Guest column: Thanks for supporting public land management | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Thanks for supporting public land management

Karen Schroyer
Guest column

As a public land manager, it is my job to stay objective and rely on science and process, especially in controversial situations regarding public land management. I strive every day to make sound decisions that reflect what is best for the land and for the community. The news of armed militia taking over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, tearing down fences and damaging other government property gives me cause to stop and reflect. I am thankful for the members of the public, stakeholders and partners the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District has here in the Roaring Fork Valley. It is my earnest hope that through dialogue and collaboration, the land managers and community of Burns find resolution.

In recent articles, High County News has brought to light the violence and threats waged against the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service employees (High Country News, "Defuse the West," October 2014, http://www.hcn.org/issues/46.18/defuse-the-west). Previously, I worked in a town where my employees were threatened for doing their jobs and where often insurmountable challenges existed over federal land issues. Public lands have been and will continue to be at the forefront of political disputes both locally and nationally. This is because public lands and the dialogue and conversations around public lands are important to the American people. I feel honored to be charged with the responsibility of taking care of these places, and I do so with great respect.

I acknowledge there are challenges when working with land-management agencies. To the common layperson, our procedures may be confusing and time-consuming. We don't always communicate as we should, and our bureaucracy and budget woes place frustrating limitations and barriers on permittees and partners. We have limited ability to move fast. I understand all of this, and I go to work each day determined to be better and make improvements for the community. However, none of these bureaucratic challenges ever justifies violence or threats.

In light of the Oregon events, I stop and consider how fortunate I am to be working in the Roaring Fork Valley and on the White River National Forest. I am relatively new to this area. I have been here for less than two years. I am still developing relationships with our livestock permittees, and I have appreciated their patience with me as I get to know them. What I have discovered in the short time I have had with our ranchers is their commitment to conservation and open space and their dedication to stewardship of public lands. We don't always agree on specific issues, but we share a common vision of conservation and working relationships based on mutual respect.

And then I consider the unending support we have on the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District from local volunteer groups that spend thousands of hours each year greeting and educating our visitors at the Maroon Bells, leading interpretive programs, monitoring and maintaining hundreds of miles of trails, improving wildlife habitat and assisting with research projects.

I remember the resolutions that came from Pitkin and Eagle counties last year in support of federal lands remaining under federal jurisdiction and how those resolutions have had a direct, positive impact on employee morale on this forest in the face of increasing budget challenges.

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I think about the Hunter Creek-Smuggler Mountain Cooperative Plan, a success that is now in its second year of implementation. With tremendous support from Pitkin County, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Wilderness Workshop and the city of Aspen, we are working together to plan a prescribed fire in the Hunter Creek area next year that will stimulate new vegetation, create better wildlife habitat and reduce hazardous fuels. Additionally, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has built and maintained sustainable trails in the Hunter Creek area that contribute immeasurable recreational value to the local area.

I consider the great working relationships we have with our ski-area permittees and their commitment to fighting climate change, supporting environmental causes in the valley and providing recreation opportunities to underserved youth.

All this makes me realize how fortunate I am to be working in the Roaring Fork Valley with a community that recognizes the value of federally managed land and other open space, a community that understands it takes serious conversations, open minds and a lot of work to manage our natural resources for the greater good for future generations. This community has stepped up time after time to support us in the face of shrinking annual budgets and fewer employees. Thank you, Roaring Fork Valley. I have sincere appreciation for your support during these difficult times, when many Western communities are at odds with one another and with their public land-management agencies. I take my responsibility as a public servant very seriously, and I realize every day we would not accomplish the work we do without your help.

Karen Schroyer is district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the White River National Forest.

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