The U.S. Forest Service’s new Aspen-Sopris District Ranger comes from an environment in southern Utah where public land managers often were loathed and local residents bristled at federal authority over land uses.
In her new post in the Roaring Fork Valley, she’s more likely to be pressured by a powerful conservation lobby that wants to see more protections added to national forest lands.
Karen Schroyer said she welcomes the abrupt change.
Schroyer recently served as the district ranger on the Dixie National Forest in Panguitch, Utah, for about two years. That corner of southwest Utah is a hotbed for a movement to wrestle land out of the control the federal government and into private hands. Counties regularly battle the feds over control of obscure roads and trails into protected lands. Many local elected officials press federal land managers over greater extraction of minerals and other resources.
“It was a tough working environment but a good learning experience,” Schroyer said. In particular, she said, it taught her the art of compromise, and she honed her skills in working with people with different views.
As the top Forest Service official in the 750,000-acre Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, Schroyer will find a decidedly different attitude among her constituencies. Conservationists are pushing the Hidden Gems proposal to add designated wilderness. Even though there is stiff opposition from motorized recreation enthusiasts to add wilderness, the foes aren’t trying to pry lands from federal control. They just want to maintain their level of access.
Instead of butting heads with local government officials in the Roaring Fork Valley, Schroyer more often will be working on collaborative plans with them. She said she also anticipates nurturing partnerships with nonprofit organizations such as the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and the Forest Conservancy.
And instead of weighing proposals for extractive uses of national forest land, Schroyer’s biggest challenge will be supervising and enhancing recreation on one of the most highly visited districts in one of the most highly visited national forests in the country.
All those differences, she said, intrigue her about her new job. She looks forward to being a manager in a community that supports public land stewardship, she said. Schroyer took her post Feb. 10, so she’s barely had time to get her feet wet. Right now the agency’s Aspen office is closed, but come spring she will split time between Aspen and Carbondale. The immense district stretches from Independence Pass east of Aspen to the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek valleys southwest of Aspen to Lenado and the Fryingpan and Crystal River valleys.
About 316,000 of the 750,000 acres in the district are designated ilderness, where motorized, and mechanized uses are prohibited and the land is supposed to be untrammeled by man. The Forest Service will hold several events this summer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act. (The separate Aspen and Sopris districts were consolidated about eight years ago.)
The legislation protected several spectacular areas surrounding Aspen: the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness, the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.
Schroyer said one of her top general priorities — until she learns and identifies more specific issues — is to make sure the customer service is as good as possible at campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads and in the vast backcountry.
The district will hire the same number of seasonal workers in 2014 that it hired in 2013 for duties such as trail maintenance and wilderness patrol, according to Schroyer.
“We’re still going to get work done,” she said.
The district has 22 positions for full-time and permanent season workers when at full employment. The problem is, the agency isn’t at full employment.
“We are short four key positions right now,” Schroyer said. “We do have the budget and the authority to fill them.”
One position to fill is a snow ranger, who helps monitor ski-area permits and enforces winter backcountry regulations.
The district also must fill recreation-special-uses and recreation-technician posts. The recreation special uses person administers special events permits and outfitter-guide permits, an active role in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.
The final position that must be filled is a support-services specialist.
Schroyer said she is particularly eager to work on recreation issues facing the Aspen-Sopris District because that is her area of expertise. She held a variety of recreation-management positions with the Forest Service in Utah and Washington, D.C., over the past 16 years. She spent 10 years working with the banking industry before joining the Forest Service in 1997.
Schroyer said she and her husband, Sam, enjoyed the spectacular red-rock canyons of southern Utah during her tenure in Panguitch. But they both missed the mountains. She said she is an avid road biker, alpine and cross-country skier, hiker and backpacker.