North Routt Six conservation groups have appealed the Routt National Forest's decision to permit helicopter logging of downed trees in the Gold Creek roadless area.
In their appeal, the groups claim the forest plan for the area does not support logging.
The Gold Creek area, about 10 miles west of Clark, is designated for backcountry recreational and non-motorized use, with limited motorized use in the winter. Any work the Forest Service does in the area must further those uses.
The Forest Service believes removing the dead trees would improve recreational opportunities in the Gold Creek roadless area.
"Our feeling is that what is proposed there is consistent with the forest plan," said Forest Service program manager Larry Lindner.
Rocky Smith, of the conservation group Colorado Wild, doesn't agree and said the area should be left alone.
Steep cliffs and rough terrain don't allow for recreational uses, even if the trees are cleared away, Smith said.
"Some management in some places can be good. Here, we don't think it's necessary or appropriate. That's why we have appealed," he said.
Colorado Wild, Biodiversity Associates, Sinapu, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Wilderness Society and the Aspen Wilderness Workshop are the groups involved with the appeal, which was filed Monday.
"This is not just any old forest that they're wanting to log; it's roadless and it was considered for wilderness," said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney for the Land and Water Fund and for the six conservation groups. "It's a special place."
Last month, the Forest Service approved the Zephyr Salvage Sale for the removal of 400 acres of downed trees in the Gold Creek roadless area. The Zephyr sale was approved as an amendment to the 1998 North Fork Salvage Sale.
When completed, the North Fork sale will have removed 37 million board feet of wood from 2,700 acres of trees uprooted during the Routt Divide Blowdown a freak wind storm in 1997. Forty percent of the trees already have been removed.
Gold Creek was left out of the North Fork deal because helicopters were needed to salvage the trees, which was not economically viable at the time.
The price of wood has gone up in two years, and the three-year-old dead trees have dried, making them lighter, and thus helicopters can carry more trees per load, Lindner said.
That reality has the conservation groups agitated because of a statement made by Medicine Bow/Routt Forest Supervisor Jerry Schmidt when the North Fork deal was finalized.
In a July 21, 1998, issue of Steamboat Today, Schmidt, speaking of the North Fork deal, was quoted as saying: "We've heard from groups that opposed us from going into roadless areas, and that is pretty much what we've done. Forty-five percent of the forest has been allocated for backcountry recreation and we're sticking with the Forest Service plan; we're not going to do anything in non-motorized areas."
Schmidt couldn't be reached for comment, but Lindner said the decision to stay out of Gold Creek two years ago was purely economic. He said that any statement by Schmidt about staying out of the area because of the forest plan must have been an "observation" and not an element that in reaching the decision.
"Now that the economics of helicopter logging are better, they're going through with it," Smith said.
The Forest Service has 160 days to respond to the appeal. If the appeal is denied, the conservation groups can take the Forest Service to court to try to prove the sale goes against the forest plan.
Appeals of Forest Service timber sales are common. "Most of our projects end up in appeals," Lindner said. "There are some people who just don't want to see timber sales."
Colorado Wild files about nine appeals a year, most of which are turned down, Smith said.
"I personally don't like it," he said. "What we really want is Congress to give more money to the Forest Service so they can manage the forest better."
Smith believes the role of the conservation group is as a watchdog, in hopes of better balancing forest management of conservation. When an issue of question comes up, like the Gold Creek situation, the group acts.
"Sometimes we're successful, but more often we're not," he said.
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