DURANGO, Colo. — The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been asked to stop a fuel mitigation project in the San Juan National Forest after it allegedly did not ask the U.S. Forest Service for permission to cut trees along its right-of-way. The Durango Herald reports that USFS officials sent a cease-and-desist order to the railroad in May.
Earlier this spring, the narrow gauge railroad took advantage of the prolonged coronavirus shutdown to cut trees along the right-of-way on the north end of the railroad to reduce the danger of fire. Back in 2018, the railroad was shut down for over a month due to a wildfire and federal fire investigators have said a cinder from a steam locomotive caused the blaze. The fire has resulted in multiple lawsuits. Starting in April, the trees were cut and logs were hauled — behind steam — to Rockwood, where they were loaded onto trucks to be delivered to a nearby sawmill.
But the Forest Service received complaints about just how extensive the cutting project was and noted that the railroad never received permission to cut the trees. The railroad counters that because the work is within its right-of-way it does not need permission to cut them. John Harper, general manager of the D&SNG’s owner American Heritage Railways, told the newspaper it was frustrating to have the project shut down. “One of the chief complaints we hear is about fire mitigation,” he said. “And now we’re actively mitigating and people are concerned and upset about it.”
Forest Service officials said that while many trees were taken out of the area, the debris that was left behind might actually increase the fire danger in certain areas.