Unveiling "the plan’ | VailDaily.com

Unveiling "the plan’

Cliff Thompson

“Forest plans have been controversial from the start. This is the first revision of that (1984) plan,” said Regional Forester Rick Cables. “I believe it’s well-balanced, and I feel really good about where we came out in this plan.”

This will be the first new plan for the White River National Forest since 1984. It is expected to reflect a change in the way the forest is used – away from the forest as a source of raw materials and jobs and toward a forest that is used more for recreation.

That change places higher value on the scenic nature, open space, wilderness experience, recreation opportunities and wildlife than on extractive industries, such as mining and logging, as well industrial and commercial uses of the forest.

How to achieve it is the question being answered by the plan, and it’s a question that, by the Forest Service’s admission, has inspired plenty of debate.

“What it really is going to do is set the framework for next 10 to 15 years on how we will manage the forest,” says Sue Froeschle, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest. “That framework was developed after a lot of public input and new science and data and public direction.”

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The plan, like the forest itself, isn’t going to be a panacea, she adds.

“It can’t be all things to all people,” Froeschle says.

Cables said more people understand the forest planning process this time than the first time it was done in 1984. “They see it as a golden opportunity to influence plans.”

Cables said the political pressure brought to the plan is a reflection of the constituents’ interest in the land. “People today are more engaged,” he said.

The 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest covers parts or all of seven Colorado counties. It is the second-oldest national forest in the nation and the fifth-most visited with 8.4 million people per year. Most visitors come as skiers to Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Snowmass and Aspen ski resorts.

The White River National Forest also has eight wilderness areas.

The Eagle and Holy Cross ranger districts in Eagle County total 780,000 acres of the forest.

Forest plans were mandated by the 1976 National Forest Management Act, which grew out of public outrage over timber clear-cutting on the Monongehela National Forest in Ohio and elsewhere in the nation during the 1970s. The act requires regular management plans for individual forests.

Among the items it addresses are forest health, economic issues affecting the forest, transportation, wilderness, archeological, water, and ecosystem management issues.

In its preliminary form, unveiled during the summer of 1999, the plan’s multiple alternatives were roundly assailed by both environmentalists and industry groups, as well as elected officials ranging from county commissioners to U.S. congressmen. The preferred alternative presented limitations on motorized travel, ski-area expansion and management based on ecosystem functions.

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, was so incensed with the plan he had his own staff write its a plan for the forest. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell also was critical of the plan. The resulting political furor led the Forest Service to extend the comment period for the plan by six months – and also to compromises.

Enough heat was generated during the initial roll-out of the plan three years ago that the Forest Service has now rehearsed how it will be rolled out today.

One of the major concerns expected to be addressed in the plan is forest health. Nearly 100 years of fire-suppression and declining logging in local forests has kept wildfires from regularly sweeping the forest clean of fuelwood, creating a dangerous buildup of burnable material. Fires rejuvenate the forest by stimulating new growth in trees and shrubs. Without it, the forest lacks age-diversity in trees.

How the new plan proposes to manage that will likely be controversial. More selective logging is likely, but that has become more and more politically unacceptable. The last lumber mill in Eagle County closed nearly 20 years ago.

The White River Forest Plan will be available at Forest Service offices in MInturn and Eagle as a CD-ROM or on the following Forest Service Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver.

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