National Forest Rivers to Receive Protections in Colorado
On the western slope of Colorado, twenty-two new rivers are poised to receive administrative protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. American Whitewater has been advocating for river protections on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) for nearly a decade and we are closing in on the finish line. On August 30, the Forest Service released a revised Forest Plan which will serve as the management blueprint of over 3 million acres for the next 20-30 years.
Between the draft and final plans, in response to public comment, the Forest Service added protections for the Taylor River Canyon and the Uncompahgre River Gorge, specifically acknowledging their outstandingly remarkable boating opportunities. These rivers joined ranks with Oh-Be-Joyful Creek, Anthracite Creek, and the San Miguel River that had been determined eligible for wild and scenic river protections in previous drafts of the plan for their recreation values and free-flowing character.
The Forest Service, along with other federal agencies, are required to inventory all of their rivers to determine if they are eligible for Wild and Scenic River protections. Rivers qualify if they have at least one outstanding value, such as scenery or recreation, and if they are free-flowing. Eligible rivers, their values, and their free-flowing character are then required to be protected for the life of the management plan. These administrative protections remain one of our best tools to protect our country’s remaining wild rivers, of which the GMUG landscape has many.
While there is a lot to celebrate in the revised Forest Plan, this week, American Whitewater filed formal objections to the plan. We asked the Forest Service to acknowledge and protect the boating opportunities on Daisy Creek and the Slate River, calling them out for not considering the robust information American Whitewater and our members have provided on how special these rivers are. We also asked the Forest to implement stronger management measures on eligible rivers.
In addition to advocating for robust protections and management of the rivers across the GMUG, American Whitewater worked closely with Outdoor Alliance to lead a coalition of human-powered recreation groups to weigh in on the plan. We have been able to collectively amplify the voices of outdoor recreationist to help ensure that sustainable outdoor recreation and strong resource protections are prioritized in this long-awaited plan. Local American Whitewater staff published an opinion piece in the Gunnison Country Times daylighting some of the wins and shortfalls of the GMUG's revised Forest Plan. Follow this link to read online: https://www.gunnisontimes.com/articles/final-gmug-forest-plan-stakes-are-high/
We anticipate our objections to be addressed by the Forest Service in early 2024 and in the meantime, we have our attention on the Manti La Sal National Forest in Utah and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico that are going through similar planning processes.