Plan's appeal period extended

Decision allows more time to protest USFS winter rec rules

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The U.S. Forest Service is re-initiating the appeal period for its decision about managing winter recreation on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass.

"This is not a new decision," said Kim Vogel of the Forest Service. "We're re-initiating the appeal period just to make sure everybody has the opportunity ... to review the documents and appeal if they see fit."

The management plan decision formalizes existing suggested boundaries for motorized and nonmotorized uses, with some changes.

The original appeal deadline was July 18, but the deadline now will be 45 days after a legal notice is published and after everyone who commented on the draft decision receives a postcard with information that a decision has been made. That could push the deadline to early fall.

It is not typical for an appeal period to be re-initiated, Vogel said. The Forest Service is required to make sure that everyone who wants a decision document gets one. When officials learned that some people were not aware that a decision had been made, the best course of action was to notify people with postcards and have another full appeal period, Vogel said.

With the decision, the Forest Service tried to save money by not directly notifying every person who commented on the draft decision. Instead, the agency distributed a news release, published a legal notice and put the information on its Web site. The decision is available on CD for anyone interested.

An ever-tightening budget is forcing the Forest Service to make cuts across the board, including to personnel, so the money saved was significant, Vogel said.

Having another appeal period should not affect the Forest Service's goal of having the management plan in place by winter, she said. Rather, the development of an implementation plan will go forward so that when a final decision is ready, it can quickly be put in place.

The Forest Service has not received an appeal thus far, Vogel said.

In the past, the Forest Service sent entire decision documents to everyone who had commented. In this case, that would have cost $5,000 to $10,000, or the equivalent of two seasonal employees, Vogel said.

"It's a tremendous amount of expense, and there are a lot of people who don't use the documents," she said.

Even the $500 it will take to mail out postcards is money the agency does not have, Vogel said.

The decision and maps showing all alternatives considered are available at www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/rec.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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