Forest blowdown causes storm

  The Forest Service is preparing to log nearly 3,000 acres of an October spruce and fir blowdown in Colorado's Routt National Forest (HCN, 11/24/97).

The risk of wildfire and the potential for a spruce beetle outbreak in the blowdown make the North Fork salvage sale an "emergency situation," the regional forester says - one that can go forward even if the project is appealed by opponents.

"(The Forest Service) is annoyed that they have to go through all the hoops. They're saying, "How about just a few of them?" "''''says Suzanne Jones from the Denver office of The Wilderness Society.

Her group, along with 12 other environmental groups and two local resorts, wrote to the chief of the Forest Service in May opposing the regional forester's decision. The agency is expected to release a final environmental impact statement on the project within the next several weeks.

"We haven't shortened the analysis or eliminated or reduced the public participation," says Sherry Reed, spokeswoman for the Routt National Forest. "In fact, I think we've had better public involvement because it hasn't been dragged out."

Environmental groups say the logging operation, which may last for more than three years, will disrupt recreation in the roadless area. They also argue that the Forest Service can't hope to "out-cut" a beetle outbreak.

"The best they can do is pay a whole lot of people to pray for a harsh and early winter," says Jones.

"We don't expect to control the beetles or eliminate the fire hazards," responds Reed, "but in local areas we can have an effect on beetles jumping into healthy stands, and we can certainly affect the fire hazard. If we don't get those logs off the ground pretty soon, the trees will lose value and it will no longer be an economical sale."

*Michelle Nijhuis