Wednesday, November 20, 2019

USFS dealing with backcountry troubles

Can the humans please stop pooping in the woods?

By Aimee Eaton

It’s deep summer and for the last two months area trails and backcountry sites have been getting hammered by almost constant use. Responsible or detrimental, that use has consequences both for the landscape and for the people who visit.

“We’ve seen a real increase in use this year across the forest, but especially north of Gunnison in the areas around Crested Butte, Cement Creek and Taylor Park,” said Patrick Medina, the fire management officer at the U.S. Forest Service’s Gunnison Ranger District. “There have been challenges, but with the amount of use we’ve had, we’ve also been able to see some continuing success, like in the Gothic corridor.”

The Gothic Corridor was closed to dispersed camping this year due to the issues associated with overuse. Medina said the feedback his office has been receiving indicates there has been less resource damage as a result.

“We’re still seeing some camping that is occurring and those turn into issues of compliance,” Medina said. “We’ve had to issue some citations within the closure area. Some people may just think it’s national forest and dispersed camping is allowed; I think folks are still learning.”

Beyond camping, one of the largest and perhaps grossest issues in the backcountry comes from day users.

“There is a lot of human waste out there,” said Medina. “It’s especially disturbing because we’re seeing a lot of waste in the Gothic Corridor where there are a fair number of facilities down low.”

The Forest Service is currently working to improve people’s awareness and use of the available toilet facilities by increasing signage at the locations and by working with their rangers and local groups Mountain Manners and the Crested Butte Conservation Corp to increase education about human waste management in the backcountry.

“We’re making sure the infrastructure is in place to deal with the situation and for the proper disposal of waste,” said Medina. “In particular we’re seeing issues near Emerald Lake where the slide across the road is.”

Other issues the Forest Service have regularly found include abandoned and escaped campfires and non-stop usage of dispersed camping sites.

“With the amount of recreation that we see around Crested Butte we get this phenomenon of continual occupancy so that there is a season-long impact at the site,” said Medina. “Typically what you’d like to see is occupancy, then a period of deferment where there is no occupancy on that site to allow the vegetation the chance to recover through the season.”

The high levels of use have resulted in the formation of several area groups that are now working with the Forest Service to protect the landscape and provided education to land users.

“We’ve been working closely with groups like the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and the new Conservation Corps along with our existing field crews to maintain what we have,” said Medina. “We’re also working with Mountain Manners on getting the message out of just being good visitors. It really does matter—every small decision that a visitor makes—in terms of what type of use we have, and what sort of impact we see left behind.”

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