Sunday, February 27, 2005
Spurred by local input during a visit to Steamboat Springs last week, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar wants an explanation for a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to change aspects of the White River National Forest management plan.
On Friday, Salazar sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns requesting a briefing about the management plan decisions by Wednesday.
"The most disturbing aspect of this decision is that it was made without consulting, and in some cases, overriding the local Colorado agencies and individuals most involved with the White River area and the management plan," Salazar said in a statement. "In the end, this decision completely undermines the goodwill this five-year public input process created."
David Tenny, the USDA deputy undersecretary for natural resources, recently directed the White River National Forest to remove two management plan provisions designed to protect the state's lynx population and keep minimum water levels in streams. Tenny's decisions reversed rulings by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, who approved the measures late last year.
Tenny said he was overturning the lynx rules to make the White River National Forest plan consistent with a lynx strategy proposed for other southern Rocky Mountain forests. He said stronger lynx protections are unnecessary because there has been no documented evidence of lynx in the White River National Forest since 1974. However, state wildlife officials say that radio collar data indicate many lynx are using the forest and that no one with the Division of Wildlife was contacted before the changes were made.
"In vetoing this and other aspects of the 2002 Revised Plan, USDA overrode years of effort by Coloradans toward crafting a plan that carefully balances the needs of our state and local population, while permitting the forest's 8 million annual visitors to enjoy its breathtaking beauty," Salazar wrote in his letter to Johanns.
The management plan was the result of five years of public input and planning, Salazar said.
In the meantime, White River National Forest managers are writing an interim plan for the lynx in response to the elimination of some of the lynx provisions in its 15-year management plan.
When Salazar came to Steamboat last week to hold one of 15 regional issues workshops, several audience members complained about the USDA's changes to the White River National Forest management plan, which one area resident described as "arbitrary." Another expressed frustration about what he called the federal government's favoritism toward developers and industry. The comments sparked a larger conversation about multiple uses of public lands.
The comments about the White River National Forest issue prompted Salazar to look further into the decision and to write his letter to Johanns, Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz said.
"This is why we held those regional meetings," Wertz said. "This was an issue we found out about at this regional meeting."
The White River National Forest, a 2.3-million-acre forest that attracts 8.4 million visitors a year, includes in its boundaries the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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