Regional forester signs White River forest plan |

Regional forester signs White River forest plan

White River National Forest officials and citizens wrote millions of words about the forest’s new long-range plan.

But none of them may be as significant as the two written Tuesday.

Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables signed his name on the long-range plan, helping bring to completion years of intensive work on the project.

The plan’s contents remain a closely held secret, however, and won’t be revealed until the documents are printed.

In the meantime, however, WRNF officials can take satisfaction in winning Cables’ approval of the plan, required for it to take effect.

“There was an e-mail that went out (to WRNF employees) with bold letters saying it was done,” said Sue Froeschle, WRNF public affairs officer. “I would say that is a major milestone.”

WRNF officials had good reason to expect Cables would go along with the plan.

They developed the plan over recent months through extensive consultation with his office and Forest Service national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“We had our fingers crossed. We were pretty sure it was going to be signed. …” said Froeschle.

The WRNF planning process has been followed closely in Colorado and nationally since the release of the draft plan in 1999. That plan set an agency precedent by placing a higher priority on the forest’s physical and biological resources than on human uses.

That emphasis drew opposition from motorized vehicle lobbyists, the skiing and timber industries and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction. The forest is part of McInnis’ 3rd Congressional District.

Since the draft plan was unveiled, Democrat Bill Clinton has been replaced by Republican George W. Bush in the White House, and McInnis became chairman of the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.

Given the forest’s world-class skiing and scenery, the direction of the final forest plan will be closely monitored by environmentalists, multiple-use advocates, public lands policymakers and others.

For now, interested observers must continue to wait.

“We don’t even have copies of everything right now,” said Froeschle. “As soon as the printer can tell us what their schedule is and how they can meet our requirements, we will let people know.”

The plan’s release is well over a year behind schedule. After so many previous errant projections by the WRNF about when the plan would be released, Froeschle was hesitant to make a prediction now, even with Cables’ signature on it.

Josh Penry, staff director for McInnis’ Forests subcommittee, said he had no advance look at the plan.

“We’re waiting with baited breath with the rest of the interested public,” he said.

The Forest Service is “sort of required to keep it a secret” until it is ready for release, he said.

That’s kind of ironic, he said. The public was heavily engaged in drafting the plan.

Then, “once the commentary’s done, the Forest Service goes behind closed doors and finishes its plan,” Penry said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

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