Here’s a link an article on the Methow Valley Ranger District request.
Matthew posted this press release written by San Juan Citizen’s Alliance and Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Here’s the Forest Service side as reported in the Durango Herald. Some excerpts:
The ultimate decision, however, was left up to Brian Ferebee, the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain regional forester. On May 7, Ferebee approved the request, but noted he was “concerned about the impacts to wilderness character” that chain saw work would have in the two wilderness areas.
As a result, Ferebee placed certain restrictions on the project, such as limiting work to no more than six weeks between June 1 and Aug. 17 and requiring a Forest Service staffer to supervise work.
“The magnitude of obstructed trails across these two wilderness areas, and the potential resource damage that will occur if we do not open these trails to wilderness visitors, warrants the rare and limited exception to allow chain saw use,” Ferebee wrote.
In a previous interview, Jason Robertson, the Forest Service’s lead on the project, said chain saws have been used in wilderness areas in the past, but usually in circumstances after a major storm knocked down vast amounts of trees.
At the heart of the conservation groups’ complaint is the risk that allowing motorized use for trail work could chip away at the Wilderness Act and could be applied to other areas of the U.S. where bark beetles have ravaged forests.
The Forest Service’s Roberts said allowing chain saws into the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas would not set a precedent for other Forest Service districts.
But Robertson’s statement appears to be contradicted by his supervisor’s own words in his letter approving the project. Ferebee said he wants a detailed report of how many trees were cut, total miles of trails cleared and summary of the project.
“Your reports will help determine if any future chain saw allowances are justified and needed to administer wilderness in the Rocky Mountain Region,” Ferebee wrote.
Note: Brian Ferebee is my former boss, so perhaps I am biased. But why would this one be setting a precedent any more than any other approvals of chain saws in Wilderness? There is a difference between collecting data for analysis and future decision making and “setting a precedent” in my mind. I don’t understand exactly what the reporter is thinking.
In hunting for more information, I ran across a GAO report on this topic from 1970 (50 years ago!). Sometimes the internet is a wondrous thing. Here’s the link.
In GAO’s view, the construction and presence of trails, bridges, and other facilities in wilderness and similar areas, as well as the presence of litter left in the areas by the users, are basically inconslstent with the ideal wilderness concept. GAO believes that, once decisions have been made to construct such facilities and to dispose of accumulated litter, the factors of economy and convenience as well as others should be considered in determining whether the use of motorized equlpment is reasonable and desirable in the circumstances.