Roadless initiative may cut down logging plans

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— Some future logging in the Routt Forest may come to a halt before it even starts because of a U.S. Forest Service plan to protect "roadless" areas.

Routt Forest officials have said they may have to change management strategies to fulfill the roadless guidelines.

President Clinton's preferred alternative to manage land inventoried as "roadless" would:

Prohibit most road construction and reconstruction on 49.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, increasing to 58.5 million acres in April 2004 when the Tongass National Forest would be included;

Prohibit timber harvesting except for defined stewardship purposes in these same areas; and

Allow road construction when necessary for public safety and resource protection.

The Roadless Initiative is a federal mandate from President Clinton to protect about 60 million acres of Forest Service land inventoried as roadless.

The Forest Service, in accordance with a "preferred alternative" under the initiative, wants to stop road construction and reconstruction on 49.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas. Roads already existing in roadless areas will remain and can be maintained. Timber sales in roadless areas also would be prohibited, except for defined stewardship purposes.

Road construction would be allowed when necessary for public safety and resource protection.

In 2004, the land protected by the roadless restrictions would increase to 58.5 million acres when the Tongass National Forest in Alaska would be included, according to the alternative.

Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman makes the final decision on the restrictions. The soonest he can decide is Dec. 13.

The Routt National Forest has 502,000 acres of roadless areas. The most noticeable places are around the Steamboat Ski Resort, near Buffalo Pass and in the Big Red Park area west of Clark.

Though forest officials weren't sure on the exact number, some of the roadless acreage would not fit the criteria of the preferred alternative because they allow logging.

"We would have to do an amendment to the forest plan (for those areas)," said Kim Vogel, the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears district ranger for the Routt National Forest. "That will take time, money and a lot of paper."

There is no logging happening in roadless areas on the Routt National Forest, she said.

Vogel said she hoped national forests with recently updated forest plans would be exempt from roadless restrictions. Routt Forest officials revised their plan in 1998.

"We don't have a decision yet; but 99 percent of the time a preferred alternative ends up being the decision," Vogel said.

The Medicine Bow National Forest, which hasn't updated its forest plan for years, dodged a bullet by doing a new inventory right before it was looked at for the initiative, said Dee Hines, forest planner for the Routt/Medicine Bow Forest.

Until Glickman makes a decision, roadless areas are descriptions of the quality of parcels of land, not prescriptions of how they should be managed, Hines said.

Before the new inventory was finished in March, the Medicine Bow National Forest had outdated roadless areas.

"All we had at the time was the old 1978 inventory," Hines said.

About 50,000 acres of those lands had changed in use and no longer held the qualities of pristine wilderness, which defines a roadless area.

The new inventory excluded that land and saved much of the work that might have had to be done if Glickman's decision reflects the preferred alternative, Hines said. The forest now has 319,000 acres of roadless land.

Conservationists applauded the preferred alternatives, but not without some suspicion.

"Basically, it's great news for Colorado's remaining forests," said Suzanne Jones of The Wilderness Society.

The American Land Alliance, the Land and Water Fund and Colorado Wild have come out to support the recommendation, Jones said.

However, Jones said concerns about logging being allowed for stewardship purposes exists.

"It could be a potential loophole that could be exploited," she said.

The groups are pushing for definite guidelines for stewardship practices so the Forest Service can't pass off a for-profit logging operation as a thinning project to improve the health of a tree stand.

"Preservation groups like to think that," Vogel said. "I think in some cases that has happened before. But we don't do it on this forest."

Also, the recommendation leaves out off-road vehicle use and restricting new oil and gas mining in roadless ares.

"We are very pleased. But is it complete protection? No," Jones said.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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