By: Evan Stafford
The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) are revising their Forest Plan. The new Forest Plan will dictate how recreation, wildlife habitats, watersheds, timber projects, grazing, and more will be managed on the GMUG for the next 20-30 years. We need your involvement to protect important whitewater resources and the special landscapes throughout the Forests. Public Comments are due on the draft by December 8th.
â€¨â€¨The Forests have published the Draft Assessment – an important milestone in the multi-year process to create a new Forest Plan for the GMUG. The Draft Assessment captures how the Forests are being impacted by current management. It determines the focus of the plan revision and lays the foundation for the entire process.â€¨â€¨Please review the assessment to ensure it matches your perception of the current state of the Forests and send your comments before the December 8th deadline. Read them here:
As you read the Draft Assessment, keep in mind that the Forests are looking for your input on these questions: Is the GMUG on track with the information assembled? Did they capture what's going well and what's not going well on the GMUG, or are they missing any critical pieces? And most importantly, does the potential need for change reflect the major issues that the Forests should concentrate on in plan revision?
After American Whitewater’s review here are the key things that jumped out at us:
Slow down a bit. The GMUG Assessment is moving fast and the quality may suffer. Brisk is good, but the GMUG planning team only provided a 30 day comment period (which included Thanksgiving). Timelines should not take precedence over thorough public engagement. Public input is an essential and legally required part of this process.
The Assessment is missing essential maps. Recreation must be depicted spatially – using maps and GIS data – not just through narratives, anecdotes, and descriptions as found in the Recreation report. The same is needed for the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum. Many advanced spatial resources are available from the recreation community such as MTB Project, Mountain Project, TrailForks, American Whitewater’s National Whitewater Inventory, and Outdoor Alliance’s recreation GIS repository. These should be used to fill in the gaps in the forests’ map data.
The inventory of recreation assets is incomplete. The full scope and importance of dispersed recreation is not fully captured in the Recreation report. Some of the most iconic recreation destinations in the country are located within the GMUG. The description of outdoor recreation resources in the report is not commensurate with the importance of these areas to users and local communities. Speak up about the specific places that meant the most to you.
Outdoor recreation’s significant contribution to local communities is undervalued. Outdoor Recreation contributes $28 billion dollars in direct spending and supports 220 thousand jobs in Colorado. The trail systems in Mesa County alone generate $12.5 million in economic activity in the county. In The Benefits to People report’s estimate of recreation activity generating a combined $32.2 million in labor income across all the forests woefully under represents the economic importance of recreation to the local communities.
Speaking of the American Whitewater’s National Whitewater Inventory, make sure to ask the Forests to consult this when they are building their list of “eligible” rivers for Wild and Scenic designation. Let them know that you’ll be engaged in the process when they move to identify Wild and Scenic streams.
This is one our best opportunities to provide the rivers and creeks in the Forests, and the landscapes that surround them, with the protections they deserve. Thank you for taking the time to comment on the future of the GMUG!