Forest Service approves the use of chainsaws in the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas.

When I first saw chain saws were approved for use in the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas, I assumed the ban was because of wildfire risk. Stage 1 & Stage 2 Fire Restrictions have become a way of life for so long in Colorado I figured that's what the news was about.  Stage 2 restrictions say..."No operating a chainsaw or any other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine from the hours of 9 a.m. to 8 p.m."  I was wrong. Some wilderness advocates believe allowing chains saws to cut down bark beetle damaged trees is a violation of The Wilderness Act.

The Wilderness Act was passed back in 1964. For over 50 years it's been the strictest form of protection for wild places ever created. It doesn't allow any form of machinery use. Roughly a third of public land is under this protection. That's about 235 million acres of wilderness. There are exceptions in certain emergency situations like fighting fires. The exceptions are usually granted when the mechanized use benefits the environment. Isn't the removal of dead trees a benefit to the environment? Chainsaw use within the protected areas isn't new, either. In the past, the Forest Service has allowed chainsaws in to remove trees taken down by storms.

The US Forest Service approved the use of chain saws to clear trees killed by bark beetles in both wilderness areas in southwest Colorado. A conservation group called "Wilderness Watch" opposes the use of the saws saying it could set a precedent that could weaken the Wilderness Act. The Forest Service says that this summer's use of saws is for "Removing obstructions will enhance visitor safety, improve access and reduce resource damage that occurs when visitors bypass dead and downed or leaning trees, which can create social trails, trample vegetation and cause soil erosion."