Forest Plan Revision
The public has a rare opportunity to protect, restore and significantly expand diverse wildlands across three National Forests in western Colorado. In June, 2017 the Grand Mesa-Gunnison-Uncompahgre National Forests (GMUG) initiated Forest Plan revision, a process that will shape management and on-the-ground decisions across 3,161,900 acres of public land. Forest Plans provide a general framework to guide a forest in managing its resources, goods and services. Because Forest Plans are revised at-most every fifteen years, this process will shape management decisions and on-the-ground conditions for decades to come. The GMUG’s 34-year old Forest Plan is outdated, increasingly irrelevant, and unable to manage the tremendous user growth and environmental changes that the landscape has experienced over the past three decades.
In 2016, HCCA and our conservation partners participated in early “pre-planning” efforts, working with the Forest Service to set up a productive revision process. Our efforts in 2017 and beyond will focus on stakeholder identification and coordination, public education and outreach, research and technical comments, and on-the-ground advocacy. In conjunction with the public launch of the assessment component in June, 2017, HCCA is leading advocacy efforts to develop a Forest Plan Assessment Report and subsequent identification of what “needs to change” on the GMUG to shepherd forest management into the 21st century. As the GMUG transitions from assessment to revision in 2018, HCCA will continue advocating for a revised Forest Plan that expands opportunities for quiet recreation, secures protections for additional non-motorized and wilderness-quality areas, is based upon the best available science, and prioritizes landscape-level conservation.
New guidance in the Forest Service’s 2012 Planning Rule directs forest plans to be science-based and developed with extensive public involvement. Below are a few helpful links to provide some background on the GMUG forest planning efforts.
Proactively engaging in this process is the best way to influence forest health for years to come, and HCCA is leading efforts to inject sustainability and landscape-level wildlands conservation in forest planning efforts. Because public involvement is at the heart of the revision process, YOU have a critical role to play in securing a progressive GMUG Forest Plan. HCCA is working closely with other West Slope conservation groups to organize a cadre of volunteers. We invite you to join us for a series of summer events and outings (more details to come).
- Black Canyon Audubon
- Colorado Mountain Club
- Conservation Colorado
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Great Old Broads for Wilderness
- Rocky Mountain Wild
- Quiet Use Coalition
- Sheep Mountain Alliance
- Sierra Club – Rocky Mountain Chapter
- Trout Unlimited
- Western Colorado Congress
- Western Environmental Law Center
- Western Slope Conservation Center
- The Wilderness Society
- Wilderness Workshop
- High Country Conservation Advocates
The “GMUG” is the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest, an administrative combination of separate but interconnected National Forests located on the western slope of Colorado. The three forests cover 3,161,900 acres of public land in the heart of the southern Rockies, an area that lies south of the Colorado River and west of the Continental Divide, with some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. The GMUG varies in elevation from 5,800 feet above sea level in Roubideau Creek Canyon to 14,321 feet on Uncompahgre Peak.
The GMUG National Forest is known locally, regionally, and nationally for its rugged and spectacular mountains, 14,000-foot peaks that attract mountaineers and sportsmen from around the world, and vast, accessible backcountry opportunities. The GMUG bridges the desert southwest and the Rocky Mountains, and, as the all-important fragile headwaters of the Colorado River, provides snowmelt runoff to the arid and thirsty southwest United States. The spectacular natural features of the GMUG are nationally known: The Grand Mesa National Forest encompasses the largest flat-top mountain in the world, the Uncompahgre National Forest’s Bridal Veil Falls is the tallest waterfall in Colorado, and the Gunnison National Forest is home to seven designated wilderness areas that straddle the spine of the continent. Because the GMUG varies from 14,000-foot peaks to 5,800-foot canyon bottoms, it encompasses a diverse array of ecosystems and wildlife, from semi-desert shrub-lands to alpine meadows. In the face of climate change and increased human pressure, the GMUG provides a large, diverse, and healthy stronghold for wildlife, connecting ecologically varied habitats across the greater Southern Rockies. The GMUG’s half million acres of existing wilderness, other vast roadless lands, and outstanding eligible wild and scenic rivers provide essential wildlife habitat and outstanding recreational opportunities, and its wildness attracts hikers, hunters, anglers, skiers and others seeking an unspoiled backcountry recreation experience.
More specifically, the GMUG boasts a treasure trove of unique and special features, values, and resources including, among many others:
- Grand Mesa, the largest flat-top mountain in the world
- Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest waterfall in Colorado
- Dry Mesa Dinosaur Quarry, where some of the world’s largest dinosaur bones have been found
- Slumgullion Earthflow, a 700-year old earthflow that formed Lake San Cristobol
- 14,321-foot Uncompahgre Peak, along with several other “14-ers”, attracting hikers and mountaineers
- World class fishing in the headwaters of the Colorado River watershed
- Denning habitat for Canada lynx
- Some of the last intact sagebrush habitat for the imperiled Gunnison Sage-grouse
- Over 11,000 acres of fens, a critical wetland habitat
- The Alpine Tunnel, the highest railroad tunnel in North America
- The Kebler Pass aspen forest, one of the largest contiguous aspen groves in the world, and a delight to autumn visitors
- Internationally recognized big-game populations, attracting hunters and wildlife enthusiasts
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976 requires that Forest Plans be periodically revised. The GMUG’s current Plan was developed in 1983 with five subsequent amendments, and is the oldest Forest Plan in the United States. New guidance in the Forest Service’s 2012 NFMA Planning Rule directs Forest Plans to be science-based and developed with extensive public involvement.
In 2017, in conjunction with the public launch of the assessment component, the coalition will lead advocacy efforts to develop a Forest Plan Assessment Report and subsequent identification of what “needs to change” on the GMUG to shepherd forest management into the 21st century. As the GMUG transitions from assessment to revision, we will continue advocating for a revised Forest Plan that expands opportunities for quiet recreation, secures protections for additional non-motorized and wilderness quality areas, is based upon the best available science, and prioritizes landscape-level conservation.
Tentative Forest Plan Revision Schedule:
- June 5, 2017 – Notice of Intent to Initiate Assessments published, officially kicking off the planning process.
- Assessment – GMUG will assess the condition of forest resources and determine the “Need for Change.” Data will be collected to help determine how well GMUG Forest’s ecological, social and economic systems can persist in the future. Drafts available for comment Fall 2017, and finalized late Fall.
- Need for Change – Draft available for comment Winter 2017/18
- Notice of Intent to Revise the Forest Plan – Spring 2018
- Proposed Action/Proposed Plan – Spring 2018
- Draft EIS – Spring 2019
- Final EIS – Spring 2020
- Objection Process – Summer 2020
- Final Decision – Fall 2020
Below is a summary of the history of the GMUG’s current Forest Plan:
1983 – Finalization and release of the current GMUG Forest Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement.
1991 – Finalization and release of the amended GMUG Forest Plan and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The differences between the original 1983 Forest Plan and the amended Forest Plan are reflected primarily in the sections related to timber management.
1993 – Oil and Gas Leasing Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement amends the Forest Plan to designate 951,450 acres of the GMUG with high and moderate oil and gas potential as available or not available for leasing. Those available for leasing are further divided into lands with standard lease, lands with no surface occupancy, lands with controlled surface use, and lands with timing limitations. Leasing availability on the remaining 2,001,736 acres of low oil and gas potential National Forest system lands will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The Amendment also changes a number of Forest Plan general direction, standards, and guidelines.
2005 – Management Indicator Species (MIS) Amendment revises the list of MIS species in the Forest Plan and revises language in the Forest Direction and Standards and Guidelines for Management Areas, and the Monitoring Plan.
2007 – After going through the revision process in the early 2000s, the GMUG released a Proposed Forest Plan. Due to the subsequent court injunction of the 2005 Planning Rule, all planning efforts were postponed until further notice. Revision was postponed until a new planning rule could be established and a Colorado Roadless Area decision had been made.
From beginning to end Forest Plan revision is a public process, meaning that there are numerous opportunities for the public to submit comments to shape development of the revised Forest Plan. Click the links below to read comments our coalition has submitted as part of the revision process.
• Oil and Gas Letter