Forest Service higher-ups hear call for more community input
Local residents and county commissioners bent the ears of high-ranking U.S. Forest Service officials Wednesday, calling for more community input into decisions affecting the White River National Forest.A contingent of agency officials from Washington, D.C., Region 2 headquarters in Denver and local Forest Service staffers gathered at Maroon Lake for the second day of talks on the challenges facing Region 2 and the White River. Today, the review team heads for Winter Park.The tour of the region, which encompasses 22 million acres of forest in five states, is a chance for bigwigs in Washington to hear the challenges staffers “on the ground” in the national forest are facing and to convey the perspective from the capital. The presence of higher-ups in the agency resulted in armed Forest Service security personnel at the meeting.It briefly appeared that representatives of the local press would be ushered from yesterday’s gathering, until reporters pointed out the amphitheater at the lake is public land and that a quorum of county commissioners would likely prevent the agency from closing off the session to the press.”The idea is to let these folks have some open dialogue,” said Martha Delporte, regional coordinator with the Forest Service, asking reporters to leave. “But you’re right, this is a public place and we can’t kick you out of here.”Forest officials heard objections from commissioners to the fee demonstration program, which charges a fee to Maroon Bells visitors during certain hours of the day in the summer and fall.”The fee demo program, it just grabs us at the gut level as, ‘We’ll abandon our responsibility to properly fund the Forest Service and we’ll shift that burden to someone who can’t afford to pay,'” complained Commissioner Mick Ireland.
He also blasted the move toward private concessionaires operating facilities on public lands – a strategy commissioners don’t want to see employed at the popular Maroon Bells if fee demo expires next year.”We can privatize it and somebody can come in and scoop out profits, but there’s no way you’re going to guarantee they’re going to reinvest in the infrastructure,” Ireland said.Lyle Laverty, director of Colorado State Parks, offered much the same opinion in a presentation to the group yesterday.He called the move toward concessionaires a “strategic error.””They take the profits, provide the services, but don’t put things back into the infrastructure,” Laverty said. “You’re beginning to see those facilities are worn out.”Ireland also prodded the Forest Service to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the county that would give commissioners a say on land-use matters on the forest in Pitkin County.Local resident Marty Flug, one of several members of the Free The Bells group attending the meeting, got an audience with a high-ranking member of the agency to plea for local input into decisions.”Can’t we be in a position where the feds say, ‘Hey, we have to take local government and local people into account?’ We need to fight very hard to get your attention.”
Free The Bells advocates successfully fought for a redesign of the “Flintstones bathrooms” at Maroon Lake a few years back.The battle over the restrooms, blasted locally for a fake-rock design that smacked of “The Flintstones” cartoon, made it to Washington, Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins assured Flug.”We learn by hard knocks sometimes in the Forest Service,” she said.The agency has to balance competing interests, but it is striving to appoint district rangers and a new White River National Forest supervisor who understands the importance of collaborating with the local community, Collins said.The successor to former White River Chief Martha Ketelle will be selected carefully, she said. “This is a really important one. There’s a lot of people interested in who we put in this position,” Collins said.”Our goal is to get the best,” agreed Rick Cables, regional forester in Region 2 and acting deputy chief of the national forest system. He anticipates the new supervisor will be appointed in three to four months.”We’re not going to be in a hurry … we’re going to take our time to make sure we have a right fit,” he said.
Collins also emphasized the agency’s desire to keep a presence in Aspen as the Forest Service looks at combining ranger districts.The tour of Region 2, one of nine Forest Service regions, has given local agency staffers a chance to voice the challenges they face to the higher-ups in Washington.In the Aspen Ranger District, the cost of living, managing the variety of recreational interests and how to manage off-road vehicles have all received focus, according to Collins.The overriding goal, she said, is to make sure agency decisions protect national forests for the long term – for succeeding generations.”Are we making decisions that are going to be responsible? Are we leaving the legacy that we want to leave behind?” she said.Collins, who has been in her present post with the Forest Service for three years, was making her first visit to the Maroon Bells yesterday, but she has a long background in Colorado. She attended the University of Colorado, has a house in the state, and a number of her family members are Coloradans, including a brother in Carbondale, she said.Initially, Dale Bosworth, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, was expected to accompany the agency contingent in Aspen.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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Officials are investigating the source of a loud explosion at Smuggler Mine on Saturday morning.