[FEATURE] Out of the Fryingpan and Into the Fire: Debate Heats Up Over Clear-cutting in White River National Forest
– by Josh Schlossberg, March 8, 2017, Boulder Weekly
Conservationists are challenging a logging proposal that would clear-cut 1,300 acres in the White River National Forest northeast of Aspen, including endangered Canada lynx habitat and units adjacent to the protected Woods Lake Roadless Area.
The Upper Fryingpan Vegetation Management Project covers 1,848 acres in the Aspen/Sopris Ranger District in Eagle and Pitkin Counties, Colorado, with the goal of providing lumber and biomass energy, increasing the diversity of tree age and size, and creating snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) habitat, the primary food source of the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis).
However, a formal objection filed by Denver-based forest management analyst and consultant Rocky Smith, along with representatives from Rocky Mountain Wild, Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative and a chapter of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, alleges the project would instead degrade habitat for lynx and other wildlife, disturb soils and watersheds, and impact scenery. Objectors say the U.S. Forest Service must draft an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to detail the project’s potential harm to ecosystems and offer alternatives that would shrink its footprint.
“We think that the impacts are of a nature that are significant [and therefore require] an EIS,” says Smith, who has 35 years of experience related to national forest regulations, in an interview with Boulder Weekly.
He also says the project violates the Land Resource Management Plan for the White River National Forest, which emphasizes keeping “dense, undisturbed, closed-canopy conifer stands that provide security habitats for landscape-scale forest carnivore movement, migration, and dispersal between forested landscapes.”
The Fryingpan landscape consists of mostly lodgepole pine, aspen and spruce/fir stands with much of the forest dating back to a large wildfire in 1860, according to the Aspen/Sopris Ranger District’s Notice of Proposed Action for the project.
The lion’s share of operations involves 1,061 acres of clear-cuts where all merchantable lodgepole over five inches in diameter would be logged — roughly 350,000 to 400,000 trees, according to a March 2017 Upper Fryingpan Vegetation Specialist Report — while leaving behind some spruce, fir and aspen under five inches.
The project calls for another 327 acres of aspen clear-cuts — coppice cutting — which removes all trees in a unit, with an additional 458 acres of “group selection,” where stands would be cleared up to an acre in size, with total openings not to exceed 25 to 30 percent of a unit. The Forest Service would also punch in 10 miles of temporary roads for logging trucks, which they would obliterate afterwards.
Kate Jerman, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest, explained in an email that much of the thrust behind the logging is to “alter the structure of the stand in a way that will increase the overall resiliency of the area to future disturbance such as insects, disease and wildfire.”