Trout Unlimited Calls White River National Forest Flow Protection Plan “Misguided”
Director, Colorado Water Project
303/440-2937 x. 11
6/4/2002 -- Denver, Colo. -- Trout Unlimited (TU) says that key parts of a new Forest Service management plan for the White River National Forest are misguided and a retreat from a previous draft plan that protected fisheries. The White River is the nation’s 5th most visited National Forest and home to some of Colorado’s best trout fisheries, including the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers.
In 1999, White River forest officials issued a draft to revise the 1984 Forest Plan. After unprecedented Congressional attention and sifting through tens of thousands of comments, the Forest Service released its Final Plan today. The plan will guide the management of over two million acres of national forest lands for the next 15 years.
While in 1999, after extensive public outreach lasting five years, Forest officials recommended a draft plan that would have placed a priority on habitat preservation and environmental protection, the Final Plan retreated from these priorities in favor of managing for “multiple resource outputs.”
The Final Plan dropped the draft plan’s goal of protecting stream flows on at least 10% of Forest streams over ten years. It also softened the draft's standard for requiring flow protection, including, if necessary by using the Forest Service's permitting authority to impose bypass flows to keep water in streams.
While the Final Plan does include standards to protect habitat for self-sustaining fisheries and to require minimizing damage and “otherwise protecting the environment” where a private water development project will adversely affect a Forest stream, it lacks any quantifiable standards and doesn’t assert the full range of the Forest Service’s legal authorities for flow protection. TU volunteer John Trammell with the Grand Valley Anglers in Grand Junction said that, “The Final Plan includes vague promises to protect resources, but offers no meaningful direction on how much protection is needed and how it will be provided. The Forest Service is saying to the public ‘trust us’ – but without binding standards, that requires the public to take a difficult leap of faith.”
And while the Final Plan does not explicitly embrace the strategy urged by some of clear-cutting trees to increase the amount of water flowing off Forest lands, the fact that the Final Plan substantially increases the number of acres available for logging from the amount in draft preferred alternative leaves open this approach. Melinda Kassen, TU's Colorado Water Project Director questioned the wisdom of that decision, “While it appears that the Forest Service wisely refused to endorse ‘logging for water’ explicitly, TU is dismayed that, by increasing the acreage available for logging by one-third over present, they have allowed the possible use of this misguided strategy which can decimate local rivers and fisheries for almost completely illusory gains in water yield.”
There were also some positive changes between the draft and final plans. Most notably, the Final Plan now includes expanded protections for at-risk Colorado River cutthroat trout, the native trout on the White River National Forest. David Nickum, Executive Director of TU’s Colorado Council, said, “The Plan includes strong standards and guidelines for protecting and recovering native trout, and we hope other forests will follow suit in their plan revisions as well.”
In addition, Nickum commended the Forest Service for recognizing the importance of including fish (brook trout and brown trout) in the list of species the Forest will monitor to assess forest health. “For watersheds, fish in a stream are like the miner’s canary – key indicators of the ecosystem’s health. We are gratified that the Forest Service ultimately agreed to look at how fish are faring when analyzing the White River's health.”
Kassen also expressed disappointment that the Forest failed to include any objective watershed protection standards. “Beyond acknowledging the importance of watersheds and their intent to inventory watersheds, the Forest Service missed the opportunity to create meaningful strategies and guidelines that would protect watersheds from specific project impacts or map an objective course for restoring degraded watersheds," she said.
In addition, the Plan allows continued logging and road construction in more than half of the Forest's roadless areas. “Despite overwhelming support for protecting roadless areas and the best effort of the Forest's staff, the Plan fails to protect many of these vital areas,” said Colorado Trout Unlimited President Ken McClatchy. “The Forest Service will reap a harvest of controversy and conflict with every ill-advised effort to enter roadless areas.”
Trout Unlimited is the nation's leading coldwater conservation organization and is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of trout and salmon rivers and streams and their watersheds. The organization has over 130,000 members in North America, including 8,200 members in Colorado.
For more information: David Nickum 303/440-2937 x. 12, John Trammell 970/243-4304