Thursday, October 6, 2005
Steamboat Springs U.S. Forest Service employees in the Hahn's Peak Ranger District in Steamboat Springs have been adapting on the fly to the fallout from a federal court ruling in California.
On July 2, the U.S. District Court in eastern California ruled that minor national forest projects -- typically thought to pose no threat to the environment -- no longer could avoid the public comment and appeals process. The ruling resulted from a lawsuit and affects forest projects that began after July 7.
Diann Ritschard, spokeswoman for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in Steamboat, said the ruling led to the cancellation of an open house this week at the Seedhouse Guard Station in North Routt County. The old guard station has been remodeled to allow the public to rent it for overnight stays.
The project, one of several like it in the region, was implemented under a "categorical exclusion" that allows the work to be done without going through the four-month public comment and appeals process.
The categorical exclusion approach is used on less glamorous projects such as replacing culverts and removing dead trees from campgrounds, Ritschard said.
The judge's ruling in Cali--fornia means that all national forest projects approved by authority of a categorical exclusion since July 7 must be suspended and entered into the public comment and appeals process. Nationally, the Forest Service expects hundreds of projects to be affected. The same rules will apply in the future.
However, Ritschard said, the Seedhouse Guard Station still will be open for rentals this winter. The public was invited to comment about the guard station even though it was being implement as a categorical exclusion, Ritschard said. No negative comments were received, and the project will be shifted into the jurisdiction of the Recreation Enhancement Act to allow it to open. The cabin sleeps as many as four people, has gas appliances and heat and will rent for $65 a night.
Also affected by the court ruling this month is a project being carried out by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Little Red Park, north of Hahn's Peak. The corps will be allowed to complete two wooden footbridges being built over a bog and stream. However, further trail work associated with the bridges will be suspended, Recreation Program Manager Rachel Franchina said. The RMYC crew will be shifted to other work on the national forest.
The court ruling will not affect firewood cutting this fall or Christmas tree harvesting this winter, Ritschard said.