We are lucky to be surrounded by one of the largest National Forest units in the continental United States. The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest contains some of the most spectacular scenery, critical habitats, and beautiful recreational areas in the country.
Every few decades, the US Forest Service must review and revise the management plans for each of its forests. The revised plan will be the blueprint for how our local forests are managed for the next 15 to 20 years. Started in June 2017, the preliminary draft Environmental Impact Statement/Forest Plan Revision will be released in Summer 2019. When this plan is released, it will likely be open for public comments.
For the past two years, WSCC, other conservation organizations, local stakeholders, and members of the public, have worked to identify places within the GMUG National Forest boundaries that deserve special protections. The result is the Community Conservation Proposal, a proposal that would recommend new Wilderness and Special Management Areas throughout the National Forest. The Community Proposal, if adopted, would create administrative protections for recommended Wilderness Areas, create additional outdoor recreation areas in Special Management Areas, and prevent additional and increased development on our public lands. For more info, and to show your support for this community-minded proposal, please go to https://www.gmugrevision.com/
The GMUG Working Draft was released on June 17th, 2019. The Working Draft is intended as an opportunity for citizens to preview the working draft of the forest’s land management plan, engage in the revision process, and provide feedback by July 29, 2019. Please note, this is not the formal draft plan and DEIS comment period, which will occur later in the process.
The US Forest Service has also included a series of public open houses will also be held in local communities from 5:00-7:00 p.m., please consider joining them at:
The Working Draft is an early taste of the direction the Forest Service will be heading with their more comprehensive Draft Forest Plan, which will be released sometime this coming winter. The revised forest plan will set management direction for 15 years or more, so it is critical that it provide a conservation-prioritized, science-based foundation for future uses. The forest plan makes decisions for where new wilderness areas may be recommended, where commercial logging will and will not be allowed and how much volume can be cut, the intensity of recreation use on the forest, how the forest will contribute to climate change avoidance and adaptation, how wildlife will be protected, and so much more.
Plan components guide future projects and activities (Figure 2). Plan components are not commitments or final decisions to approve projects or activities. The Working Draft is written to explore different Desired Conditions, Objectives, Standards, and Guidelines for numerous resources on the GMUG, including recreation, timber, watersheds, and scenery, among others. While Desired Conditions, Objectives, and Guidelines allow for flexibility in projects that may occur in the Forests, only Standards provide clear limits on what can or cannot happen. Overall, the plan needs to include more standards, i.e. mandatory limits on action, instead of more flexibility.
Frustratingly, there is no land in the North Fork Valley watershed recommended for wilderness or special management area in the Working Draft (and only 22,400 acres across the entire GMUG!). In the Community Conservation Proposal, we had several recommendations for Wilderness Areas and Special Management Areas that were not included in the Working Draft, including areas that are already upper- and middle- tier Roadless areas. Specifically, these areas include the Electric Mountain Recommended Wilderness, the Elk Park Recommended Wilderness just south of Overland Reservoir, and the Chalk Mountain Recommended Wilderness just north of the Overland Reservoir. We need your voice getting these included! For a full list of our recommendations, please click here.
Guidelines for protecting big game (deer, elk, bighorn sheep) on birthing grounds and winter range would be voluntary. They need to be mandatory. Big game habitat connectivity guidelines are included in the Working Draft, but no management areas are proposed to allow for connectivity within the North Fork Valley watershed.
The plan provides limited monitoring framework for managing invasive species throughout the forest, or monitoring disturbances in the GMUG Forests for invasive species
The Working Draft only creates standards for domestic and bighorn sheep, with no objectives or guidelines for wildlife corridors on the Forests. Despite our recommendations in the Community Conservation Proposal, no special management areas were included in the Working draft in the North Fork Valley. The Working Draft also allows for timber harvest in high-probable Canada Lynx use areas, which cannot be allowed, and seems to contradict it’s desired condition for the species.
Approximately 971,000 acres of land on the Forests have been identified as suitable for timber production in the Working Draft Forest Plan. It appears that about 100,000 more acres would be suitable for timber harvest under this plan versus the 1991 amended plan. This means more timber could be cut during the life of the new plan. The plan also allows for 100 acre clear cuts of aspen stands on the Forests.
The plan proposes to establish conservation watershed networks to protect watersheds and sensitive species like trout and boreal toad, but provides no detail on how these networks would be applied and maintained.
Our public lands belong to us, the public, and we deserve to have a say in the process. The US Forest Service wants to hear about what parts of the GMUG National Forests are most special to you. Have a favorite spot you like to hike? A favorite spot you like to hunt? A special trail you like to ride? Let them know!
The most important thing is to be specific! Make a specific recommendation, suggestion, or call for correction
“I am a resident of…”
“I live adjacent to XXX ”
“My family has farmed/ranched in this area for XXX years…”
“I choose to live here because…”
“I hike/bike/hunt/recreate in XXX area and want the resources protected because…”
“I would like XXX places to be protected because…”
Let the Forest Service know clean water is important to you! The Community Conservation Proposal would ensure that protections are put in place in our watershed. From Special Management Area to recommended Wilderness, protections for headwaters will ensure our water is clean down stream. Take this opportunity to to weigh in on the unique qualities of our local creeks and rivers!
The Community Conservation Proposal would designate areas in the GMUG National Forest as Special Management Areas (SMA), which would keep mechanized routes open, but would also protect resources and wildlife from increasingly encroaching roads and developments. Tell the Forest Service you want your ride to stay wild!
The GMUG varies from 14,000-foot peaks to 5,800-foot canyon bottoms, and encompasses a diverse array of ecosystems and wildlife, from semi-desert shrub-lands to alpine meadows. In the face of climate change and increased human pressure, the GMUG National Forest provides a large, diverse, and healthy stronghold for wildlife, connecting ecologically varied habitats across the greater Southern Rockies. Make sure you’re voice is heard to protect these beautiful areas!