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 spans 3.2 million acres, and contains some of the most spectacular scenery, critical habitats, and beautiful recreational areas in the country. However, just 19% of the GMUG is protected as wilderness, leaving many of the forest’s ecosystems and high biodiversity areas unprotected by wilderness or other land designations.
The current GMUG Forest Plan, which directs how the US Forest Service manages land and natural resources in the GMUG, is over 40 years old. 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.
The planning process for a new forest plan began in 2017, and the working draft was released in 2019. This revision process presents a rare chance for the Forest Service to help confront the extinction and climate crises by protecting lands high in biodiversity and carbon storage potential, as well as adopting strong provisions to safeguard imperiled species. The plan revision provides the perfect vehicle to adopt place-based, community-supported conservation protections while helping the nation reach the goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 (30×30), a priority of the Biden administration reflected in the “America the Beautiful” initiative.
On August 13th, 2021, the U.S. Forest Service released its much-anticipated draft revised forest plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Despite broad-based local support for protective land designations, including recommended wilderness, that would restrict extractive logging and mining, the Forest Service significantly increased the amount of forest land that would be available for logging in the DEIS.
For the past few 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 for the Forest Service that recommends 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 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/
Wilderness quality lands are of high importance to us in the North Fork Valley. We need these landscapes to remain intact so that future generations can continue to recreate in them the same way we have. The preferred alternative’s 34,000 acres of recommended wilderness is a small reflection of lands that should be recommended. Our Wilderness resources in the North Fork are worth protecting, and the GMUG Forest must prioritize these resources before they are lost. For more details of our recommendations in the Community Conservation Proposal, please click here.
Our local wildlife populations attract many hunters, anglers, and bird watchers to the North Fork each year. Providing management structures to protect these resources is critical for local communities. Although the USFS offers significant acreage in the draft plan’s preferred alternative as Wildlife Management Areas, management of these areas must include more significant standards and guidelines to protect wildlife species.
Every alternative in the draft plan posits a significant increase in suitable timber, which is a designation that interferes with the potential to manage for uses other than timber production. Some vegetation management projects may be appropriate to improve wildlife habitat or ecosystem health; however, we are also interested in ensuring any type of timber harvest does not impair the values described in our proposals.
Communities across the North Fork Valley rely on drinking and irrigation water which originates from the GMUG National Forest high in our watershed. These water sources must be protected so that our communities can continue to thrive. The plan would add Anthracite Creek as a Wild and Scenic River. However, although the plan also designates a dozen watersheds as part of a “Conservation Watershed Network”, 11 of which have sensitive green-strain Colorado cutthroat trout, it delays taking positive steps for 5 years after implementation until additional plans are developed.
The US Forest Service will host a series of virtual open houses for each Ranger District (RD) and webinars so the public can learn more about the plan. The schedule for these events is:
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.
The DEIS lays out four alternatives for management of the GMUG. Below are WSCC’s stances on some of the areas addressed in the plan.
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!