Carl Sagan once mused, “who are we, if not measured by our impact on others,” and as members of a thriving community and a dynamic ecosystem, we all have impacts on our surroundings and society.
In the context of public lands, which are so essential to our economy and sense of place, these impacts can vary wildly from restorative to devastating. Ultimately, we all must strive to understand the negative impacts so we can design effective solutions to maximize positive impacts.
Recent years have taught us profound lessons about what can happen when the balance starts to tip toward negative impacts. We saw this through the unexpected public lands boom of 2020, the desperate need for educational outreach throughout heavy-use areas, the Ice Fire and the ways in which all of these affect the watershed, forests, trails and surrounding communities.
Fortunately, the lessons learned from recent years have guided new and innovative approaches toward land management, invigorated partnerships and spurred community members toward a level of engagement commensurate with challenges at hand.
This year at the San Juan Mountains Association, we will be working closely with land management agencies and community partners to amplify the positive impact we have on public lands.
As with the past two years, our Wilderness Stewardship Crew will be working throughout the Weminuche, Hermosa Creek and Lizard Head wildernesses. They’ll be educating visitors about best practices, clearing trails such as the Needle Creek Trail and performing monitoring to ensure future management is well-informed.
You will also see our Forest Ambassadors throughout the San Juan and, new for this year, Uncompahgre national forests. They’ll be promoting Leave No Trace principles, maintaining trails and collecting user data to help us understand on-the-ground conditions.
Our Alpine Loop Ambassador will also be patrolling the high passes, improving outreach capacity on these spectacular roads and offering help to the quarter-million visitors who tour this world-renowned amenity.
Last year, SJMA ambassadors racked up tens of thousands of educational contacts, and they’ll be working hard this year to top last year's accomplishments.
Our staff members are only one piece of the puzzle toward maximizing positive impact in the San Juans. We’ve been a volunteer-driven organization since our inception, and this year will be no different.
We have a raft of new (or returning) opportunities to give back, including getting out as a volunteer trail ambassador, spending a few days doing public outreach, learning how to clear downed trees with a crosscut saw. The tens of thousands of volunteer hours contributed each year to our public lands make all the difference, and we are here to ensure that community members have everything they need to give back in whatever way they can.
As we transition into our busiest season of the year, we encourage everyone to sign up for a volunteer day, give one of our seasonal staff members words of support and most importantly enjoy their time in the San Juans in a respectful and low-impact way.
With another busy fire season to our south already, it will likely be a popular year to the San Juans, and we all need to do our part to protect the places we love.
For more information about how to give back, visit sjma.org.
David Taft is the conservation director for the San Juan Mountains Association.