Logging complaints: Forest Service hears feedback on Fryingpan timber plan

Dec 21, 2016

John Swomley stands next to the remnants of clear cutting from the Catawampus timber sale last summer. The U.S. Forest Service has proposed another, larger scale timber cutting project in the Upper Fryingpan Valley.
Credit Courtesy of James Swomley

The U.S. Forest Service has a plan to clear cut some sections of the Upper Fryingpan Valley, beyond Ruedi Reservoir. The first round of public comment has ended, and some people are not happy about logging operations in this recreational area.

John Swomley’s family has owned a cabin in the Upper Fryingpan Valley, near Meredith, since the early ‘60s. He and family enjoy fly fishing, mountain biking and running in the White River National Forest, far from the bustle of city life in Boston, where Swomley is a lawyer.

“I’m not just speaking of the distraction of tractor trailers running, with noise and dust billowing and echoing through the valley,” Swomley wrote in his letter to the Forest Service. “I’m speaking of the heartache of having to look at the scarred countryside.”

He was among 33 people who submitted letters, many asking the Forest Service to reconsider its plans for lumber operations.

“This is no longer a valley that needs to be logged, period,” Swomley said. “This is no longer a valley that needs to have any more done to it than protect it.”

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed more clear cutting, like this section from the Catawampus timber sale.
Credit Courtesy of James Swomley

  Brett Crary with the Forest Service said that is exactly what the agency aims to do. The trees in this area are roughly the same age, which can leave the forest vulnerable. Crary said there is a big benefit to cutting some trees to create new growth.

“There’s a lot of science out there that looks at creating age-class diversity within landscapes and how, if you do that, it can be more resilient to bark beetle epidemic, climate change or a wildfire event,” Crary said.  

The Forest Service does cite another purpose for the project: to sell the lumber from that cutting. Most of the downed trees will go to a biofuel plant in Gypsum, and some timber will come down the Fryingpan Road to eventually be sold in Montrose. Hauling that harvest has some Basalt residents concerned about safety on the narrow, winding road, which is heavily used by cyclists, runners, and boaters towing trailers.

Crary said the Forest Service is considering seasonal or timing restrictions to minimize those impacts.

The area immediately surrounding the proposed logging operations is a favorite for recreationalists, including backcountry skiers using 10th Mountain Division huts. The initial plan has snow removal operations well into the winter season and clear cutting of forest within about 30 yards of the Harry Gates Hut. Ben Dodge, executive director of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, said these factors could detract from the backcountry experience.

“I believe the negative consequences of the proposed action, much of those can be minimized by adjusting the timing of the work,” Dodge said.

Crary said the Forest Service has scaled back the original plans and is considering further limiting the amount of logging based on feedback.

The agency will evaluate environmental impacts, and operations could start in 2018.