extermination plan appealed
Objections may stall thinning, burning
projects between Vail and Avon
A plan to eliminate pine
beetle-infested trees between Vail and Avon has been
challenged by two Minturn attorneys and another man.
Shane Macomber/Daily file photo
May 9, 2006
MINTURN - The Forest Service says Eagle County's
pine beetle problem has grown to "outbreak" levels, but an appeal has
challenged plans to combat the infestation.
In meetings this week, local officials will try to come to an
agreement with opponents of their plan, the "Vail Valley Forest Health
The plan, approved in March, lays out a proposal for about 3,000 acres
of Forest Service land stretching from near Vail to near Wildridge. It
details removal of dead and dying lodgepole pine trees that are
infested with pine beetles as well as the thinning of healthy
lodgepoles to try to slow the spread of the beetles. In addition, it
calls for thinning of aspen trees and shrubs to reduce the risk of
wildfire. Prescribed burns would be used for shrublands.
Projects that are part of the plan are supposed to
start this summer above West Vail's Intermountain neighborhood. The
appeals could delay the start of those projects, said Cal Wettstein,
district ranger for the White River National Forest.
One appeal, submitted by Michael J. Heaphy and Melissa L. Decker of
Heaphy/Decker law firm in Minturn, said the plan has "negligible"
benefits and is harmful to forests. Also, the scope and scale of the
plan are poorly defined, the appeal said. It also said the plan's
treatments for lodgepole pines and aspen stands are not effective, and
that the Forest Service didn't adequately explore what would happen if
nothing at all is done. Neither Heaphy nor Decker could be reached for
comment Monday afternoon.
The other challenger, Richard L. Schnelle, who has an Avon post office
box, said the project fails to address safety concerns in regards to
the use of controlled burns. Schnelle is not listed in the phone book.
If meetings this week don't resolve the dispute, the appeals will go
to the Forest Service's regional office to be decided within two to
three weeks, Wettstein said. If the decision is upheld, the Forest
Service may wind up in court.
Vail and the Forest Service are close to finalizing a deal that will
provide more than $1 million for work in forests near West Vail over
the next five years.
When the project began in 2000, experts expected
the beetles to kill 50 percent to 70 percent of mature lodgepole pine
in the project area. But now, experts say, the bugs have killed 80
percent to 90 percent in areas above the Intermountain neighborhood.
"When we started this (environmental evaluation) 2 1/2 years ago, we
didn't foresee the level of beetle mortality we're seeing now,"
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or