VALLEY- The conversation about a temporary exception to allow chainsaws in the Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness areas is ongoing.
According to Michael Stansberg, acting supervisor for the Rio Grande National Forest, the possibility of an exception came from concerns that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Monte Vista office has heard from its partners about accessibility and safety. As a result, the Rio Grande National Forest team has since conducted a Minimum Requirement Analysis to determine the feasibility of such a measure. The team also examined the parameters of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
After a significant amount of research, it was determined that an exception to allow chainsaws as a potential tool is possible. However, there are very strict guidelines that would be put in place should the proposal move forward. Those requirements would include a six-week time frame for cutting. Use would also be limited to places where there are at least fallen trees that are blocking trails. Stansberg further noted that the changing conditions of the forest have made management and accessibility a much more difficult task. He also acknowledged that simply leaving trails unattended could potentially result in increased resource damage. There has been support and opposition that has been voiced on this issue. Input has come from locals as well as outside organizations.
The Rio Grande National Forest staff will be meeting this week to discuss the proposal. Stansberg is not convinced that the measure will move forward. Nonetheless, he believes that the USFS “owes it to the community to have these hard conversations.” Further action on this issue is expected to be forthcoming.