Environment: Forest Service agrees to study snowmobile impacts on five national forests in California

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The U.S. Forest Service may finally address the environmental impacts of snowmobiles, at least in California, where the agency settled a lawsuit with a promise to do better studies.

Conservation groups say agency has been avoiding detailed studies by approving trail systems under streamlined categorical exclusion permitting process

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service may finally come to grips with the environmental impacts of snowmobiles under a new legal agreement that will require a full assessment of snowmobile impacts on wildlife, plants and quiet recreation in five California national forests — the Stanislaus, Eldorado, Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen.

The agreement settles a lawsuit that challenged the Forest Service’s practice of avoiding detailed environmental review on these national forests in the central and northern Sierra and southern Cascades. In many cases, the agency has used categorical exclusions to authorize snowmobile trail grooming without taking a hard look at impacts like federal environmental laws require. Continue reading

Study: Forest clearings crucial for some birds

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Birds need structurally diverse forests. bberwyn photo.

Fire suppression, other forest practices may be contributing to decline of forest-interior species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Efforts to protect forest-interior birds in the Northeast may be partly misguided, a new U.S. Forest Service study suggests.

Currently, most of those conservation efforts focus on preserving mature forests where birds breed, but the new research shows younger forest habitat may be vital in the weeks leading up to migration.

“Humans have really changed the nature of mature forests in the Northeast,” said Scott Stoleson, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “Natural processes that once created open spaces even within mature forests, such as fire, are largely controlled, diminishing the availability of quality habitat.” Continue reading

Colorado: Conservation groups challenge Forest Service over motorized routes on the Pike and San Isabel NF

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Motorized use on the Pike and San Isabel National Forest is at issue in a lawsuit in federal court.

Lawsuit alleges agency didn’t analyze the impact of new motorized routes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation groups say the Pike and San Isabel National Forest erred in sanctioning hundreds of miles of motorized routes in a contentious 2009 plan that highlighted all the ongoing user conflicts on public lands.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the groups claim the Forest Service failed to consider the potential harm to forest resources that could result from motor vehicle use on some routes, many of them created illegally over the course of decades of inadequate off-road vehicle management and enforcement on the forests.

“The Forest Service is rightly required to ‘look before they leap,’” said Melanie Kay of Earthjustice, attorney for the groups. “We’re not asking the Forest Service to ban motor vehicle use on the forests or to deny anyone reasonable access or recreational opportunities. Rather, we’re protecting the interests of forest visitors and the forest itself by ensuring that the agency makes well-informed decisions and does so in accordance with laws and regulations that have been on the books for decades.” Continue reading

Biodiversity: BLM releases draft version of greater sage-grouse conservation plan for northwestern Colorado

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

 

FRISCO — These days, the vast sagebrush ocean of the Intermountain West is under siege by drilling rigs, sprawling exurban development and, in some cases, poor grazing practices on public lands.

Altogether, those pressures have degraded habitat across big swaths of the landscape. The damage is reflected by the sharp decline in greater sage-grouse populations. The birds have disappeared from half of their former range and are a candidate for the endangered species list, likely to be designated as threatened or endangered.

The listing could come as soon as 2015 — unless federal land managers and local governments can agree on a conservation plan with enough safeguards to satisfy the biologists who will consider the listing.

The Bureau of Land Management, which administers much of the territory with key sage-grouse habitat, is working toward that goal in the west-wide National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Effort, and last week released a draft environmental study for northwestern Colorado for a 90-day comment period. Continue reading

Forest Service close to releasing environmental study for proposed new backcountry ski hut near Breckenridge

Public review session set for Aug. 22 at Breckenridge ice rink

Weber Gulch Hut

The Weber Gulch Hut is proposed for the north flank of Baldy Mountain, near Breckenridge, Colorado. Map courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The long range vision for encircling Summit County with a network of backcountry ski huts may come into a little more focus this month.

The White River National Forest is preparing to release a draft environmental study for the proposed Weber Gulch hut during the next few weeks, with a public review of the document set for Aug. 22 (5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m) at the Breckenridge ice rink. Continue reading

Colorado wilderness bills bottled up in Congress

Half a dozen proposals for land protection span more than 1 million acres

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Proposed new wilderness areas include open meadows on the west flank of the Williams Fork Range. bberwyn photo.

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The proposed Acorn Creek wilderness addition would add important wildlife habitat to the existing high-elevation Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area.

By Bob Berwyn

*Click here to learn more about this weekend’s hike in proposed new Summit County wilderness area

SUMMIT COUNTY — There may be a huge backlog of wilderness bills in Congress, but conservation advocates aren’t about to give up on their efforts to preserve public lands in Colorado. Read more about the political wrangling over wilderness in this Summit Voice story.

In fact, the recent oil and gas boom on the Western Slope has recharged wilderness protection efforts, as supporters rally around the new “equal ground” theme, asking President Obama and Congress to protect at least as many acres as are allocated for energy development.

Along with being ecologically important, protected areas are increasingly seen as critical to the region’s recreation economy. Protected areas also enhance property values in adjacent communities.

In Colorado, there are six proposals that would expand wilderness by more than 1 million acres. The biggest is U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette‘s Colorado Wilderness Act, which includes 31 areas for a total of 750,000 acres, including many chunks of mid-elevation lands that are crucial for wildlife. Continue reading

Excess Air Force planes eyed for firefighting duty

Sen. Mark Udall pressing Defense Department to transfer unneeded cargo planes to U.S. Forest Service as soon as possible

A  C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

A C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service efforts to modernize its firefighting air tanker fleet aren’t moving fast enough for Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado democrat who has been pushing for more wildfire resources on all fronts.

This week, Udall pressed the U.S. Defense Department to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. In a bipartisan letter, spearheaded with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Udall said the Pentagon isn’t using its authority to transfer its excess aircraft at no cost to taxpayers.

According to the letter, the Forest Service was unable to meet about half of the requests for firefighting air support in 2012. The Air Force is nearing completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, and Udall wants to see at least some of those planes put to work fighting fires. Read the letter here. Continue reading

USFS to clean up mine debris near Breckenridge

Agency to remove abandoned buildings and old mining gear

Old mining scars are visible all along French Gulch Road, east of Breckenridge.

Old mining scars are visible all along French Gulch Road, east of Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service is planning a cleanup at the Lincoln Townsite.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service will begin a careful cleanup of mining debris around the historic Lincoln Townsite, near Breckenridge. As part of the agency’s abandoned mine lands safety program, crews will demolish and remove abandoned buildings, sheds and equipment — but five buildings will be left standing at the site after local stakeholders commented on the potential historical value of the structures. Continue reading

Colorado: Fire danger creeps up in the high country

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The fire danger is currently rated as high in most of Colorado’s north-central mountains.

BLM lands in NW Colorado already under Stage 1 fire restrictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a bone-dry June, some public land managers in Colorado are starting to enact fire restrictions to lessen the chances of a human-caused wildfire start.

Summit County only picked up about 15 percent of the long-term average precipitation in June, for example with .19 inches at the official National Weather Service site in Dillon, compared to the average 1.14 inches. High temperatures for the month were about 4 degrees above average.

The White River National Forest (Eagle and Summit counties) hasn’t issued any restrictions yet, but lands administered by Bureau of Land Management in  parts of northwest Colorado have been under Stage 1 restrictions since June 27. Continue reading

Threats, attacks on federal workers increase in 2012

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A National Park ranger was killed in the line of duty in 2012, the first such incident since 2002.

Watchdog group tracks federal data to identify year-to-year trends

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Attacks and threats against federal workers on public lands increased in 2012, with violence against U.S. Park Police officers reaching a record level, according to figures compiled by federal agencies and analyzed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

According to the figures, reported incidents rose more than 40 percent in wildlife refuges and in areas patrolled by the U.S. Park Police and by more than 12 percent in national parks.

The year began with the shooting death of Mount Rainier National Park law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson on January 1. Anderson was only was the ninth ranger killed in the line of duty since the National Park Service was founded in 1916.  A park ranger was last killed in 2002, at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, while chasing drug traffickers. Continue reading

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