Aspen ranger’s career zigzags
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN The top U.S. Forest Service official in Aspen and Carbondale is leaving his post after six years dealing with some of the toughest issues in the White River National Forest.Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Bill Westbrook will leave in mid-February to take over as the Zig Zag District ranger in the Mount Hood National Forest near Portland, Ore.”It’s real hard to leave the people I work with,” Westbrook said. However, it was always his family’s intent to stay in the Roaring Fork Valley for a few years then explore another part of the West, he said. He and his wife, Tamara Lundberg, have two kids, Madeline and Clay.He learned of the opening in the Zig Zag Ranger District in October and was one of six candidates to interview for the position. He credited his experience dealing with diverse issues in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District for helping him earn the new job.”Public land management in the Roaring Fork Valley is a challenge,” Westbrook said. “It can be very intense at times as well as rewarding.”Growth in Colorado, as well as in the valley, has placed greater pressure on the National Forest, Westbrook said. Demands for access are growing from hikers, bicyclists and motorized users, he said. The agency has been working for years on a Travel Management Plan that will designate what roads and trails are open to what users.But growth creates pressure beyond recreation use, Westbrook said. Pressure is growing for access for utilities across national lands. Easing the threat of wildfires is also emerging in areas known as urban-rural interface, where development encroaches on forest.Growth has also impacted wildlife by gobbling open space. Winter range for deer and elk in the valley is disappearing, he said.Gas exploration emerging issueWestbrook also dealt with an opening salvo of natural gas exploration southwest of Carbondale. While the national forest west of there is under more pressure from the energy boom sweeping through Garfield County, areas in the Roaring Fork drainage, like Thompson Creek, are apparently on the fringe of the vast underground gas fields.Westbrook said expanded gas exploration and its potential impacts on roadless lands will be an issue of growing importance for his successor.Westbrook said budget issues add to the challenges of public land management. He stressed that partnerships with groups like the Forest Conservancy are vital to the agency’s success. The Forest Conservancy enlists volunteers to help patrol wilderness and other forest lands, providing volunteer hours worth roughly $160,000 of service to the agency last year, he said. Westbrook urged anyone who wants to assist the Forest Service to contact the Forest Conservancy.Another challenge Westbrook singled out was the consolidation of the Aspen and Sopris districts. Westbrook was initially the Sopris District ranger, based out of Carbondale, in 2001. The agency hired him as the Aspen District ranger three years later just as it decided to merge the two historically separate districts.He credited the staff with performing all their regular duties while enacting the consolidation.Worked well with watchdog groupSloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop, the oldest local conservation group and a watchdog of forest issues, credited Westbrook with preventing illegal mining activity in the Crystal River Valley and, overall, being “a pretty good land steward.”Shoemaker noted that timber harvesting could have evolved into an issue in the lands of the old Sopris District, which holds a significant share of the White River National Forest’s timber base.Wilderness Workshop was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Forest Service over a timber harvest in Baylor Park, an area near Sunlight Mountain Resort. He said Westbrook helped negotiate an out-of-court settlement.”I found Bill a very reasonable guy and easy to work with,” Shoemaker said. “He wasn’t a timber beast [a term conservation groups use to describe rangers who favor logging] by any stretch of the imagination.”Portland’s playgroundTimber harvesting isn’t an issue in Westbrook’s new district, but the area still has its share of challenges, he said. Like the Aspen-Sopris District, the Zig Zag is driven by recreation issues: “It’s kind of the playground for Portland,” he said.And that recreation demand from a city comes on a district significantly smaller than Aspen-Sopris. The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District is 790,000 acres with about 310,000 acres of wilderness. The Zig Zag Ranger District is about 290,000 acres with between 40,000 and 50,000 acres of wilderness. Part of Mount Hood is in the district. It also includes the historic Timberline Lodge, which the Civilian Conservation Corps built during the Depression. It is one of only two national monuments the Forest Service manages.The Zig Zag’s streams are habitat to at least five endangered species of fish. That dictates land management much like lynx habitat affects issues in the Rockies, Westbrook said.The Forest Service will name an acting district ranger after Westbrook departs, then advertise for the position.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.