In the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas, however, trees have been falling down at a slower pace, but with such frequency the Forest Service can’t keep up with clearing trails with crosscut saws, Robertson said.

Durango Herald

Jonathan Romero

A coalition of conservation groups has sued the U.S. Forest Service for its recent decision to allow chain saws for trail work in two wilderness areas in Southwest Colorado.

The Forest Service announced earlier this month it would skirt the protections in the Wilderness Act, which prohibits motorized use, to allow chain saws to clear downed bark beetle-killed trees across trails in the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, said the Forest Service’s decision was done in secret and is a clear violation of the Wilderness Act. The conservation groups include the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, San Juan Citizens Alliance and Wilderness Watch.

The groups seek for the decision to be overturned and for the courts to force the Forest Service to include public participation and come up with alternate plans for trail work.

“Wilderness exists for its own sake,” said George Nickas with Wilderness Watch in a prepared statement. “It represents a piece of primitive America free of motors and technology that have allowed humans to dominate so much of the planet. It is not the role of the Forest Service to alter wilderness to appease impatient managers or visitors.”

A spokesman for the Forest Service did not immediately return requests seeking comment.

In a previous interview, Jason Robertson, Forest Service deputy director for recreation, lands and minerals, said chain saws have been allowed in wilderness areas in the past, usually after major storm events that knock down vast numbers of trees.

In the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas, however, trees have been falling down at a slower pace, but with such frequency the Forest Service can’t keep up with clearing trails with crosscut saws, Robertson said.

The trees were killed over the past decade during the massive beetle outbreak that started on Wolf Creek Pass. Now, about 222,000 acres have been affected in the Weminuche Wilderness, which is Colorado’s largest wilderness area at about 500,000 acres. In the 158,790 acre South San Juan Wilderness, about 60,600 acres have been impacted.

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Comments

  1. These “Forever Wild Forest” ideas are ridiculous and a very poor forest management technique. Although they are inspired by positive dreams, in practice they do not help the forest. They also destroy local economies and waste valuable materials. Send in the equipment to remove salvageable timber; reduce the fire load on the forest floor; and then give the forest a chance to regenerate itself.

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