County agrees to help fund increased backcountry law enforcement

Effort to gather data and help during busiest weekends

By Mark Reaman

The Gunnison County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to participate in an effort to provide backcountry law enforcement saturation during particularly busy times this coming summer. They agreed to allocate $1,000, or 10% of the expected $10,000 cost, to fund two U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers to come in for four weekends this summer and patrol the drainages near Crested Butte. The commissioners agreed that if another $1,000 was needed, they would step up their contribution.

The idea originated in the county’s STOR (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation) committee and with the National Forest Foundation’s Nick Catmur, who is the Gunnison County stewardship coordinator. Only one law enforcement officer is currently responsible for overseeing the entire Gunnison Ranger District forest lands which are comprised of 1.3 million acres, or about the size of the Grand Canyon. More than 400,000 visitors used local Forest Service lands last summer. While such law enforcement saturation is fairly normal for specific events such as the RzR Rally in Taylor Park, the idea is to use the template on busy summer weekends. 

County commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels presented the idea to the commissioners explaining that the federal agencies would pay the base salary of the two incoming law enforcement officers, but local entities would have to be responsible for lodging, food and overtime pay. That cost was expected to be about $10,000 total and Puckett Daniels said STOR was seeking monetary and in-kind contributions to make the program work.

“There is a lot of concern about appropriate behavior in the forest during a busy summer,” said Puckett Daniels. “There are unattended campfires, inappropriate parking and camping. This would not be just a band aid for this summer but an opportunity to also collect data that can be used for the public land managers to make the case that we need more permanent law enforcement personnel on the Forest. It is a temporary solution but designed to head toward a permanent solution.” 

“I like the idea,” said commissioner Jonathan Houck. “It is a proactive move.”

“I see the necessity and support the idea, but I still struggle to think we have to come up with the resources to make it happen (when the issue is on federal land),” said commissioner Liz Smith. “It is important to work with the STOR committee and the action is appropriate.”

“Hopefully this leads to a full-time investment from the land managers in the area,” said Puckett Daniels, who noted there have been some commitments already from other entities to step up and help fund the idea. 

“I just don’t want to get in the perpetual cycle where we always end up paying for it,” said Smith.

“This is an opportunity to put some structure in place to show the need,” said Puckett Daniels. “It feels like a partnership with the Forest Service.”

“I share the concerns of Liz (Smith), but this seems more nuanced and can show the need that is out there by bringing in resources to gather data,” said Houck. “I also see it as an opportunity to help people understand how to use forest resources when out there.”

Houck said he was comfortable allocating between $1,000 and $2,000 to the effort. He moved to start with the $1,000 contribution while making it clear the commissioners were open to another $1,000 if necessary. Smith and Puckett Daniels agreed to that equation.

Puckett Daniels said she understood the commissioners wanted to see a more permanent plan for the future and she promised to provide a report to the board at the end of the summer.

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