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National Forest Foundation presents diverse funding ideas to Gunnison County Commissioners

We fund on-the-ground forest stewardship projects

By Kristy Acuff

At a time when everything from the trailheads to the toilets are being used to capacity by visitors to the surrounding national forests, Gunnison County residents and non-profits may soon be able to find support for forest stewardship through the National Forest Foundation (NFF), an organization that presented to the Gunnison County Commissioners on Tuesday, December 19.

“The purpose of our foundation is to fund on-the-ground stewardship projects on national forest land in need of repair and restoration,” said Emily Oleson, Colorado program manager for the NFF.

Oleson explained that one avenue for funding such projects is the ski conservation fund implemented by the NFF. The NFF matches any funds collected by ski areas that operate on national forest lands. For example, guests are asked if they would like to pay one extra dollar for each night of lodging or lift ticket. If they agree, the ski resort collects the money and distributes it to the National Forest Foundation. The NFF matches each dollar collected with 50 cents of additional foundation money. The results can add up quickly.

“Vail Resort collected $300,000 that was matched 50 percent by the foundation for a total of $450,00 in funds to be distributed as grant money for local non-profits and government agencies to carry out stewardship projects,” Oleson explained.

Gunnison district ranger Matthew McCombs is excited about the prospect of bringing the National Forest Foundation to Gunnison to attack several outstanding needs in the surrounding public lands. According to McCombs, increasing visitation to our forests is forcing the United States Forest Service to adapt in order to protect the landscape and watershed.

“This means adapting our recreation infrastructure to meet higher demands like adding suitable parking and bathrooms where needed and modernizing our trailheads and campgrounds. These improvements require significant investments that NFF could help offset or fully fund in the absence of sufficient funding from Forest Service budgets,” explained McCombs in an email.

In addition, he says, funds “could immediately increase the opportunities we create for both young and old to participate in stewardship activities by funding conservation corps crews and volunteer projects through organizations such as Volunteers Outdoor Colorado, the Wildland Restoration Volunteers, or closer to home by partnering with Gunnison Trails, the Gunnison Stockgrowers, CBMBA, GOATS, the Upper Gunnison Conservancy District or our friends at the masters in environmental management program at Western [State Colorado University].”

All three commissioners agreed that increased funding for stewardship would go a long way in the Gunnison area, but cautioned that local entities such as 1% for Open Space could be negatively impacted if the voluntary donation pie is divided into too many slices.

“We don’t want to compete with the local partners who are already out there collecting funds for preservation and stewardship,” commissioner Jonathan Houck pointed out.

When asked later for the perspective from Crested Butte Mountain Resort about instituting the ski conservation campaign, resort vice president Erica Mueller emphasized the need to get as many local institutions as possible involved and pointed out that the resort already supports the Crested Butte Land Trust through the “Tips for Trust” initiative.

“If we were to participate, we would want to encourage other entities in the community to participate as well … to make it a broader, more successful program. We feel that community collaboration has much more impact than each entity acting individually. While the Ski Conservation Fund would only have the matching funds for CBMR-generated contributions, we still feel that a valley-wide initiative would provide a stronger message and greater benefit,” Mueller wrote.

“We should try to get creative as a community to develop funding sources for the NFF, and we at CBMR are talking about ways to participate, “ Mueller continued. “But as a resort, we also need to weigh any potential impacts of supporting the NFF and determine if this is an opportunity we can effectively absorb in addition to our current commitments.”

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