Don’t dismiss the Gems |

Don’t dismiss the Gems

Dear Editor:

Welcome to the White River National Forest. To paraphrase the U.S. Forest Service motto, “land of many uses,” our forest is also the “land of many conflicts.”

One of those conflicts is the current Hidden Gems campaign. I am saddened that it has become such a controversy.

I am a board member of Wilderness Workshop. We did not suddenly appear with the Hidden Gems proposal. We came into existence at the same time as the Wilderness Act to help inventory potential Wilderness areas and were responsible for creating much of the wilderness in the White River National Forest.

We don’t just push for Wilderness, we help you to maintain it. We have one of the longest running cooperative agreements with the Forest Service. We monitor air, soil and water in the Wilderness. We recently took on the work of weed monitoring, because your staff, for lack of funding, was not able to do it.

This brings me to the 80,000-acre versus 400,000-acre issue. You will find, if you talk to some of your longtime staff, that we do our homework. The 80,000 figure is based on a cursory, poorly funded inventory. We, using Forest Service criteria, have spent years hiking with GPS to map potential areas.

We did not choose these areas lightly, nor was our intent to close any users out. These areas were chosen for their wilderness qualities, importance to wildlife and very often to fill in gaps that were left in previous Wilderness bills due to inholdings that no longer exist.

Just recently, there was an article in The Aspen Times stating that the White River Forest Alliance has gathered roughly 700 signatures opposing additional Wilderness.

There has been a lot of misinformation flying around about the Hidden Gems proposal.

I wonder if you, and those 700 signers, have taken the time to study the Hidden Gems proposal. For these people to just write off the entire proposal is very arbitrary.

I invite you, and them, to pick a spot that we have designated that is not in the Forest Service 80,000 acres, and we can visit it and see if it fits the criteria for wilderness.

An example would be the Bear Basin/Treasure Mountain area. I have to warn you, though, this is a hike. It is not possible to use an ATV or mountain bike, so why are people objecting to it being designated as wilderness?

We have been working with many user groups to resolve any conflict areas. We have excluded more than 30,000 acres to accommodate mountain bikers. We will gladly meet with anyone who has a concern to discuss the Hidden Gems proposal.

Charles H. Hopton


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