Decision subject to 45-day appeal; conservation groups chime in
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY —A new travel management plan for the Colorado’s White River National Forest is a sensible compromise between recreational demands and resource preservation, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. Click here to read the Record of Decision.
The plan is subject to a 45-day appeals period. Click here to visit the White River National Forest website with links to all relevant documents and maps.
If finalized in its present form, it will close several hundred miles of trails currently used by ATVs and dirt bikes, but will also legitimize many other illegally created trails on parts of the national forest.
Conservation advocates and public land watchdogs said the travel management plan appears to balance access with resource protection, but expressed concern about several key provisions.
“(T)he plan continues to contain some significant shortcomings that concern us,” said Sloan Shoemaker, director of the Aspen-based Wilderness Workshop.
“Today culminates over seven years of work on the travel plan. This alternative provides a sensible and pragmatic foundation for the transportation system on the White River National Forest while ensuring the natural resources are protected for future generations,” Fitzwilliams said. “This plan has an impact on everything we do. We wanted to get it right. That’s why it took seven years,” he said. “I believe this is an alternative we can reasonably afford to manage over the next 10 years.
The plan attempts to balance resource protection with access and recreation. Fitzwilliams said public comments reflected those conflicts, as various user groups offered sometimes diametrically opposed comments on the same trails.
“It was difficult to balance those conflicting interests,” he said, explaining that, in some cases, there will be clear winners and losers.
“Travel management is one of the most important resource decisions a Forest Supervisor will make in his or her career. I do not take this responsibility lightly. A travel management plan provides the foundation of how people ingress and egress the forest for a wide-variety of uses. How roads and trails are laid out on the landscape has a tremendous affect on the resources we are entrusted to steward for the American public,” Fitzwilliams added.
One of the provisions that concerns the conservation community could result in the creation of even more unauthorized spur roads.
“One shortfall we immediately identified is how the Forest Service failed to adequately address the growing problems associated with vehicle access to dispersed camping opportunities,” said Aaron Clark, of the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance.
“Retaining a 600-foot cross-country travel buffer on nearly all roads across the forest undermines the very goal of the plan and leads to new routes pioneered deeper into the forest. The Forest is disregarding the very real impacts this policy has on the land as well as clear direction from the regional forester to move away from unmanaged dispersed camping towards designating sites that accommodate public use,” Clark said.
Fitzwilliams said he intends to apply the travel management plan as living document with ad adaptive management approach. He said he’s open to discussing specific trails on a case by case basis. In some situations, the agency could make changes without doing another full-scale environmental review, he added.
A finalis included in the final decision. The FEIS describes the alternatives that were analyzed and discloses the environmental, social and economic impacts of each alternative.
Filed under: Colorado, Environment, Summit County Colorado, Summit County news, US Forest Service, White River National Forest Tagged: | Colorado, Environment, Environmental Impact Statement, Forest Service planning, Record of Decision, United States, United States Forest Service, White River National Forest, White River National Forest travel management plan