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Are New Mexico forests holding steady in the face of climate change, drought and wildfires?

New inventory assesses state’s woodland resources
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STAFF REPORT

FRISCO — Mortality is increasing and growth is slowing down in New Mexico’s forest lands, according to a new forest inventory released in late August. The only species showing overall growth are ponderosa and piñon pines, as well as junipers, as insects, wildfires drought and disease take an increasing toll on the state’s woodlands.

Forests grow on about 25 million acres in New Mexico, with 44 percent on private lands and 31 percent on national forest lands. About 40 percent (10.8 million acres) of the forests are piñon-juniper woodlands, by far the state’s most extensive forest type. Gambel oak is the most abundant tree species by number of trees, and ponderosa pine is the most abundant by volume or biomass. Overall, researchers estimate there are more than 6 billion live trees growing in the state.

The inventory documented the drought-induced piñon pine die-off in the early 2000s, estimating that about 8 percent the species died, but noted that the mortality rate has tapered off.New Mexico’s aspen forests, covering about 380,000 acres, held steady in the past decade. 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

Op-ed: Ski industry bullies USFS on water rights

Proposed new water rule in the works for western ski areas

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Oh, oh, the water … bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After being bullied by the ski industry in court and legislative arenas, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to shift its approach to administering valuable water rights associated with ski area operations in western states.

Instead of requiring resorts to transfer water rights, the Forest Service now proposes adding language to ski area permits that would ensure that enough water remains linked to ensure future operations. The water rights could not be sold separately from other resort assets like chairlifts and lodges.

That would address the main concern the Forest Service voiced when it first proposed changes to the administration of water rights a few years ago, but doesn’t address the bigger issue of resorts trying to establish total control over public resources. 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

Summit County: Forest Service releases revised plan for 21-mile motorized trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain

Community task force finds common ground on contentious proposal

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The Forest Service says there’s room for 13 miles of new motorized trails on Tenderfoot Mountain, despite the fact that the agency can’t adequately maintain existing trails.

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A family outing near the Dillon Cemetery.

By Bob Berwyn

*Previous Summit Voice stories on the Tenderfoot motorized trail proposal are online here.

FRISCO — Critics are likely to say it’s like putting lipstick on a pig, but the U.S. Forest Service claims its latest version of a plan for a motorized trail on Tenderfoot Mountain, near Dillon, will result in a managed, finite system of sustainable trails to replacing the existing spaghetti network of illegal trails in the area.

The agency this week released a revised environmental study for the controversial trail system, which has been hotly debated for the past several years. According to the Forest Service, the new proposed action represents numerous compromises that were made to mitigate environmental and social concerns. Continue reading

Colorado: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges lynx mistakes in Breckenridge Ski Area’s Peak 6 expansion plan

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A transplanted Canada lynx watches a Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk/ Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Federal approval missed a key step in addressing requirements of Endangered Species Act

Click here to read all Summit Voice Peak 6 stories

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal biologists have acknowledged that they left out a key step in their approval of the proposed Peak 6 ski area expansion at Breckenridge, a project that would degrade a patch of lynx habitat in the Tenmile Range.

“We reviewed the … biological opinion, and we agree that our incidental take statement lacks a meaningful mechanism to reinitiate consultation if the project exceeds the anticipated incidental take,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Western Colorado Supervisor Patricia Gelatt wrote in a March 6 letter responding to a formal legal notice from Rocky Mountain Wild and the Blue River Group of the Sierra Club.

Gelatt said her agency plans to meet with the Forest Service and modify its biological opinion to address the deficiencies before the Notice of Intent expires on April 19, but she didn’t explain how agency biologists missed including the required regulatory mechanisms after discussing the expansion with the Forest Service for several years. Continue reading

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