Coalition appeals Missionary Ridge logging plan
Group cites sloppy analysis, hazardous logging, and social and environmental impacts

Felled timber rests on private land next to Missionary Ridge Road. A Forest Service decision to log dead and dying trees on thousands of nearby acres was
recently challenged by a broad-based coalition. /Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Plans to log thousands of acres within the Missionary Ridge burn area were challenged by a broad-based coalition last week. A group made up of conservation and recreation groups, businesses and individuals expressed its concerns about the proposed salvage logging in the form of an appeal. The 55-page document named concerns including faulty federal analysis, impacts to La Plata County’s tourism-based economy, increased risk of erosion from logging and damage to the area’s regeneration.

In mid-July, San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles announced his approval of the salvage logging of dead and dying timber in the Missionary Ridge burn area, northwest of Durango. The decision called for the speedy 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 also called for the reconstruction of 76 miles of existing roads and construction of three new miles of temporary roads. Following the harvest, the Forest Service said the areas would be reforested.

Since early spring, the timber sale has been on an admitted fast track in an effort to harvest the timber before its value is lost to deterioration. Dave Dallison, timber program leader for the San Juan National Forest, has agreed that the analysis has been quick and commented, “It’s on an extremely fast track, probably half the time this type of sale normally takes. This is the time frame because the timber is deteriorating.”

However, opponents charged that the fast track has led to sloppy analysis and neglect for public concerns. Consequently, a coalition, including the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance; Colorado Wild; the Wilderness Society; the Pine River Valley Nordic Ski Club; Eric Husted, of Lorax Forest Care; and private citizens Tim Hogan, Mike Bond, Rick Callies, Deirdre Butler and David Lien, filed an appeal of the decision on Sept. 2. In the lengthy appeal, the coalition charged that the timber sale is too massive and too rushed and would be damaging to the environmental and social fabric of La Plata County.

Mark Pearson, San Juan Citizens’ Alliance executive director, characterized the burn area as too sensitive to sustain logging. “Cutting new roads and skidding logs across the steep, denuded slopes of the Missionary Ridge burn area simply makes no sense,”he said. “Recent heavy rains have caused repeated mudflows across County Road 250 and have proven the fragile and unstable condition of these burned watersheds. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that post-fire logging will only make worse the risk of landslides, flooding and water pollution from runoff.”

The appeal elaborated that the Forest Service decision approved logging and road reconstruction in 479 acres of debris flow hazard area, approved logging in 1,316 acres of high erosion hazard areas and ignored an Environmental Protection

Among other things, the Sept. 2 appeal charges that the Forest Service failed
to do adequate environmental analysis on the sale./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Agency recommendation that logging be avoided on steep slopes. In addition, it stated that the Forest Service rejected a La Plata County request to minimize logging truck traffic impacts and eliminated key mitigation measures aimed at protecting the environment and water quality. Furthermore, the appeal said that the decision would potentially allow logging on thousands of acres that were reseeded after the fire and effectively destroy those rehabilitation efforts.

“The Forest Service’s decision violates both common sense and its own Forest Plan that explicitly prohibits logging on steep slopes,” Pearson said. “By authorizing logging and road building in areas just beginning to revegetate, the Forest Service will undermine its own erosion protection efforts from last year designed to protect water quality and reduce threats to homes downhill.”

Co-appellant Eric Husted is the owner and operator of the local logging operation Lorax Forest Care and does his work primarily with horses to minimize impacts. He said that given the economic realities of salvage timber, the public can expect loggers to cut corners on Missionary Ridge. “Given that burned timber garners lower (price paid by the mill for the wood), Missionary Ridge loggers will have to cut corners to ensure they can profitably harvest the wood, increasing the likelihood that mitigation measures won’t be adhered to,” Husted said.

Jeff Berman, Colorado Wild executive director, said that in addition to neglecting environmental impacts, the Forest Service has neglected public comment and concerns about the sale. He pointed to numerous examples in the decision where the agency responded to concerns simply by saying, “we disagree.”

Berman commented, “The Forest Service’s response to concerns raised by the Town of Bayfield, La Plata County, conservation groups, the vast majority of citizens commenting on the proposal, recreation groups, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even loggers were, by and large, written off or ignored altogether.”

Berman also noted that of all post-fire logging operations proposed in a state that was ravaged by wildfire in 2002, the Missionary Ridge timber sale is the only one to neglect concerns about steep slope logging.

“The forest conservation community hasn’t appealed a single other post-fire salvage logging proposal in Colorado thus far as the Forest Service reasonably heeded concerns of steep slope logging and other impacts,” he said. “Yet they refused to do so with Missionary Ridge.”

In spite of the appeal’s serious charges, Berman said that the coalition is not opposed to all logging on Missionary Ridge. “We haven’t called for zero logging up there,” he said. “We’ve called for all risky logging to be eliminated.”

On the other side of the table, Dallison said the Forest Service is trying to heed a deadline that’s being imposed by Mother Nature. In particular, he cited Ponderosa Pine as potentially losing nearly all value after 18 months, a date that’s rapidly approaching

“We’re really pushing it on that right now,” Dallison said. “We’re just hoping that we can get the wood salvaged while it still has value. We were thinking we could sell some the timber this fall, and some of it could be winter logged, particularly the aspen before the new shoots underneath get too large and we start damaging them.”

The sheer existence of an appeal will push logging back by at least two months, according to Dallison. “Basically this costs us at least 60 days,” he said. “We have 45 days to resolve the appeal and then an automatic stay of 15 days following the appeal resolution period.”

However, Dallison said there is a chance of negating the appeal during an informal resolution meeting Sept. 16. If the Forest Service is able to sufficiently address appellants’ concerns at that time, the appeal can be withdrawn.

Berman said that the coalition has its doubts. “The fact that they’ve only scheduled an hour for that meeting doesn’t suggest to me that they’re interested in resolving these issues,” he said.






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