Lawsuit filed over controversial Wolf Creek land trade

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The U.S. Forest Service approval for a land trade that would enable a massive real estate development near Wolf Creek Pass will be tested in federal court.

Watchdog groups say approval for the exchange was tainted by bias and political influence

Staff Report

FRISCO — Watchdog groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service to block  a land exchange near Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado. The swap would enable a huge real estate development near Wolf Creek Ski Area in the midst of important wildlife habitat.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Colorado, alleges that the approval process was tainted by a lack of transparency and by an incomplete environmental analysis that was unduly influenced by the proponents of the exchange.

According to Rocky Mountain Wild attorney Matt Sandler, the lawsuit will show that the Forest Service review process was biased and conflicted. Continue reading

Cabinet members push for wildfire budget changes

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Firefighers working at the scene of a wildfire near Keystone Colorado in 2011. 

Wildfire season outlook means the Forest Service may once again have to scrounge for firefighting money from other funds

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Despite plentiful spring moisture in the central U.S., top federal officials warned that parts of the West could still see a potentially disastrous wildfire season, especially in the far West and the northernmost Rockies.

This summer’s wildfire season could be a repeat of last year, when the biggest fires burned in Oregon and Washington, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said during a press briefing in Denver. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Forest Service says better bat tracking needed to combat threats

Standardized monitoring to help assess population trends

Thousand of bats fly out of a roost near Saguache, Colorado. PHOTO BY COLORADO PARKS AND WILDLIFE.

Thousand of bats fly out of a roost near Saguache, Colorado, an event that draws wildlife watchers each year. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Staff Report

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service scientists hope a new report will help scientists across the country track bats more effectively in an era when the flying mammals are facing unprecedented threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, white-nose syndrome , wind energy development, and climate change.

Better tracking can help resource managers get the information they need to manage bat populations effectively, by detecting early warning signs of population declines, and estimating extinction risks.

White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats since it was first detected in 2006, and more than 1 million have been killed at wind energy facilities since 2000. Combined with intensified pressure from land-use changes, scientists say there’s a real need for a continent-wide standardized monitoring system. Continue reading

Alaska, far West face biggest wildfire threats this summer

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The biggest threat of wildfires in early summer is in Alaska and northwestern Canada.

Year-to-date wildfire activity is well below the average of the last 10 years

Staff Report

FRISCO — While the wildfire season is off to a relatively slow start — at least compared to blistering pace of the past 10 years, Forest Service fire experts are still expecting an above-average season, and there is concern once again that the agency might have to use money and personnel from other programs to address the threat.

So far this year, wildfires have burned across about 390,000 acres through the end of May. The average for the pst 10 years is about 1.2 million acres. But the agency won’t let down its guard, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told Congress during a recent budget hearing. Continue reading

Public lands: Feds release sage grouse plans

Last, best hope for endangered birds?

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Staff Report

FRISCO — If plans, press releases and political mud-slinging could help greater sage-grouse, the majestic western bird would be well on the way to recovery. But the only thing that will really help the imperiled species is on-the-ground action — protecting and restoring the habitat the birds need to survive.

A series of proposed land-use plans released by the federal government this week aims to do just that, by minimizing and avoiding new disturbance to habitat, restoring habitat when possible and reducing threats like wildfires and invasive species. Here’s a fact sheet. Continue reading

Judge upholds U.S. Forest Service sustainability regs

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National Forest lands in Summit County, Colorado.

Mining and logging companies fail in bid to overturn science-based forest rules

Staff Report

FRISCO — A federal judge has upheld U.S. Forest Service planning rules that require the agency to use science and conservation biology when it plans for activities on public national forest lands.

The new forest planning rules at issue are aimed at giving forest managers tools to assess and maintain ecological sustainability on public lands.

The March ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. District Court rejected a challenge by mining and logging companies, who were claiming the forest planning rules were blocking access to resources. Continue reading

Public lands: Proposed resort development seen as big threat to Grand Canyon National Park

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A proposal for a large new resort development near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon threatens public resources.

Forest Service eyes plan for road, infrastructure improvements around Tusayan, Ariz.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Plans for a sprawling real estate development near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon are moving closer to reality. The U.S. Forest Service says it will study a request by the town of Tusayan to provide more access to key parcels of private land surrounded by national forest.

The start of that process spurred conservation advocates to warn that the development adds to the environmental pressure on one of the country’s most cherished natural landmarks. The planned megaresort, with 2,100 residential units and 3 million square feet of retail space along with hotels, a spa and conference center. Continue reading

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