Forest Service orders Colorado train to stop fire mitigation

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service shut down an extensive fire mitigation project after raising concerns about the number of trees being cut down and sold to a logging company in southwestern Colorado.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad completed eight miles (12 kilometers) of the tree-cutting project before the Forest Service sent the railroad a cease-and-desist order May 27, The Durango Herald reported Thursday.

“Members of the public and Forest Service resource specialists have raised a number of concerns about ... clearing activities currently being conducted along the railroad right-of-way,” San Juan National Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick said in the order.

The project focused on the 100-foot (30-meter) right of way on each side of the railroad tracks from the Cascade station to Silverton, said John Harper, general manager of American Heritage Railways, which owns the D&SNG. It was intended to help prevent wildfire and derailment.

Downed trees were sold to the Dolores-based IronWood Mill, which was also contracted to cut down the trees, Harper said.

“There’s been some misrepresentation because people consider it logging,” Harper said. “But any salvageable timber was taken out of the canyon so it could be put to good use rather than be disposed of or wasted.”

The D&SNG did not inform the Forest Service of its project because the railroad isn’t required to notify the agency of work in its right of way, he said.

But Chadwick said since the track crosses and is adjacent to National Forest land, federal law requires the railroad to inform the agency of any work that may go beyond routine maintenance.

“The regulation requires you inform the Forest Service in order to obtain a determination that the work is routine ... and is therefore exempt from permit requirements,” Chadwick said.

Forest Service spokeswoman Esther Godson said Thursday the situation remains under investigation and the agency has no further comment.