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Plans for habitat restoration on U.S. Forest Service lands in the West End are on hold, in response to feedback from communities that are scrambling to replace jobs lost from the retirement of Nucla Station.

The Tabeguache Habitat Restoration project entails forest lands south of Tabeguache Creek in the Tabeguache Basin, Pinto Mesa, Glencoe and Bucktail Creek areas.

There, user-created routes were said to be contributing to habitat fragmentation and the Forest Service in an effort to reduce adverse effects to wildlife, soils and the watershed, had intended road closures and other methods to reduce non-system and user-created routes.

But after hearing from the public during scoping meetings, the agency decided to postpone the project indefinitely Norwood District Ranger Matt Zumstein said.

There have been changes on the West End, including Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s agreement with the state of Colorado to close Nucla Station and the associated coal mine. The affected communities are looking at outdoor recreation in hopes of kickstarting their economies.

“Recreation and travel planning is a piece of that and we want to allow time to encompass that and incorporate it into any decisions we make moving forward,” Zumstein said.

“It’s on hold indefinitely.”

Overall, the communities did not appear to favor restricted access or a reduction in trails and roads in the project area, especially for motorized travel, and the Forest Service wants to allow for more conversations that could bring about a compromise, he also said.

“We need to allow for more time so the trail- and travel-planning and master plan can happen. The timing just wasn’t right to move forward,” said Zumstein.

Still other members of the public expressed concerns about open space and the effect motorized recreation could have on it, he said.

“We’re trying to kind of balance all that out. Given the circumstances and some of the planning efforts, that’s going to lead to some good feedback and potential travel proposals. We want to take a pause to let some of that happen,” said Zumstein.

The Tabeguache Habitat Restoration Project was being implemented under the 2002 Uncompahgre National Forest Travel Plan Record of Decision. That travel plan remains in place; it is the habitat restoration project that is being suspended.

The Forest Service looks at management questions through the “lenses” of multiple use, including motorized and non-motorized travel.

“We’re in the business of serving the public, so we want to make sure whatever we roll out is in the public’s interest and other resources we manage for, such as clean air and wildlife,” Zumstein said.

“We’re trying to do the right thing, make sure we issue a project that’s balanced. We felt we weren’t quite there with this one.”

Should the Tabeguache project be added into another project down the road, or resumed on its own merits, public scoping would be reinitiated, he said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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