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Colorado State Forest Service hires new forester for Durango’s field office

Estevan Vega joins agency which aims to educate and assist residents with management projects
The Colorado State Forest Service has hired Estevan Vega to help run the local Colorado Forest Agriculture Classification program and administer the U.S. Forest Service’s Good Neighbor Authority program. The Colorado Forest Agriculture Classification, or “Forest Ag” program, is a voluntary program that allows private landowners with at least 40 acres of contiguous forest to reduce their property taxes if they manage their land to produce wood products to sell. (Associated Press file)

Estevan Vega has joined the Colorado State Forest Service as a special projects forester in the agency’s Durango field office.

The state forest service announced Tuesday that Vega will help run the Durango field office’s Colorado Forest Agriculture Classification program and administer the U.S. Forest Service’s Good Neighbor Authority program.

Vega was hired to replace Luke Dittrich who transferred to the agency’s Cañon City field office.

Estevan Vega will serve as a special projects forester in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Durango field office. He will help landowners in the Durango and Pagosa Springs areas with sustainable forest management, among other duties. (Courtesy of Colorado State Forest Service)

“I look forward to assisting the residents of Southwest Colorado in furthering our shared goals of creating healthier forests and continued ecological stewardship,” Vega said in a news release.

Vega worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Pagosa Springs and as a seasonal forester for the Colorado State Forest Service before being hired for the permanent position.

He has a master’s degree in environmental management with an emphasis in forest ecology from Western Colorado University in Gunnison and has worked with the Bureau of Land Management as an ecological monitoring technician on the Western Slope.

Vega also served in the Peace Corps in The Gambia in western Africa assisting with agroforestry projects.

The Colorado Forest Agriculture Classification, or “Forest Ag” program, Vega will run is a voluntary program that allows private landowners with at least 40 acres of contiguous forest to reduce their property taxes if they manage their land to produce wood products to sell.

Each landowner is required to have a forest management plan approved by the state forest service and must produce wood products such as Christmas trees, poles or firewood.

“It’s basically a 10-year management plan that has a schedule of work and they get inspected every year by us,” said Mark Loveall, who heads the Durango field office.

More than 80 landowners are enrolled in the program in Archuleta and La Plata counties, Loveall said.

The Durango field office also supports San Juan and Montezuma counties.

“It’s quite a task,” Loveall said. “Usually, (the inspections) start in summer and we have a couple we’re still getting finished up. It takes up a good chunk of that forester’s year.”

Vega will also assist landowners in the Durango and Pagosa Springs areas with sustainable forest management and help manage the joint Good Neighbor Authority program with the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.

The Good Neighbor Authority program allows the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM to enter into agreements with state forestry agencies to partner on cross-boundary forest management projects.

The state forest service performs the work on behalf of the agency and is compensated by the federal government for the work.

“It’s managing our forests regardless of ownership,” Loveall said.

The Colorado State Forest Service manages state-owned lands and is a branch of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University.

The goal of the state forest service is to educate Colorado residents about sustainable forest management and forest restoration and also assist with wildfire mitigation and other management projects.

Loveall said he hopes to add more foresters like Vega to the Durango field office to grow the state forest service’s work in the region.

“We’re hoping to expand,” Loveall said. “If there’s new funding or new programs, we will look to do that.”

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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