Downvalley ranger moves on up |

Downvalley ranger moves on up

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Forest Service found a candidate who already knows the issues facing the White River National Forest when it selected a new district ranger for Aspen on Thursday.

Sopris District Ranger Bill Westbrook, who had also been acting as the interim ranger in Aspen, was picked for the Aspen post out of 20 candidates from around the nation, the Forest Service announced.

Westbrook said he wanted to stay in the Roaring Fork Valley and continue to work with people in and outside the Forest Service whom he’s met since arriving three years ago.

His hiring could foreshadow the Forest Service’s direction on a proposed merging of staffs in Aspen and Carbondale. Forest Service officials haven’t decided yet whether Westbrook will be replaced by a new Sopris District Ranger, according to spokeswoman Kristi Ponozzo.

The two ranger positions ” the highest office in the districts ” may be merged, Ponozzo confirmed.

Westbrook is well-acquainted with both districts. He became Sopris District Ranger in Carbondale three years ago. He quickly learned how it feels to sit on the hot seat in the Roaring Fork Valley.

He has made a couple of decisions in the Sopris Ranger District that were unpopular with environmentalists and residents of specific neighborhoods. On the other hand, he ruled against an iconoclastic organization and for environmentalists.

“I look forward to working with him,” said Sloan Shoemaker of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop. “My experience with him is he’s pretty fair-minded and he’s a pretty good Forest Service employee.”

Boy Scout ruling

Westbrook’s first controversy came when the Boy Scouts of America applied to take over the federal lease at the Fryingpan River Ranch, 35 miles east of Basalt. It wanted to raise $3 million to convert the vacation lodge into a camp that could accommodate 200 Scouts per week.

Most residents of the area opposed the plan because they said it would overrun the fragile environment of the Fryingpan with too many vehicles and too many people. Proponents countered that it was an all-American plan.

Westbrook ruled that the Boy Scouts never proved it had a “need” that would be unmet if the Fryingpan Camp wasn’t allowed. He said other property owned by the organization in western Colorado was suitable for a camp.

Logging controversy

Westbrook’s other big controversy in Carbondale came when he approved a timber sale in August 2001 in the Baylor Park area, near Sunlight Mountain Resort outside of Glenwood Springs. He approved a salvage harvest of downed timber on 2,900 acres. Westbrook thought the logging was warranted to prevent the spread of spruce bark beetles.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit to get the decision overturned. They claimed the Forest Service didn’t properly study the potential effects on wildlife.

The lawsuit was settled out of court in April 2003. The decision allowed logging of 210 acres, but required the Forest Service to start from scratch with an in-depth study on the potential effects of more widespread logging.

Westbrook’s biggest controversy occurred while he was the temporary head of the Aspen district, and alabaster and marble miner Robert Congdon applied to continue operations at his Avalanche Creek mine year-round. Congdon’s previous permit required him to stop work during wintertime.

Westbrook ruled it wasn’t within the Forest Service’s powers to prevent him from working during the winter. He also cited a study that showed winter operations would not adversely affect a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herd.

The decision was unpopular with some of the mine’s neighbors.

“Those are three issues that caused me stress over time,” said Westbrook.

Different issues in Aspen

Westbrook takes his new post on Jan. 25. He replaces Jim Upchurch, who left last June to take a position in Washington, D.C.

Westbrook has been with the Forest Service for 20 years. Prior to coming to the White River National Forest, he worked on the Medicine Bow National Forest in Saratoga, Wyo., as a recreation planner. He received his bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Parks Administration from the University of Wyoming in 1991.

His education and training in recreation issues play into the requirements of the Aspen district. Shoemaker noted that the Aspen district is comprised mainly of wilderness lands that have special protection. Pressure from recreationists is a bigger issue than resource extraction.

Westbrook said that land exchanges and easement issues will also be important, as will finding ways to reduce the threat of wildfire in the Aspen area.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]


See more