Thursday, February 7, 2013
Throughout the next month, the U.S. Forest Service is asking for initial public comments on its Steamboat Front Fuel Hazard Reduction and Habitat Improvement Project, which proposes a variety of actions to reduce fuel hazards and improve wildlife habitat on the Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs.
Winter elk herds leaving native winter range for agricultural fields and other private lands during winter months as well as the increasing amount of hazardous fuels in the wildland urban interface of Routt County are the main issues behind the need for action. Forest officials have identified a need to improve wildlife habitat on designated deer and elk winter range; manage fuel conditions in the wildland urban interface; and reduce fuel and other hazards associated with beetle-killed lodgepole pine to improve safety.
Those objectives would be accomplished through a variety of tools: using mechanical equipment to shred or mow (mastication) mountain shrub such as gamble oak; prescribed burning; harvesting and salvaging logging in beetle-killed lodgepole stands; and seasonal closures of identified deer and elk winter range from Dec. 1 to April 15.
According to wildlife officials, when big-game herds leave native winter range because of human disturbance or poor-quality habitat, the animals move to town and into areas where conflict occurs with people, vehicles and the agriculture industry. As big-game winter range on private land becomes developed, public lands become more important for wintering elk and deer. Improving habitat while reducing fuel hazards on the national forest is a great way to address the problems that result when the herds leave native winter range areas.
A voluntary winter closure of the designated winter range in the project area has been in place since before 2003. Each year, this closure is accompanied by an educational campaign that includes trailhead signs, brochures, a public service announcement and additional outreach. The voluntary closure has proven ineffective at stemming human uses of these areas during the winter and providing secure winter habitats.
The areas already are closed to winter motorized recreation, so no new snowmobile area closures are proposed. The proposal would change the current voluntary closure of nonmotorized use to a formal closure, which would enable law enforcement officials to cite violators.
The Forest Service will prepare an environmental analysis to analyze and disclose the environmental effects of all these proposals. Public comments received during scoping are an integral part of this process because they provide an opportunity for opinions to be expressed about site-specific areas on the forest that are being considered for proposed actions. This input helps bring up issues and concerns related to the proposed actions, identifies additional information and management opportunities that may be incorporated as well as helps to formulate alternatives to the proposed actions. To obtain a detailed copy of the scoping letter and project maps, contact the Forest Service at 970-870-2299. Comments received during public scoping will be most useful if submitted by March 15.
Once the draft environmental analysis is completed, the public will have an opportunity to submit comments on the draft document. Following the completion of the environmental analysis, a decision whether to implement in part or full the proposed actions or other alternatives is anticipated by September 2013 and project implementation would occur following a decision. The Forest Service proposes to begin implementing this project during the late fall of 2013 and continue until the project is completed.
Aaron Voos is a public affairs specialist for the Routt National Forest. He can be reached at 307-745-2323 or email@example.com.