White River Forest finishes travel management plan | VailDaily.com

White River Forest finishes travel management plan

Scott CondonThe Aspen Timesscondon@aspentimes.comVail, CO Colorado

VAIL – The White River National Forest will close 692 miles of “bandit” routes and decommission another 519 miles of roads and trails that are currently open when it implements new travel rules later this year.Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams announced Wednesday that his office completed a after seven years of work. The TMP is a comprehensive document which determines which routes people can use in the sprawling White River National Forest. The TMP affects the forest lands between Rifle and Summit County, including Eagle County, and from south of Aspen to north of Glenwood Springs.

The TMP is “probably one of the most important resource decisions a forest supervisor will make,” Fitzwilliams said. “It really has a great impact on everything we do.”He said his decision tries to provide a balance between providing ingress, egress and travel within the forest with protections for the land and wildlife. The agency’s financial ability to maintain routes also factored into the decision.”We don’t need as many roads as we had and we can’t afford them,” Fitzwilliams said.Fitzwilliams acknowledged that because forest users are “diametrically opposed” in some areas, the decision wasn’t easy.The 1,211 miles of routes that will be closed or decommissioned vary from old roads cut for timber sales and rough routes to mining claims to obscure trails used exclusively by hikers, including some in Wilderness areas, according to Rich Doak, recreation staff officer for the White River National Forest. No figure was available on how many of the miles of routes that will be closed are currently open for motorized vehicles.The agency also legalized 225 miles of what was formerly unauthorized routes.

Representatives of user groups were aware Wednesday of the release of the plan, but few had time to plow through the lengthy document yet.Jack Albright, vice president of the White River Forest Alliance, a consortium of motorized users, mountain bikers and others, said Wednesday he needed more time to assess the information. “The one thing we know, whether we like or don’t like it, is it went through a process,” Albright said. The Forest Service held meetings to inform the public about the options it was exploring and users had ample opportunity to express their opinions, he said.Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop and allied environmental groups released a statement Wednesday saying the TMP is “a good first step towards striking the right balance between protection and conservation” but it still has “some significant shortcomings.”One problem is the legalization of 225 miles of previously unauthorized routes, according to the conservation groups. “We continue to find this is a bad way to make public policy,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop. “Illegal route development is rampant in many parts of the Forest and rewarding this behavior will ensure that it continues.”The conservation groups were also concerned that the TMP continues to give forest visitors permission to travel 300 feet off either side of a road to access a dispersed camping spot.Shoemaker said the conservation groups haven’t decided if they will file a formal appeal to the Record of Decision.”It’s the first day. I can’t tell you definitively if we plan an appeal,” he said. “There’s some pretty good stuff in here but there’s more we’d like to see. That’s our job – to keep pressing the Forest Service.”A 45-day appeal period started Wednesday. If there are no appeals, the Forest Service will start implementing the TMP as early as mid-summer.Once all the information is out, closures will be enforced by forest rangers and special law enforcement officers.The plan “might not be perfect,” Fitzwilliams said, and some issues might have to be revisited as the effects in the field are gauged.”That said, I think we’ve planned long enough,” Fitzwilliams said. “It’s time to stop the paperwork and start the on-the-ground work.”Reporter Scott Condon can be reached at scondon@aspentimes.com.