WRNF hopes tree salvage will end beetle battle | PostIndependent.com

WRNF hopes tree salvage will end beetle battle

The White River National Forest will go ahead with a 2,900-acre timber harvest in the Baylor Park Blowdown area west of Carbondale to “provide forest products,” reduce the spread of spruce beetles and reduce fire hazards. Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson signed a record of decision Monday allowing dead and down trees killed in the 1999 Baylor Park Blowdown to be harvested, possibly ending a six-year battle between the Forest Service and environmental groups over the area. After the Forest Service proposed a timber salvage and thinning project for the Baylor Park Blowdown area in Pitkin, Mesa and Garfield counties in 2001, three environmental groups appealed the decision, saying the agency wasn’t adequately collecting indicator species data for its environmental impact statement. The appeal was later denied, but the groups sued, only to settle with the Forest Service in 2003. Under the settlement, the Forest Service agreed to reduce the size of the project and limit logging to dead and down trees. The agency did not implement timber sales outlined under the 2001 decision. Since the blowdown, spruce beetles, also known as bark beetles, native to the area began spreading through the region, killing large stands of trees throughout Colorado. The Forest Service fears they might continue to lay waste to extensive stands of trees. A supplement to a 2001 environmental impact statement for the project was issued a year ago and was finalized in January, outlining the agency’s four options for what to do with the timber killed in the blowdown. Gustafson chose option 2F as outlined in the final supplemental environmental impact statement to address a potential bark beetle spread. The Forest Service’s final decision for the blowdown calls for salvaging 2,900 acres, none of which are in inventoried roadless areas; harvesting 25 acres of subalpine fir to encourage aspen growth; removal of five small or “suppressed” fir trees per acre to encourage Engelmann spruce regeneration; burning slash throughout the harvest area; and planting 200 acres of spruce trees. The plan also calls for two miles of new roads to be constructed or reconstructed, decommissioning about two miles of existing forest roads, and constructing seven miles of temporary roads through the forest. Harvested trees will be limited to dead and beetle-affected trees.Despite decision document’s language promoting healthy forests, Gustafson’s choice is not the Forest Service’s “environmentally preferable” option, but one that she says will reduce the spread of bark beetles and reduce the treat of wildfire. The option that would have had the least environmental impact would have been to do nothing at all, according to the decision. “Selecting this alternative and implementing this will make a difference in the health of the forest and slow down the spread of the spruce beetle,” Gustafson said Thursday. “Doing nothing would make it worse.”While doing nothing would prevent the land from being impacted with roads and logging equipment, it wouldn’t reduce the fire hazard dead stands of bark beetle-infested trees would have on the area, she said. Bark beetles been killing conifers throughout the West, laying waste to spruce trees in Colorado and Utah and piñón pines in New Mexico. “I’m extremely concerned about it,” Gustafson said. “It won’t go away. We can slow it. We can mitigate some of the effects by treatment in the forest.”But the urgency of the spread of the bark beetle and the need for the timber harvest is all a matter of perspective, said Sloan Shoemaker, director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, one of the three environmental groups who sued the Forest Service in 2002.”They use terms like ‘outbreak’ and ‘epidemic,’ a value-laden term that carries the implication that it (the beetle spread) shouldn’t be happening, and we should be rid of it, when in fact, it’s a natural process that the forest is not only adapted to, but needs in order to maintain itself through time,” Shoemaker said. “What I read in what she’s (Gustafson) saying is that, ‘The beetles are going to be beating us to this high-value timber and we want to get at it before them,'” he said, calling Gustafson’s reasons for the timber harvest “a misuse of science.”He said the forest “treatments” referred to in the record of decision aren’t proven to work.”They’re really reaching to generate a sound rationale for the project as it’s designed,” he said. Shoemaker said he’s not ready to say weather the Wilderness Workshop will appeal the decision. Those wishing to appeal must do so within 45 days to the regional office in Denver.Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com

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