Conservation groups try to topple Baylor Park logging operation
A coalition of three conservation groups has filed suit to try and cease a logging operation in Baylor Park, an area of the national forest near Glenwood Springs.
The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver, contends that tree harvesting in a heavily-forested area of the White River National Forest will harm wildlife there.
Specifically, they claim thinning of old-growth forest in the area and new roads to be built will further harm sensitive wildlife habitat of the lynx, boreal owl and marten.
Forest Service officials counter that the logging is needed to combat an infestation of spruce bark beetles that is poised to kill a substantial number of healthy spruce trees.
The suit, filed jointly by the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, Colorado Wild and the Center for Native Ecosystems, seeks to stop the logging of both live and dead trees on 2,900 acres about six miles southwest of Sunlight Mountain Resort.
The suit names as defendants U.S. Forest Service regional forester Rick Cables, White River National Forest supervisor Martha Ketelle and the Forest Service as a whole. WRNF spokeswoman Sue Froeschle declined to comment on the lawsuit because it is in litigation.
Jamey Fidel, conservation director for the conservation group Aspen Wilderness Workshop, explained his view of the project.
“The Forest Service has been considering different alternatives of management,” he said.
He said the chosen alternative will not only salvage dead and down trees, but involve “fairly large-scale cutting of mature and old-growth forests.”
The area sustained a blowdown in 1999 and has since been infested with spruce bark beetles. As a result, Forest Service officials have determined that the logging operation is needed to eradicate as many of the insects as possible and prevent their spread to the surrounding live trees. It also would generate revenue from timber sales.
Fidel said the lawsuit was initiated partly because of the Forest Service’s decision to use the most intrusive of four logging options available.
“They decided to go in and cut a large level of old-growth forest,” he said. “There was some indication that this sale could impact lynx on a substantial level.”
Documentation found in the Baylor Park Blowdown Final Environmental Impact Statement tends to agree with Fidel’s claim.
“More roads would aggravate existing impacts on lynx and lynx habitat including snowmobile use,” the study said, adding that this would cause snow compaction.
“This could make it easier to allow lynx competitors such as coyotes, mountain lions and bobcats to reach places they normally couldn’t go in winter, making it harder for lynx to find prey.”
While the area is considered suitable lynx habitat, Bob Kapushion, a timber management assistant for the Forest Service, said, “There are no lynx that we know of” there.
Kapushion added that the work on existing roads will be minor and all new roads will be closed as soon as the project is completed.
The method of eradicating the destructive spruce bark beetles has become an accepted practice, Kapushion said. The goal is to clear them from the forest before a full-blown infestation occurs.
“The (beetles’) preferred habitat is downed trees, but after their population builds up, they will start getting into live trees,” Kapushion said. “To reduce the susceptibility of live timber stands, live trees are taken.”
The process, called “thinning,” eliminates weaker trees in hopes that the remaining trees will become stronger and less prone to beetle infestation.
“It (the process) has been worked on quite a bit with the mountain pine beetle,” he said.
The mountain pine beetle attacks ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees. Tactics such as those planned for Baylor Park have been used to combat that species in other parts of the state.
Fidel also expressed concern that a majority of selected indicator species have not been studied as closely as they should be by the Forest Service to determine species populations and biological trends.
“Since 1984, 14 of the 17 selected indicator species have not been done,” Fidel said. “That’s a major concern for us.
“If that is not being done, how are they determining that a project won’t have effects forestwide?”
Of the 2,900 acres of woodland to be harvested, 565 will consist of old-growth forests and 740 acres will be a combination of old growth and blowdown, Fidel said. He said the Forest Service expects to harvest 11.3 million board feet of wood from the project.
The conservation groups also argue that the logging project won’t stop the impending increase in beetle populations because the beetles already have bred to large populations and are poised to attack the spruce trees this spring.
“By the time logging takes place, it is likely beetles will have already attacked those stands,” Rocky Smith, forest watch coordinator for Colorado Wild, said in a news release. “We’re not opposed to some salvage logging, and we could have supported a less impactful project.”
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