Water and Wildlife Threatened by Rio Grande Logging Proposal

Citizens mount legal challenge


Randal McKown, (970) 382-8200
Alice and Gilbert Duran, (719) 376-2461
Nicholas Persampieri, Earthjustice, (303) 623-9466
Bryan Bird, Forest Guardians, (505) 988-9126 ext. 157
Ryan Demmy Bidwell, Colorado Wild!, (970) 385-9833 

Today, a coalition of private land owners and conservation groups took action to stop a logging proposal in the remote, upper watersheds of the San Luis Valley. The coalition charged that the US Forest Service failed to follow procedure to protect water resources, has not complied with wildlife requirements, and generally ignored the cumulative effects of the logging. The County Line timber sale is located high in the Conejos River watershed adjacent to the South San Juan Wilderness and the Continental Divide Trail. Several land owners surrounded by national forest slated for logging joined the lawsuit.

“The Forest Service is degrading our public assets for the benefit of the extraction industries and disguising the activity as a ‘healthy forest’ policy. It is proven and observable that the American lumber industry is unable to conduct a salvage logging operation without seriously diminishing the forest’s natural capability to regenerate itself.” Said Randal McKown, a private property owner in the timber sale area and plaintiff on the lawsuit. “The effect of the County Line operation will be an ugly scar on an important recreational landscape for many generations of Americans.”

The timber sale at issue would cut 29 million board feet (or 7,250 truckloads) of spruce and fir trees from 1,556 acres of high-elevation forests in Conejos County. Nearly 16 miles of inactive and recovering roads would have to be reconstructed to access the trees. The proposed logging area is critical to water production for downstream users that include: recreationists, domestic consumers, agriculture, and wildlife. The logging is in Canada lynx habitat and a popular recreation area.

“Numerous members of the Wolf Creek Wheel Club (based in Pagosa Springs), who have mountain-biked the Continental Divide Trail between Cumbres Pass and the boundary of the South San Juan Wilderness say that this is perhaps the best ride in our region.  Rideablility, outstanding scenery and the unspoiled nature of the trail and surrounding terrain are common reasons given” Said Gary Hopkins president of the Wolf Creek Wheel Club,( which is not a party to the lawsuit). “The size and scope of the County Line timber sale will have dramatic esthetic impacts on the area, including recreational values of the Continental Divide Trail and connecting roads and trails which are used by hikers, bicyclists, hunters, and equestrians.”

The Forest Service claims the timber sale is necessary to reduce spruce beetle risk and spread, but the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently released an 88-page research compilation that casts serious doubt over the concept that logging reduces the chances of a spruce beetle insect infestation spreading.

“This is a classic example of the misplaced priorities of the Bush administration.” Said Bryan Bird, Forest Guardians’ forest program director. “Here you have a proposal to log remote, relatively pristine forests that are critical for water production and provide recreational opportunities to a spectrum of people from all walks of life. The Forest Service should be focusing its limited funds on protecting communities from wildfire.”

Logging to Control Insects: The Science and Myths Behind Managing Forest Insect “Pests.”  A Synthesis of Independently Reviewed Research includes a summary of relevant studies on the importance of insects to forest function and the methods used to control forest “pest” insects, and a compilation of summaries of over 150 scientific papers and Forest Service documents.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Native forest pests have been part of our forests for millennia and function as nutrient recyclers; agents of disturbance; members of food chains; and regulators of productivity, diversity, and density.

  • Fire suppression and logging have led to simplified forests that may increase the risk of insect outbreaks.

  • Forests with diverse tree species and age classes are less likely to develop large insect outbreaks.

  • There is no evidence that logging can control bark beetles or forest defoliators once an outbreak has started.

  • Although thinning has been touted as a long-term solution to controlling bark beetles, the evidence is mixed as to its effectiveness.

“The findings are very clear,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and author of the report. “A review of over three hundred papers on the subject reveals that logging is not the solution to forest insect outbreaks and in the long run could increase the likelihood of epidemics.”

Click here for the report.

Click here for the complaint.

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