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Forest Service busts huge pot farm near Aspen

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The U.S. Forest Service this week eradicated an illegal marijuana growing operation in Colorado.

Feds say illegal marijuana growing is harmful to the environment

Staff Report

FRISCO —Colorado’s legalization of marijuana may mark a new era on the state level, but some things haven’t changed. Each year, profiteering outlaws try to use public lands to grow and harvest marijuana, which remains illegal under federal laws.

This week, law enforcement officers with the U.S. Forest Service eradicated a major pot farm on national forest lands near Ruedi Reservoir after it was reported to the Forest Service by the public. After uprooting more than 2,600 mature plants, Forest Service officials estimated the value of the plants about $6 to $8 million based on the average value of $2,500 per pound. Continue reading

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Colorado: Forest Service comment letter shows breadth and depth of impacts from Denver Water’s diversion plan

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More water from the West Slope? Not the best idea, says the U.S. Forest Service. bberwyn photo.

Current plan underestimates impacts to water and wildlife

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As currently spelled out, Denver Water’s plan to divert more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will result in unacceptable impacts to wildlife and other resources on publicly owned national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a June 9 comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Forest Service also wrote that the creation of a pool of environmental water in an expanded Gross Reservoir doesn’t compensate for the loss of two acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of stream habitat that will be lost as a result of the expansion. Continue reading

Feds see $470 million gap in firefighting budget

 firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Funding shortfall has ripple effect in other public lands programs

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With a dangerous fire season forecast for parts of the country, especially the drought-stricken far West and Southern Plains, federal firefighting agencies will likely once again face a huge budget shortfall. That could require the Forest Service to divert funds from other programs, according to top administration officials who presented the report to Congress.

The report projects firefighting costs of about $1.8 billion, with only $1.4 billion budgeted. The Obama administration is advocating for a budget that would close the gap by giving firefighting agencies the ability to use emergency funds separate from their discretionary budgets to fight fires.

Similar legislation is pending in Congress, where the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is cosponsored by Sen.Michal Bennet (D-CO) and Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Continue reading

Outdoors: Public lands access advocates win another round in the battle over federal recreation fees

Summit County hiking Colorado

The legal battles over Forest Service recreation fees continue

District court judges nixes Southern California Adventure Pass

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The see-saw legal battles over public land recreation fees took another twist last week, as a judge in California decided that the U.S. Forest Service can’t continue selling its Adventure Pass for heavily visited recreation areas in Southern California national forests.

According to the judge, the pass violates federal law — specifically the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act — because it makes visitors pay to use public lands even if they’re not using any developed facilities.

“The Forest Service is prohibited from charging a fee solely for parking. If a visitor does nothing other than park, the fee is solely for parking and is, therefore, plainly prohibited by the REA,” the court ruled, referencing previous court decisions. Continue reading

Public lands access advocates lose latest skirmish with Forest Service over recreation fees

Court says private concession companies don’t have to meet agency standards for recreation fees on public lands

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — One of the legal efforts to try and check the recent proliferation of public land access fees was rebuffed by a federal court in Washington, D.C. last week. U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that private companies running recreation facilities on federal lands don’t have to follow the same regulations as agency managed facilities.

In a worst-case scenario, the ruling could open the door to more widespread fees for trailhead parking and other types of access that have traditionally been free, said Kitty Benzar, president of the West Slope No-Fee Coalition, a group dedicated to eliminating fees charged for access and recreation on undeveloped public lands.

Continue reading

Environment: Ambitious Swan River restoration project near Breckenridge could benefit cutthroat trout

Forest Service wants to reconnect an aquatic ecosystem that was sliced apart by dredges in the mining era

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the gold Summit County’s old-timers managed to pull from local mountains and rivers, they left behind quite a mess. Along with toxic pollution oozing into rivers from some abandoned mines, other streams were turned completely inside-out, buried under tons of gravel.

That includes the Swan River, near Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service now hopes to reverse some of the damage with an ambitious five- to 10-year restoration project.

The Forest Service aims to recreate of two miles of stream, riparian, and restore uplands that were all destroyed by the dredge boats. The agency also wants to decommission some roads in the area, build a new road and trail, all within a mix ownership of private, county, town, and national forest lands. Another element of the project would create fish barriers to protect populations of cutthroat trout. Continue reading

Good news, bad news for Colorado forests

Pine beetle infestation slows, but spruce beetles continue to spread

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Healthy spruce-fir forest at Vail Pass. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There’s good news and bad news for Colorado forests, according to state and federal officials, who said last week that the mountain pine beetle epidemic slowed dramatically in 2013, while spruce beetles continued to spread.

Statewide, mountain pine beetles were active on 97,000 acres in 2013, the lowest acreage of active infestation in 15 years. Since 1996, mountain pine beetles have killed trees across 3.4 million acres.

Spruce beetle were active on 398,000 acres, expanding by 216,000 new acres in 2013, compared to 183,000 new acres in 2012. The total area affected by this beetle since 1996 has reached more than 1.1 million acres. Continue reading

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