Draft forest plan for GMUG soliciting public comment

Local concerns already being expressed

[ by Mark Reaman ]

The long awaited draft revision plan for the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest was released last week on August 13 and the public will have 90 days to make comments on the proposal. The plan is the major guiding document on how things like recreation, logging and wildlife are managed on the nearby national forests.

A series of webinars and virtual open houses will be held throughout the region to give the public opportunity to provide feedback. The draft plan and alternatives can be seen at https://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/gmug/forestplan.

A Zoom open house specific to Gunnison is slated for September 28 at 5 p.m. The Zoom link will be able to be accessed at (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81812011784). A morning and an evening webinar to discuss various elements of the plan are scheduled for Thursday, August 19.

Given the amount of public land in Gunnison County, the county commissioners have been actively participating in the new plan development. Commissioner Jonathan Houck said recreation and its impacts remains a big focus for the county.

“I have been representing Gunnison County for the past few years offering significant input leading up to the release of the draft plan. Gunnison County will continue to dig deep into the 356 page plan to tease out the details and ensure that the issues and concerns of Gunnison County citizens are addressed in a meaningful way,” Houck said. “Utilizing years of citizen input, we have been advocating for a plan that clearly addresses climate adaptation and supports resilient ecosystems that support habitat and species protection. Additionally, this new plan not only needs to provide the tools to manage the ever-increasing recreation opportunities across the forest but needs to be forward thinking to what the recreational demands will be in the coming years. We will also be looking to see how the elements of the GPLI proposal, provisions for grazing, forest health and water quality protections are aligned with the interest of folks in Gunnison County.

Matt Reed of the High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) feels that the plan needs significant improvement to reflect both the public input expressed by Gunnison County and its residents, and to ensure that it meets the challenges our public lands will be facing in the upcoming decades.

“While the draft plan’s increase in acreage dedicated to wildlife management is laudable, its lack of new wilderness recommendations and massive increase in lands suitable for timber harvest are concerning,” said Reed. “Protection of diverse ecosystem types through wilderness and other designations is a cornerstone of regional, national and international efforts to conserve biological diversity, ecological processes, and carbon strongholds to combat climate change. This plan can – and should – provide that pathway.”

In a press release from several environmental organizations including HCCA, the groups state that the new draft misses the mark in some ways. “Groups from across the Western Slope have been participating in this multi-year process and eagerly awaiting today’s release. 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 land that would be available for logging, while recommending only 34,000 acres of new wilderness across the entire forest,” the release stated.

According to the Grand Junction Sentinel, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale and San Miguel county commissioners, who were given an early look at the draft plan, have written to the Forest Service to say they can’t support it as is. They said in their letter that they want more climate-change analysis, adequate consideration of management designations proposed in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act, noted the lack of “socioeconomic analysis that considers the multiple uses of the forests including recreational opportunities and ecosystem services benefits,” and the proposal’s “significant increase in suitable timber, which is a designation that interferes with consideration of responsible management of the forests that allow uses other than timber production.”

The current forest plan was approved in 1983 and has been amended five times. According to the Forest Service website, “The best decisions will be made with input from all people who care about the GMUG, people like you. So please consider commenting with your support or concerns for the draft revised forest plan.”

The Forest Service will accept public comments on the draft plan until November 13.

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