA members also want the Forest Service to change the allocation of a management-area prescription – Forest Service terminology for zoning – to ensure current backcountry terrain is not lost to ski area expansion.

Some locations the organization feels are threatened include the Hunky Dory Mine near Independence Mountain near Keystone, Peaks 5 and 6 north of Breckenridge, the Beavers and Montezuma Bowl outside of Arapahoe Basin, and Guller Gulch near Keystone.

The plan also doesn’t reflect decisions agreed upon last winter by motorized and non-motorized recreationalists in Summit County, she said. Nor does it address the work of the Vail Pass Task Force, which helps settle disputes in the multi-use area.

“We’ve been working up on Vail Pass for 10 years, and none of the management prescriptions reflect what we’ve done up there,” he said. “We worked with the Forest Service to update a map up there that indicates motorized and non-motorized areas. We’ve got enforcement up there that’s paid for by the fee-demo system. None of that is reflected in the plan.”

Hedberg said she hopes the organization will be able to negotiate with the Forest Service.

“It seems like they’re concerned that we’re concerned,” Hedberg said. “They said they’d do their best to work with us.”

If a settlement can’t be reached, the appeal will be sent back to Washington for a decision, she said.

“It’s the loss of backcountry terrain, the lack of monitoring, the lack of doing anything about winter conflicts that has us concerned,” Hedberg said. “We just want quiet, untracked areas in the backcountry. We work with local land managers and motorized people and have a pretty good working relationship with the Colorado Snowmobiling Association. With any luck we should be able to negotiate a settlement.”

Another appeal, submitted by a coalition of eight environmental organizations, maintains that certain portions of the final plan are based on deficient analyses and illegal interpretations of laws and regulations pertaining to forest planning.

“The final plan is such an important document,” said Jamey Fidel, conservation director of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop. “It sets the stage for the long-term management of the forest, and it is imperative that the plan complies with all laws and regulations related to forest management. We believe there are certain portions of the plan that are based on faulty analyses that will lead to bad management decisions if not corrected.”

The eight groups include the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Wild!, the Center for Native Ecosystems, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, Sinapu and the American Lands Alliance.

Officials listed four parts of the plan they feel are illegally written or need clarification. They claim the plan is deficient or biased in its analyses of ski areas, roadless and wilderness areas, timber suitability, wildlife protection and management indicator species.

According to Jeff Berman, ski areas specialist with Colorado Wild!, the Forest Service used inadequate and biased analyses and statistics in approving additional acres for ski area development.

“The Forest Service assumes overblown projections of ski areas use over the next 15 years and fails to protect watersheds and sensitive wildlife habitat in the face of proposed development,” Berman said.

Richard Compton of the White River Conservation Project said his organization found many instances in which the Forest Service used arbitrary standards in deciding which portions of the forest are roadless or are suitable for wilderness protection.

The groups also cite math errors, unrealistic timber projections, threats to the health of the forest and an imbalance between environmental health and short-term recreation opportunities as problems within the new plan.

“The goal of our appeal is not to throw the whole plan out,” Fidel said. “We crafted our appeal to pinpoint the most problematic aspects of the plan. We want the Forest Service to move forward with its revised plan, but we hope our appeal will lead to important refinements to ensure resource protection on the forest.”

Fidel said winning appeals aren’t usually easy undertakings.

“Historically, appeals aren’t very successful,” he said. “We really do feel there are deficiencies that need to be corrected. But second, it’s part of the administrative process of being on the record, lodging our complaints with a faulty process. We need to be on top of that.”

Copies of the environmentalists’ appeal is available online at http://www.nativeecosystems.org and http://www.whiteriverconservation.org.

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