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.
The draft plan was open to public comment until November 26th, 2021. Now, after public comments have been submitted, the Forest Service will go through a lengthy process of reviewing substantive comments and responding to them. Next, the Forest Service will release a final plan for the GMUG National Forest, expected in the spring of 2022.
We will do everything we can to keep you informed of next steps and how to take action. Stay tuned as things progress
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/
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 Forest Service publishes all comments received on the draft plan to their reading room, unless otherwise specified by commenters. The link above will bring you to that page, where you can browse and search through submitted comments on all versions of the plan.
WSCC worked with a group of other environmental and non-profit organizations to read and respond to the draft plan. In doing so, we supported the inclusion of the Community Conservation Proposal, Gunnison Public Lands Initiative, and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act in the final plan. We also advocated for additional protections for wildlife, Wilderness, and water.
WSCC staff also teamed up with Wilderness Workshop to submit supplemental comments advocating for additional protections for wildlands in the North Fork Valley.