Comments requested on roadless proposal | SteamboatToday.com

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Comments requested on roadless proposal

— Routt County residents with opinions about a U.S. Forest Service roadless area conservation plan are invited to speak up at a public comment meeting.

The U.S. Forest Service is holding the meeting as part of a comment period about the proposal that ends on July 17.

“A court reporter will take things down word for word,” Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Germann said.

The comments will be reviewed in making a final decision on the roadless proposal. That decision could end the building and maintaining of roads in forest lands inventoried as “roadless” in all National Forests in the United States. It would not, however, prevent continued logging, grazing or recreation, Germann said.

Forest officials, as well as President Clinton, who pushed for the roadless proposal, hope the road restrictions would protect more wild lands by limiting access to those areas.

There are 502,183 acres of land inventoried roadless in the 1.2 million acres of Routt National Forest.

The roadless designation is a bit of a confusing misnomer. When given in the 1970s, it identified areas outside wilderness that were not significantly impacted by man and had no roads built on them. “Roadless” was a description of those areas, not a restriction on their use, so in the intervening 30 decades, management has increased and roads have been built in some roadless areas.

In the Routt Forest, most of those roadless areas will not see a big impact from the proposed road-building ban because they are in parts of the forest where road-building is not allowed.

However, 133,000 acres in areas inventoried as “roadless” are in parts of the forest where logging and road-building has taken place over the years, Yampa District Ranger Gary Roper said. Because officials have already designated it for timber production, it could be impacted by the roadless proposal.

Without the use of roads, helicopters would probably be the only way to harvest timber in those areas, Roper said.

“Economically, you couldn’t use ground-based methods without roads,” he said.

But helicopter timber often isn’t financially feasible, either. In most situations, a landing site to drop off the harvested logs would have to be nearby to cut the costs of air time. That would be difficult to achieve in some parts of the Routt Forest.

Helicopters will be used to log an area of the Routt Divide Blowdown near Gold Creek. But that wood is dead, dry and light, so helicopters can carry more, making it financially feasible, Roper said.

Much of the 54 million acres of roadless areas in the United States are on lands that allow roads, so the proposal will have some impact.

Germann said people who are commenting about the proposal should keep in mind that the issue is on a national level, affecting all lands inventoried roadless in the United States.

Roadless areas account for 28 percent of the whole forest system, nationwide. Most of the acreage exists in the Western states and Alaska.

Alaska has the most, with nearly 12 million acres, followed by Idaho with 7.8 million acres, Montana with about 5 million acres and Colorado with 4.3 million acres.

People can also comment on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which is initially being left out of the proposed road restriction. The Forest Service wants to wait until a five-year land and resource management plan for the Tongass is complete before they make the roadless decision.

Germann also wants to remind people that the roadless proposal has nothing to do with the lynx being listed as a threatened species.

Restricting road-building and maintenance could benefit the habitat of the cat but that’s not the purpose of the proposal.

“They are two completely different issues,” she said.

The roadless comment meeting is from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Forest Service offices at 925 Wiess Drive.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net