WRNF plan challenged from all sides
Forest Service officials in Washington, D.C. say they so far have received six appeals on the recently revised White River National Forest Plan, including from Vail Resorts. Colorado Ski Country USA also filed an appeal, as did Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, the Town of Gypsum and several other entities.A coalition of Colorado conservation groups announced their challenge to the plan in a recent press release, although USFS headquarters hadn’t received that appeal as of Sept. 10. Motorized users previously indicated they would also appeal parts of the plan.The Backcountry Skiers Alliance (BSA) also appealed, claiming the Forest Service did not follow laws and planning regulations with respect to winter recreation issues.The BSA wants the agency to revamp the plan to include better monitoring and disclosure of conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users and inclusion of management prescriptions in the Vail Pass Area to ensure that the work done by the Vail Pass Task Force is reflected in the plan. The BSA also wants the Forest Service to change some ski resort allocations to ensure that current quality backcountry terrain is not lost to resort expansions."The levels and location of motorized winter recreation allowed under the forest plan will likely cause conflicts with other users," says Kim Hedberg, executive director of the Backcountry Skiers Alliance. "This sets the stage for potentially contentious and problematic winter travel management planning in the coming years."Gypsums appeal revolves around the designation of additional wilderness on Red Table Mountain. Town Manager Jeff Shroll says the town needs to protect its water supply, which originates in that area."We’ve filed on several reservoirs in that area that haven’t been built yet," Shroll says, explaining that the town is concerned about the impacts of the wilderness designation on its water rights.Shroll says the town communicated its concerns to the Forest Service outside the appeals process, but was not satisfied with the initial response."We did get a letter saying they’ll work with us," Shroll says. "But when it comes to wilderness designation by a federal agency, a ‘we’ll-work-with-you’ letter makes us a little nervous."The appeal by Colorado Ski Country USA, an industry trade group, is aimed at a number of "technical issues," relating to implementation, according to Melanie Mills, CSCUSA’s public policy director. "We appealed a number of issues on behalf of our members," Mills says. Among other issues, CSCUSA is looking for clarification of language pertaining to aerial transportation corridors, Mills says. The group’s appeal also focuses on parts of the plan that address management of lynx habitat, long a contentious issue. Mills says CSCUSA is concerned that the plan sets a precedent for inequitable treatment from one resort to the next, she says.VR spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga says Vail’s appeal was filed in a "spirit of cooperation" with the Forest Service in an attempt to clarify certain points and address inconsistencies."Our big issues lie principally with some of the interpretations," says VR President Andy Daly. "Overall, we’re very comfortable with it. This plan is going to be our bible for the next 10 or 15 years and we want to try and minimize any areas where there could be misunderstandings," Daly says.The company’s attorneys and other experts eyed the plan closely and found places where the language just doesn’t make sense. For example, Daly says that, under a silvicultural standard specified in the plan, ski areas could be required to revegetate cleared ski trails.But the single biggest legal issue has to do with water rights, Daly says, explaining that Vail doesn’t want to be put in a position where it might have to give up any of its water rights. Some of the plan’s proposed language relating to required bypass flows conflicts with existing state and federal law, Daly claims.Vail Resorts also is unhappy that the revised plan did not take into account some of the most recent research on the rare Canada lynx. Some standards and guidelines pertaining to the management of lynx habitat could affect grooming and other aspects of ski area operations, and Daly says that a Canadian lynx study, funded by Vail Resorts, showed that concerns about impacts to lynx from snow compaction and other ski area activity may be unfounded.But that information is not reflected in the plan, Daly says. "We want to be sure that the lynx guidelines use the best available science," he adds.Other lynx scientists have characterized the Canadian lynx report Daly referred to as a compilation of anecdotal evidence, mostly from ski area personnel, that is not supported by direct research or scientific observation.Daly says there are also some places in the plan where various prescriptions appear to conflict with each other, for example in McCoy Park at Beaver Creek, where a roadless prescription appears to overlap with the ski area boundary. Daly says Vail wants to clarify what the Forest Service expectations are in that situation.
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