Sunday, August 9, 2020

County help requested for US Forest Service plan revision

Formal process to start in June

by Seth Mensing

The U.S. Forest Service is preparing to revise the Forest Plan for the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests starting in June and the agency is reaching out to county governments to help get the ball rolling.

Gunnison County manager Matthew Birnie told the county commissioners that the Forest Service had invited the county to participate in an early, informal process during which they would provide a staff contact as well as help identify the most critical needs to be addressed in the planning process and then help review drafts of working documents.

Since 1976, the U.S. Forest Service has been required to keep individual plans for the forests and grasslands it manages. The Forest Plans are meant to provide a big-picture view of the objectives and concerns land managers have and provide guidance to managers working on the ground.

But the current GMUG Forest Plan was developed in 1983 and conversations about updating it have lingered for years, as it doesn’t adequately consider the recreational uses that dominate the GMUG today. When the Forest Service posted its 2012 Planning Rule, which requires Forest Plans to be science-based and developed with extensive public involvement, revising the GMUF Forest Plan became a priority.

The Forest Service typically relies on local governments to conduct the bulk of the outreach to interest groups during the revision process, but this invitation brings the county to the table before the formal process gets started. Commissioner Jonathan Houck said he hoped to make recreational planning, campgrounds and trailheads a priority in those conversations.

“They call it informal, but it’s part of the process. So it’s like a pre-scoping of the pre-scoping and the question is, ‘Do we want to be a part of it?’” Houck said. “And my answer is yes.”

Commissioner John Messner agreed by phone and commissioner Phil Chamberland was absent from the meeting, so Birnie will accept the invitation.

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