U.S. Forest Service approves massive expansion of summer recreational facilities at Breckenridge ski area

Zip lines, canopy tours and other attractions planned

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A slice of the Tenmile Range that already feels the full brunt of industrial level recreation will see even more summer traffic after the U. S. Forest Service approved a huge expansion of new summer activities and facilities.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service is on track to approve a huge expansion of summer activities at Breckenridge Ski Area that will accommodate up to 150,000 additional visitors during the summer season.

The agency this week released a final environmental study for the new installations and programs, along with a draft decision letter from White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who said he thinks the new facilities — including zip lines, canopy tours and challenge courses — will enhance public appreciation of national forest lands and the outdoors.

The proposal was controversial in Breckenridge, as some residents expressed concerns about drawing more visitors to the already crowded town. Other locals support the plan as a way of increasing tourism revenues and drumming up more business for local restaurants and shops. Continue reading

Wolves in Idaho wilderness area get reprieve

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Idaho wolves catch a break. Photo via USFWS.

State-based wolf plan would have allowed trapping wolves to inflate elk populations

Staff Report

FRISCO — Wildlife advocates in Idaho have slowed the frantic state-sanctioned wolf slaughter that has ensued since the federal government turned management of the species over to the state.

In response to a lawsuit filed by conservationist and wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan, along with four conservation groups, Idaho Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service have halted wolf killing in the federally-protected Franck Church-River of No Return Wilderness during the winter of 2015-16.  Continue reading

Will Colorado get a new wild and scenic river?

‘Deep Creek’s lower elevation intact ecosystem would contribute to diversity of the national Wild and Scenic River system …’

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After seven years of study, the U.S. Forest Service says Deep Creek, in noerthwestern Colorado, is suitable for wild and scenic status.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service says that Colorado’s Deep Creek, flowing out of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, meets all the criteria for designation as a wild and scenic river.

The agency finalized its determination last month under a decision signed by White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who explained that there no private lands within the Forest Service segment corridor, and that no existing water rights would not be affected by designation.

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program described Deep Creek as having one of the most pristine, intact canyon landscapes in Colorado, with several state and globally rare species.

“Deep Creek’s lower elevation intact ecosystem would contribute to diversity of the national Wild and Scenic River system,” Fitzwilliams wrote in the formal Record of Decision. Continue reading

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

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