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Article Published: Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Public ignored in forest-plan changes

Five years of work and public input on the White River National Forest's management plan have been derailed by the Bush administration.

The White River National Forest covers 2.3 million acres of central Colorado and hosts more than 8 million visitors a year. It has more recreational use than any other national forest.

For five years starting in the late 1990s, U.S. Forest Service professionals worked on a new management plan to address public concerns and improved science. More than 14,000 citizens commented on the plan, which, when it was adopted in 2002, took a balanced approach to tough policy problems. The plan was upheld last year by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.

Now a political appointee in the U.S. Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service, has trampled the carefully crafted compromise. David Tenny, deputy undersecretary for natural resources, vetoed parts of the plan designed to preserve clean high-country waters, protect endangered lynx habitat and curb damage from off-road vehicles. The authority to override Forest Service decisions traditionally has been rarely used, but Tenny now has done so in four Colorado cases. Its application in this instance, though, is indefensible. The Bush administration has complained that forest management plans take too long to implement, yet Tenny muddied a plan that was years in the making and ready to go.

Tenny is ignoring public comment and scientific study, putting at risk White River wildlife habitat, water quality and tranquility on federal lands. It's an egregious example of the Bush administration's fraudulent claims about heeding science, local control and public input.

The move was bizarre by any standard. Tenny said he found the White River's plan on water use to be ambiguous, yet those provisions were lifted from a Forest Service handbook that's still in effect. In essence, Tenny complained the White River plan followed the agency's policies.

Tenny claimed that additional protections for lynx weren't needed because, "since 1974, there has been no documented evidence that lynx exist" in the White River forest.

That's just not so: Lynx equipped with radio collars are using the forest, wildlife biologists say.

Citizens expressed a clear desire to control off-road vehicles in the White River forest. But Tenny said the sensible restrictions don't comport with the administration's defenestration of rules that previously protected roadless areas.

Unfortunately, Tenny's desk was the last place the White River plan could be appealed inside the administration. Conservationists now face the unpleasant decision whether to sue over the matter.

Who benefits from Tenny's political interference? The ski areas and ORV users who don't stay on trails. The losers will be wildlife - and recreational enthusiasts who truly care about our national forests.
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