WRNF plan released | PostIndependent.com

WRNF plan released

Dennis Webb

Heeding widespread and wide-ranging public comments, the White River National Forest unveiled a new management plan in June that’s less restrictive of human uses than it had previously proposed.

Making concessions in such areas as ski area expansion and river flow restrictions, the measure is a “balanced alternative” that responds to the input provided since the conservation-oriented “Alternative D” draft plan was released almost three years earlier, WRNF Supervisor Martha Ketelle said in announcing the plan.

“It allows for a range of uses and development opportunities, some more so than Alternative D,” Ketelle said.

At the same time, the plan also incorporates some more environmentally minded measures than “D” sought, including a proposed major new wilderness addition at Red Table Mountain and Gypsum Creek, and a ban on any summer travel off roads and trails by motorized users and mountain bikers.

Alternative D proposed putting a higher emphasis on protecting the forest’s physical and biological uses than on human uses. More than 14,000 public comments were submitted in response to it, with some pressing for a better balance between conservation and those human uses.

The final plan selected, called Alternative K, responded to the pro-human-use push.

“I chose Alternative K because it provides a wide variety of recreation opportunities and forest uses while promoting ecosystem health,” said Rick Cables, regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region.

The measure was generally praised by one of the draft measure’s sharpest critics, U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction.

Environmentalists lamented what they saw as retreats from several conservation aspects of Alternative D.

“We believe that there were major opportunities that were lost in the final plan,” said Jamey Fidel of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop.

The final plan abandoned a draft plan proposal for the Forest Service to use its permitting authority to protect 10 percent of streams through such means as requiring bypass flows. Instead, as sought by McInnis, the plan calls for a more collaborative approach that would include working with Colorado’s water laws.

While Alternative D would have allowed no ski area expansions beyond current permit areas, the final plan allows for some expansions, particularly in resorts that are closer to the high skier population base on the Front Range. Still, no new ski areas would be allowed.

The plan was appealed by environmentalists, motorized vehicle users and several other interest groups. The Forest Service must respond to the appeals by early in 2003.

Meanwhile, the WRNF has shifted its focus to development of a separate travel management plan.

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