The Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) planning process is well underway and we are working to ensure that the interests of the boating community are well-represented in the process.
Today, September 5, marked the close of the public review process for the DRAFT Wilderness Evaluation Report. The Evaluation Phase is the second step of 4 different steps required in the assessment of lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS).
The Evaluation Report identifies potential new wilderness areas (i.e., polygons) within the National Forests' boundaries, including narratives for each polygon and proposed Wilderness Ratings on a scale from no to high. These preliminary assessments will directly impact the potential for new Wilderness areas and important protections for creeks and rivers like Oh Be Joyful and the Taylor River. To see for yourself, check out the Forest Service's Interactive Story Map to see how they have assessed each potential area within the GMUG and and Outdoor Alliance's helpful Mapping Tool that overlays boating segments with the GMUG's Wilderness Evaluations.
American Whitewater thoroughly reviewed the DRAFT Wilderness Evaluation Report and submitted our comments to the Forest Service on September 4, 2018. Overall, we found that key paddling reaches throughout the GMUG area were greatly under-represented in the Polygon narratives and thus weren't acknowledged as contributing factors to the Polygon's respective Wilderness Ratings. Paddling opportunities in the GMUG attract both locals and visitors and offer a range of experiences, from beginner to advanced paddling and from scenic to extremely remote wilderness environments. Human-powered paddling (i.e., rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding) is one of the most popular types of primitive/unconfined recreation within the GMUG area and we believe that these paddling opportunities need to be adequately recognized and protected. We let the Forest Service know this, highlighting specific paddling reaches that should be added to each Polygon and which Polygons we believe should have a higher Wilderness Rating based on the high-quality recreation opportunities that each area has to offer.
In the next phase of the Wilderness Process, the forest service will present management alternatives with different proposed Wilderness Areas based on the Draft Evaluation Report and the public comments, including ours, that they received.
American Whitewater will continue to stay closely involved in the GMUG's land management revision process, especially as the planning team kicks off the anticipated Wild and Scenic River Study this fall. It will be paramount that the boating community engage with the public review process and we will make it a priority to help connect the voices of the paddling community with the Forest Service planning team.
Please stay tuned as we continue to report on the GMUG Land Management Revision Process and in the meantime you can learn more about the GMUG here.
(Photo of Brett Mayer taken by Shannon Hawrylo)