County commissioners talk to WRNF about roadless area plan
The Garfield County Commissioners questioned White River National Forest officials Monday over the agency’s roadless area initiative.A task force appointed by Gov. Bill Owens is now traveling the state to gather public comment about the plan. Owens will present the results and make recommendations to the Department of Agriculture, which administers the Forest Service and will make the final decision about management of roadless areas.A majority of people attending a June 21 meeting of the task force in Glenwood Springs supported the idea of preserving roadless areas on the forest. However, the county commissioners remain divided over the issue, with Commissioner Trési Houpt in favor of the measure, and Commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin in favor of preserving all access, and multiple use, on the national forest.Monday, Martin questioned White River National Forest Supervisor Mary Beth Gustafson about how areas previously leased for oil and gas development will square with being designated roadless.Case in point for Martin is the 125,000-acre lease in the Thompson Creek area south of Carbondale that is also being considered for roadless designation.Such designation would prevent further road construction and theoretically prevent access for oil and gas development.Some areas being considered for roadless designation have existing roads, and in some cases areas could have roads built in the future “under certain circumstances,” said Gustafson. “Roadless areas can’t cancel the opportunity for leasing.”However, stipulations can be put in place that would prohibit or minimize surface disturbance, such as requiring directional drilling so surface impacts would take place outside the roadless area, she added. Further, Gustafson said she must follow the current forest plan and allow lease applications to proceed while roadless area planning is under way.Also of concern to the commissioners were areas of bark beetle kill that have decimated thousands of acres in the White River.”Do you have the flexibility with the plan” to access beetle kill areas for harvesting or other treatment, Martin asked.”Yes, in some cases,” Gustafson said. “We can put in temporary roads for forest health.”But accessing those areas also depends on how they are identified for management in the forest plan “and how close they are to communities,” she added.Martin said bark beetle impacts to watersheds, where dead and down trees can affect sedimentation and erosion in water systems, is also of great concern.But Gustafson also noted that public sentiment has stymied the agency from treating beetle-killed trees in the past.”We have the flexibility, but we can’t exercise it because … of lack of public support.””I think that is a tremendous waste of resources and should be illegal,” said McCown.Currently the forest is under a temporary order to allow treatment of beetle-infested areas in roadless areas.Martin urged Gustafson to keep the process of designating roadless areas on the White River as public as possible and not make a decision “just with the stroke of a pen.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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