A rancher sees red over a timber sale

  • Rancher Sharon Jordan fighting to halt logging

    Jennifer Weber photo/Daily Sentinel

Of all the timber sales currently being proposed in Colorado and southern Wyoming, the Sheep Flats timber sale on Grand Mesa has been called the worst - so bad ranchers and environmentalists have united against it.

Sharon Jordan, who has been ranching with her husband in Collbran for 25 years, is rallying support among her friends and neighbors to fight the sale.

"I'm not a big meeting person," Jordan said. "So I just decided to take people up there and let them see for themselves what's at stake." For seven weekends, she guided people into the proposed logging areas. One of the last groups included environmentalists and a newspaper reporter.

Jordan said she has a lot of problems with the Sheep Flats sale, which is composed of three proposed sales in inventoried roadless areas and another on the boundary of one of those. But most of all, she doesn't want to see one of the last untrammeled areas on Grand Mesa destroyed.

"It's absolutely a pristine area," she said. "There are not a lot of human impacts in there."

Grand Mesa is a distinct ecological area, rising out of the high desert east of Grand Junction. At an estimated 250,000 acres, with an average altitude of 10,000 feet, it is one of the largest high mesas in the country. The area receives heavy snowfall in most years, which feeds numerous ponds, wetlands and reservoirs. Grand Mesa is one of the most highly valued recreation areas in the state, drawing campers, hikers, anglers, hunters and cross-country skiers.

One of the first things the Forest Service would do is "upgrade" eight miles of four-wheel track going into the Priest Mountain roadless area, creating a road that will service 18-wheelers, Jordan says.

In all, the Forest Service plans to build 23.7 miles of new roads and 10 miles of reconstructed roads, and cut 15.3 million board-feet of timber from 3,060 acres, about 2,000 of those acres in the Salt Creek roadless area, in the combined Sheep Flats sale.

"There are already too many roads on Grand Mesa," Jordan said. "And they don't really close them; they just put up a sign at each end. These roads have a big impact on wildlife."

The Forest Service wants to log 462 acres of aspen, including 47 acres of old growth from the Leon Creek drainage in the Priest Mountain roadless area. The agency also proposes two sales of spruce/fir shelterwood cuts within the Salt Creek roadless area, including 1,226 acres of identified old growth, according to the draft environmental impact statement. Another timber sale is proposed just outside the boundary of the Salt Creek roadless area.

Jordan worries that logging will drive deer and elk down onto area ranches, where they will damage crops but be off limits to hunters. A significant source of Collbran's income is the influx of hunters each fall, she said.

Another downside of logging not addressed by the draft EIS, she said, is the effect it might have on the ranchers' water supply. The forest cover allows for the mesa to retain moisture well into the late summer, so that runoff is parceled out slowly. In most years that runoff provides irrigation water late in the summer.

"We don't need more water in the spring," she said. "We need it later in the summer. I don't think the Forest Service has even considered that these things might happen."

You can ...

* Contact the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest in Delta, Colo., at 970/874-6600.

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