USA — Environmentalists are worried that fragile fens, or a type of peat wetland, will be harmed if the U.S. Forest Service approves a timber sale on Grand Mesa designed to control the spread of spruce beetles and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire.
The agency will decide this month whether to approve the 614-acre Skinned Horse Timber Sale, a commercial tree salvage and forest thinning project near Ward Lake in the Grand Mesa National Forest.
The sale would harvest some green trees and remove dead trees that were killed during windstorms last year.
If approved, tree cutting likely will begin sometime in 2008, said Carol McKenzie, timber management assistant for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.
The sale is one of the two Ward Lake Vegetation Management Projects in Delta County, which also include a 508-acre dead tree removal and forest thinning project near the Grand Mesa Visitor Center, a project that environmental groups are not opposing. Forest officials approved that project two weeks ago.
But Ryan Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, said he worries the Skinned Horse sale could harm lynx, boreal owl, boreal toad and sensitive plant habitat in or near the fens.
The building of roads or putting in culverts can have tremendous impact on wetlands, even if youre not physically disturbing the wetlands, he said.
Its not possible to create a fen wetland on another site.
A fen, rare in western Colorado but more common in the mountains, is a wetland with a layer of peat 40 centimeters or thicker fed by groundwater.
You can almost think of them as an old-growth wetland, said Joe Rocchio, a wetland ecologist for the Colorado Natural Heritage Program in Fort Collins. These things take thousands of years to form.
Many fens are 5,000 to 10,000 years old, harboring many unique plants, and are important to the areas biological diversity, he said.
Bidwell said when you walk on a fens peat, it feels like youre walking on something floating.
Colorado Wild filed comments earlier this year opposing the Skinned Horse sale on behalf of seven other environmental groups.
But because the threat of the bark beetle spread is so severe, both Ward Lake projects must begin as soon as possible, said Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis, who toured the Ward Lake area with Delta County and Forest Service officials.
If I had to choose between a fen and the destruction of our forest, I would err on the side of protecting our forest and our forest health, Meis said.
If bark beetles kill the forest on Grand Mesa, it could hurt water quality in the mesas watersheds, he said.
We want to make sure we dont have a forest which is dead or dying and is going to be destroyed because of inaction on our part, he said.
Proponents of the projects are asking environmentalists not to appeal the Forest Services decisions on the projects, Delta County Commissioner Wayne Wolf said.
It cuts into their credibility if they are going to oppose everything, he said.
Bidwell said Colorado Wild hasnt decided whether it will appeal a Forest Service decision to go ahead with the Skinned Horse sale.
After notice of each decision is published in The Daily Sentinels legals section, the Forest Service allows those who wish to appeal the decisions 30 to 45 days to do so.