Baylor Park timber sale limited to dead and downed trees
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Baylor Park won’t be the setting for a 2,900-acre logging project – at least not in the near future.
Three Colorado conservation groups have settled a lawsuit they filed in February 2002 against the White River National Forest regarding its proposed timber salvage sale in Baylor Park, 18 miles southwest of Glenwood Springs.
Under the terms of the settlement, the Forest Service reduced the size of the project to just 210 acres and agreed to limit its logging activities to downed and dead trees.
“We never had a problem with the Forest Service salvaging downed trees,” said Sloan Shoemaker, of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, one of the three groups that filed the lawsuit. “We were most concerned with live, green, old-growth trees in the area.”
Baylor Park was hit in August 1999 by a windstorm that blew down and damaged Englemann spruce, subalpine fir and aspen trees across a 2,000- to 3,000-acre area.
In August 2001, White River National Forest supervisor Martha J. Ketelle issued a decision to salvage downed trees and conduct commercial thinning in the Baylor Park area. The logging project would have amounted to 11.3 million board feet. The plan also included construction or reconstruction of about 12 miles of roads.
Several environmental groups filed an appeal of the project in October 2001.
But when the appeal was turned down, the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, Colorado Wild Inc. and the Center for Native Ecosystems sued the Forest Service in federal court to stop the logging.
“This project caught our eye since it was such a huge sale on public lands,” said Shoemaker.
The plaintiffs alleged the Forest Service failed to adequately monitor for management indicator species (MIS).
“We’re required by law to monitor wildlife, and we monitored MIS,” said Sopris District Ranger Bill Westbrook. “But there were a few species – the chorus frog, the red squirrel and the northern goshawk – we did not have sufficient population data on.”
“We need that monitoring in order to have baseline information,” Shoemaker said of the three species not included in the Forest Service’s initial MIS. “That way, we can chart trends and look how these species will be affected by these decisions.”
Another component of the Baylor Park blowdown project is the appearance of the spruce bark beetle. Bill Westbrook said because spruce bark beetles, an insect native to Colorado, are drawn to weak and dying trees, blowdown areas like Baylor Park are prime locations for beetle infestations.
But Shoemaker contends this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“The Forest Service categorizes beetles as a problem, pests that should be eliminated,” Shoemaker said. “But the spruce bark beetle is native to Colorado. It’s disturbance driven, which means it comes in after a fire, windstorm or drought, and resets the clock. It’s part of the natural succession. It’s how forests evolve.”
Westbrook doesn’t disagree with Shoemaker that beetles are naturally part of the forest.
“They’re Mother Nature’s way of regeneration,” he said. “Before we got here, it was nature’s way of managing the forest. They can be a good and a bad thing. It depends on the area and how we want to manage the land.”
Still, Westbrook said, Baylor Park is part of a timber management area designated by the Forest Service to potentially harvest trees. The Forest Service was concerned Baylor Park’s downed trees could spark a beetle infestation, which could potentially infest thousands of trees.
“I think they looked at it as, `Let’s get the trees before the beetles do,'” Shoemaker said.
In separate interviews, both Westbrook and Shoemaker said the Baylor Park project isn’t “a simple black and white case.”
“We believe this is an appropriate place to harvest trees, as long as the Forest Service just takes the trees that have blown over,” Shoemaker said. “And if the Forest Service wants that timber, don’t drum up hysteria about saving the trees from the beetle. I don’t agree with the science of that.”
“We are disappointed we lost the opportunity to possibly minimize a spruce bark beetle epidemic, as well as provide timber products to the local and regional economy,” Westbrook said. “However, the settlement negotiations provided an opportunity for the Forest Service and environmental groups to foster a better working relationship and an understanding that we can work together to better manage the public’s land.”
Westbrook said the Forest Service will prepare a supplemental impact statement for any new proposal in the next two years to treat the Baylor Park area.
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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