North Routt Appeal officers for the U.S. Forest Service said logging in the Gold Creek Roadless Area violates the Routt National Forest Plan, prompting a decision reversal for a timber sale there.
The reversal was a response to a July appeal from six conservation groups to the Zephyr Timber Sale, which would have removed 400 acres of downed trees in Gold Creek, about 10 miles east of Clark.
Appeal reviewing officer Deann Zwight stated in her report that the Zephyr Timber Sale violates the forest plan because, "It will alter the predominantly natural appearance of the Gold Creek Roadless Area."
That's good news to the conservation groups who are opposed to logging in Roadless Areas.
"We hope that this is one project that ends up on the shelf," said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney for the Land and Water Fund, who is representing the conservation groups. "It's a special place."
Rocky Smith, from the conservation group Colorado Wild, said the reversal is proper.
"If you can do a timber sale in an area like that, then the forest plan wouldn't mean anything," he said.
Gold Creek is managed by the Forest Service for backcountry recreation, allowing no motorized vehicles except for snow machines, according to the forest plan.
"The desired condition of these areas will have a predominately natural appearance and be relatively undisturbed by human activity," Zwight stated.
Local Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Germann said logging can take place in those areas if it doesn't drastically change the natural appearance.
"You can log and make it look natural," she said.
Germann thought the reversal of the decision to log Gold Creek happened because forest officials didn't clearly state what the visual impacts of logging would be.
"I don't think we did an adequate job of answering that," Germann said.
If officials want to continue pursuing logging in Gold Creek, they'll have to explain how they will preserve its appearance.
"And maybe we can't," Germann said.
Though another decision could be made to log in Gold Creek, Germann said it probably won't come soon, if at all.
"Because of all the work we had to do on fires this summer, there's still a lot of blowdown areas that were approved to log that didn't get finished," she said. "We still need to meet those responsibilities."
In June, the Forest Service approved the Zephyr Salvage Sale as an amendment to the 1998 North Fork Salvage Sale.
When completed, the North Fork sale will remove 37 million board feet of wood from 2,700 acres of trees uprooted from a freak wind storm in 1997. About half of those trees already have been removed.
Gold Creek was left out of the North Fork deal because helicopters were needed to salvage the trees, and that wasn't economically viable at the time, Forest Service ecosystem protection manager Frank Cross said in June.
Since then, the price of wood has increased, which justified the helicopter costs. Also, the 3-year-old dead trees have dried, making them lighter. Now, helicopters can carry more per load, making it even more viable, Cross said.
The Forest Service also has hundreds of acres of downed trees in the South Fork Sale and the Upper Elk River Sale.
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