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Plan for San Juan National Forest draws big crowd
2/1/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
The good news in the San Juan National Forest draft revised forest plan is that it designates most of the HD Mountains for “no surface occupancy” stipulations on gas drilling leases, and withdraws the Fruitland formation outcrop from leasing.
The bad news for those who oppose drilling there is that since most of the HDs are already leased, none of the above would apply.
Around 200 people packed the big meeting room at the Durango Rec Center last Wednesday evening to hear about the draft plan, which has been in the works for a couple years.
It would replace the 1985 management plan that has been amended 21 times.
While some of the audience members had the HDs as their main interest, many others apparently were concerned with a potential wilderness designation in the Hermosa area that could restrict mountain biking.
San Juan Public Lands staffers reviewed four plan alternatives.
Alternative A is the same as the current plan. B is the recommended alternative with a balance between preservation and multiple use. C gives the most emphasis to preservation, while D gives the most emphasis to multiple use, including motorized use and resource development.
None of the alternatives would change the number of acres in designated wilderness areas, the Piedra Wilderness Study Area, or Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas.
The alternatives differ substantially on recommended wilderness designations for National Forest areas.
A and D recommend nothing. B recommends 50,895 acres for the Hermosa area and three other small areas.
C recommends almost three times as much area for Hermosa, plus designations in 17 other areas, including 5,600 acres in Runlett Park. The only suitable area omitted in C is the HDs.
Alternative B puts 44,115 acres of the HDs into the Special Areas and Unique Landscapes management category, which have specialized management needs. Those can include multiple use.
All four alternatives put 3,144 acres for the Chimney Rock Archeological Area into that category.
Forest plans can put land into seven management categories, from pristine areas with hands-off management, to highly developed areas like ski areas and multiple use commodity production.
According to the summary of alternatives, BLM Wilderness Study Areas would continue to get pristine/ hands off management even if they are released from WSA status by legislation.
The draft plan also considers sections of rivers and streams suitable for designation as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
A, B, and C designate 54.2 miles above Vallecito on the Pine River and tributaries. C also includes 16.6 miles on Vallecito Creek.
A, B, and C include about 22 miles of the Piedra north of Highway 160; also 18.8 miles of the Middle Fork of the Piedra, and 9.4 miles of the East Fork within the wilderness. Other sections also are listed in A and C.
Following a national rule issued in 2005, the plan changes motorized travel management for the entire forest from open unless prohibited to prohibited except on designated routes.
Alternative B has a significant increase from the current plan in areas designated unsuitable for motorized travel. Over snow motorized use areas also are reduced, although it’s not limited to designated routes.
David Baker advised that people interested in commenting on this should submit comments both to the forest plan and specific area travel management plans such as above Vallecito and Lemon, referred to as the Lakes area.
The plan is in three volumes – the Environmental Impact Statement, the land management plan itself with management alternatives, and the appendixes. It covers both Forest Service and BLM land in Southwest Colorado – 2.4 million acres broken into 33 smaller landscape areas.
Plan revision team leader Shannon Manfredi said the direction of the new plan is that “Areas where there is infrastructure, we probably should keep that infrastructure, keep active management. Where there’s no roads, keep that undeveloped.”
At least one follow-up meeting will be scheduled, probably within a month, specifically on the Columbine Ranger District.
The mountain bike fans wanted mechanized use separated from motorized use.
San Juan Public Lands Assistant Manager Thurman Wilson said that is a management decision. He suggested a ban on mechanized use won’t be enforced before land is designated as wilderness, which requires congressional approval.
Manfredi said the Hermosa is “the largest roadless area in the state, but it has a lot of existing uses.”
Closing mountain bike trails will be a big issue, one man said. “Why isn’t there an alternative that includes corridors for that?” he asked.
“That’s a potential change,” Wilson said.
Forest plan comments are due by March 12. They can be submitted on-line at http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/forestPlan. Fax to 916-456-6724. Or mail to San Juan Plan Revision, PO Box 162909, Sacramento CA 95816-2909.
Comments should be as specific as possible, dealing with specific uses in specific areas.
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