Right now, Coloradans have a unique opportunity to guide the management of nearly 3 million acres of our beloved public lands for the next 20 years.
If you backcountry ski in the Elk Mountains, mountain bike on the Grand Mesa, fish or paddle in the Taylor River, travel by foot to the most secluded areas of Colorado’s Western Slope or simply enjoy sipping your morning coffee while watching wildlife in your backyard, you should care how our local public lands are managed.
The U. S. Forest Service is currently revising the forest-wide management plan for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, the largest Forest Unit in the Rocky Mountain Region. This new management plan will serve as a blueprint for sustainable recreation and wildlife protection, determining which lands and rivers will be protected for future generations, and which won’t. The best part? The Forest Service is directed by federal law to include the public in this plan revision process. As local residents and visitors to these special places, we know these lands and waters better than anyone.
In 2018, a coalition of recreation and conservation groups came together to create a collective vision for how sustainable, human-powered recreation should be managed within the GMUG. Over a period of two years, Outdoor Alliance GMUG Vision members reviewed maps, engaged constituents and met regularly to create the Outdoor Alliance GMUG Vision proposal. This proposal was submitted to the GMUG forest planning team in August 2020 and provides an extensive framework for both forestwide policies and place-based management recommendations. The complete proposal can be found at bit.ly/OA_GMUG_Vision.
During a time when Colorado’s population is booming and more and more people are looking to the outdoors for their mental and physical health, we need to ensure that our public lands are both accessible and conserved for future generations. The most wild and untouched places should remain so, and heavily used areas should be identified and managed to meet user demand and mitigate impacts to the natural environment. This often requires a fine balance, one that takes intentional discussion and compromise.
However, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. In recognition of the important work that has already been done on the GMUG, OAGV members have also endorsed other community proposals and proposal-components, in addition to the recommendations unique to our proposal. The OAGV fully endorses the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, and the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, and endorses select recommendations from the Community Conservation Proposal.
Since the forest plan revision gained momentum in 2018, OAGV members and our constituents have participated in the scoping period, wilderness inventory and evaluation, wild and scenic river eligibility inventory, and the release of the Working Draft Plan. The next step in the process is the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Plan, which will bring all of these components together into one comprehensive plan for the entire Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests. Release of the Draft Plan will be an important opportunity for members of the community to get involved and to speak up for the special rivers, mountains, campgrounds, trails, wilderness and wildlife that you care so deeply about. We invite you to review the full OAGV proposal online to help guide your own review and comments on the GMUG forest plan revision.
The Draft Plan was released Aug. 13. You can read it at bit.ly/USFS_GMUG_Land_Management_Draft. The public has until Nov. 12 to review and comment on this very dense and detailed document. You can comment here: bit.ly/GMUG_Comment We encourage the local community to visit www.outdooralliance.org/gmug-national-forests as a resource to engage in the forest plan revision process.
OAGV members are grateful for all of the work that Forest Service planning staff members have done thus far to revise the GMUG Forest Plan and to engage the broader public in the process. It’s clear the Forest Service has, and is, reviewing an unprecedented amount of public input in this process.
The work isn’t over yet, and we will need everyone’s voice to ensure that the GMUG we all love is managed in a way that makes sense, now and in the future.
Kestrel Kunz is the Southern Rockies associate stewardship director for American Whitewater and lives in Crested Butte, in the heart of the Gunnison National Forest. Julie Mach is the conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club, one of the oldest recreation, outdoor education and conservation organizations in the country. Both are leading members of the Outdoor Alliance GMUG Vision.