Missionary Ridge salvage draws heat
Colorado Wild expresses disappointment with recent decision

A pile of logged timber awaits removal on Missionary Ridge Road last week. On July 18, the San Juan National Forest announced its decision to log the Missionary Ridge burn area. The logging operation will cover more than 3,000 acres and harvest some 13.4 million board feet of timber./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

New San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles is already stirring up some local controversy. In his first major decision as the head of local national forest, Stiles has approved the salvage of dead and dying timber in the Missionary Ridge burn area just northwest of Durango. Colorado Wild is calling the decision an outrage and currently looking into appealing it.

On July 18, Stiles’ decision, which called for a quick harvest before the wood deteriorates, was made public. The decision calls for the salvage harvest of 13.4 million board feet of dead and dying timber on approximately 3,388 acres. A combination of ground-based, helicopter and skyline logging systems would be used. Of this timber, roughly 85 percent would be pine, spruce and fir, and the remainder would be aspen. The decision calls for the reconstruction of 76 miles of existing roads and construction of 3 new miles of temporary roads. Following the harvest, the Forest Service says the areas will be reforested.

When the draft environmental impact statement was released this spring, it drew widespread criticism from the local environmental community. At that time, Jeff Berman, Colorado Wild executive director called it “one of the sloppiest environmental impact statements” he had ever seen.

“They should take this back 85” he said, “there are whole issues missing. There are a bunch of scientific issues that are not even addressed.”

Now, after a comment period and analysis by the Forest Service, Berman’s opinion has not changed. “They failed to correct glaring shortcomings with the environmental impact statement and simply wrote off everyone’s comments,” he said.

Berman continued, “It’s pretty unfortunate that the Forest Service would focus its efforts on an ill-conceived logging project like this, when there’s so much thinning and logging that needs to be done around homes and in the urban/wild interface.”

Dave Dallison, timber program leader for the San Juan National Forest, does not believe that the project is ill conceived. “The primary purpose of the program is to salvage dead and dying timber that would otherwise be lost,” he said. “We’d like to do that without causing significant resource damage. Two of the side benefits would be fuels reduction for future wildfire situations and the destruction of some beetle populations.”

Warning signs and a locked gate on Missionary Ridge Road inform passersby of the ongoing danger caused by last year's fire. Salvage logging in the burn area calls for the use of the road as well as reconstruction
of 76 miles of existing roads and construction of 3 miles of new ones./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Originally, the harvest of 20 million board feet of lumber was proposed. Dallison said that the reduction to 13.4 million board feet was related to the realities of the site rather than opposition to the sale.

“The original proposal was basically what had a possibility of being salvaged,” he said. “Once we got out on the ground and saw what’s physically and financially feasible, those numbers went down.”

As for opposition to the sale, Dallison acknowledged that Colorado Wild, the Environmental Protection Agency, San Juan Citizens’ Alliance, the Town of Bayfield and the La Plata County engineer had lodged concerns in writing. However, he said written comments from the general public on the logging were nearly nonexistent, and comments aired during public scoping meetings were generally positive.

“We really didn’t get a lot from the general public,” Dallison said. “There was quite a bit of positive feedback from the public during the scoping process.”

As for environmental concerns, Dallison said the Forest Service recognizes that the logging will take place in the watershed and is trying to take a sensitive approach.

“Our original intent was that we really don’t want to do significant watershed damage,” he said. “We’ve proposed to use the existing road system on Missionary Ridge which is extensive.”

Another criticism of the sale is that it has been rushed through the public process, a factor that Dallison acknowledged as necessary given the deterioration of the timber. “It was as fast as the process would allow us to do it,” he said. “There were some allegations that we were pushing it, which I guess is true. It’s a situation where we had to do it quickly or not at all.”

However, despite these seemingly best intentions, Berman is crying foul and says the timber sale is too massive, rushed, reckless and as a total clear-cut, would be potentially damaging to the environmental and social fabric of La Plata County. He added that Missionary Ridge is the one case in Colorado where Forest Service officials deliberately ignored scientific finding and fact.

“Unfortunately, with the Missionary Ridge final decision, the Forest Service has not only ignored local concerns, it has ignored scientific concerns and approved as much logging as it legally could,” he said.

In terms of scientific concerns, Berman referenced the Beschta Report, which was authored by eight scientists and endorsed by 50 others and details resource impacts from post-fire salvage logging. Berman said that with respect to Missionary Ridge, and only Missionary Ridge, the Forest Service completely neglected the report.

“They’re doing things that every other forest district in the State of Colorado rejected as being too risky,” Berman said.

Berman said these facts are particularly disturbing since three municipal water supplies will be affected by logging on Missionary Ridge.

As a result, Colorado Wild is looking into appealing the decision. However, prior to an appeal, the conservation organization will be doing its homework since an appeal will likely become a lawsuit after it is rejected, Berman said.

“We are looking at the possibility of appealing depending on the legal strength of our points,” Berman said. “We assume that an appeal will be denied, and we will have to take our case to court.”

The appeal period closes Sept. 2, and Dallison said that if no appeals are filed, logging on Missionary Ridge will likely begin in October.





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