Forest planning shift draws fire

A recent shift in national forest planning is being lauded by the Bush Administration as bringing management of public lands into the 21st century. However, conservationists take a different view, charging the new planning rule eliminates environmental protection, hinders public oversight and caters to political allies.

In essence, the overhaul of the 1976 National Forest Management Act gives forest managers throughout the nation more discretion to approve logging, drilling and mining operations without having to complete lengthy environmental impact statements. The Forest Service alleges that the streamlining will actually improve performance and accountability.

"The new rule will improve the way we work with the public by making forest planning more open, understandable and timely," said Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins. "It will enable Forest Service experts to respond more rapidly to changing conditions, such as wildfires, and emerging threats, such as invasive species."

The Forest Service goes on to say that the new rule will make forest planning more timely and cost effective, noting that it now takes five to seven years to revise a management plan. Under the new rule, forest plan revisions will take two to three years.

Collins added, "It takes a 21st Century approach to delivering the full range of values that Americans want for their quality of life: clean air and water; habitat for wildlife; and sustainable uses that will be available for future generations to enjoy."

Jeff Berman, executive director of the Durango-based Colorado Wild, countered that Collins is trying to spin something that will be devastating for public lands. He agreed that the process will be streamlined, but only because environmental protection will be largely eliminated. And Berman concluded that the rule change is another attempt by the Bush Administration to ease natural resource development.

"This new planning rule is no rule," he said. "It eviscerates not only wildlife protection, but eliminates the requirement that the Forest Service even understand the impacts that activities like logging have on the forest. They want to stick our heads in the sand."

The net result of the planning change will be protracted legal fights, according to Berman. He pointed to existing regional lawsuits like with the Missionary Ridge Timber Sale and the proposed Village at Wolf Creek as examples of what happens when the Forest Service tries to bypass the public. With the recent planning rule change, Berman said that more lawsuits will be on the way.

"It just looks like everything is going to go to court from here on out," he said. "This administration intends to do the bidding of the timber industry and other political allies and violate the law. Any consensus-based process is going to go away, and these issues area going to just wind up in court. It's really sad."

The public will have 60 days to comment on the rule change. Written comments may be sent to: Forest Service Content Analysis Team, P.O. Box 22777, Salt Lake City, Utah 84122. Comments also will be accepted by email at planningce@

Resolution reached on Little Molas

On the flip side of the recent national forest rule change, the local Forest Service is currently reaping the rewards of a collaborative process. This week, the agency announced that it has found an agreeable solution for recreational use at Little Molas Lake.

Little Molas entered the spotlight last year when the Forest Service announced plans for a $700,000 renovation of the campground near Molas Pass. A major public objection was that new fees would be associated with the improvements. The Forest Service eventually withdrew the decision and brought a diversity of interests together and created the Little Molas Task Force

"The main reason the decision was withdrawn was we realized we had not adequately involved the public," said Columbine District Ranger Pauline Ellis. "It gave us a chance to step back and get more input."

The new environmental analysis considered old and new public input, as well as recommendations from the Little Molas Task Force. The result is a plan that will address growing impacts while retaining a largely primitive recreation area. The decision calls for: closing user-made trails; correcting erosion problems; restricting vehicle access; improving roads; installing two new toilets and campfire grates at heavily used campsites; constructing at least four handicapped accessible campsites; and increasing trailhead parking for the Colorado Trail.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin this summer, and many measures will be taken to offset construction impacts on natural resources and campers.

City increases parking penalties

The price of trying to score free parking in downtown Durango is about to go up substantially. Effective Jan. 1, the City of Durango will increase certain parking ticket fines.

The current fine of $6 for parking at an expired meter will remain unchanged. However, all other fines will be increased in an effort to improve parking compliance. During the past year, the City's Parking Division has noted significant increases in the number of violations. The recorded number of handicapped zone violations in Durango increased by 79 percent between 2003 and 2004. The same pattern was true for "No Parking Zones," which more than doubled during the same time period.

As a result, the City Council recommended several fine increases in November.

All $8 parking tickets will be raised to $15 after Jan. 1. The $8 fine for "Parking in a Bus Zone" will go up to $20. And the fine for "Unauthorized Parking in a Handicapped Zone," will jump from $50 to $100. The Municipal Court has amended its parking fine schedule accordingly.

The city noted that before making these increases, the council realized that Durango's current parking fines are significantly lower than other similar communities, including Grand Junction, Santa Fe and Telluride.

Buzz bus expands for New Year's

Durango revelers will have no reason to get behind the wheel on New Year's Eve. The city has expanded the hours that the Buzz Bus runs and is planning to use several buses for the service after more than 100 riders took advantage of the service last year.

Service will begin at 7 p.m. this year rather than 11 p.m. and run until 3:30 a.m. After 11 p.m., buses will leave from College and Main Avenue every 30 minutes on a citywide route to return passengers safely home. The service area includes downtown Durango, Crestview, North Main Avenue, Florida Road, Fort Lewis College, and Highway 160 West within the city limits.

Guests and visitors who want to access the service for inbound rides will be required to call the City Transit Department LIFT Line at 259-5438 to schedule their trips. Rides cost $3 per one-way trip, just slightly more than a bottle of Budweiser and much safer.

- compiled by Will Sands





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