New Aspen-Sopris District Ranger started his career as wilderness ranger out of Carbondale
Nearly 20 years after starting his career with the U.S. Forest Service in the Roaring Fork Valley, Kevin Warner will take the top local position.
Warner, 43, was named the Aspen-Sopris District Ranger on Wednesday by White River Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. Warner starts Dec. 2.
He succeeds Karen Schroyer, who accepted a position as deputy forest supervisor in the Mt. Hood National Forest last summer.
Warner will head the staff and resources needed to oversee the diverse, sprawling district that features everything from the Maroon Bells Scenic Area to grazing leases around Carbondale.
Warner’s first position with the Forest Service was as a wilderness ranger with the Sopris Ranger District in 2001 when it was independent from Aspen.
“It’s a dream come true for me to come full circle from starting as a wilderness ranger there in my first Forest Service job, to now leading its wonderful staff,” Warner said in a statement.
Warner has worked in a variety of positions with the Forest Service since he started his career with the agency. He currently oversees the planning and renewable resource programs for the entire, 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest Service. In that role, he oversees the National Environmental Policy Act processes that every project on the forest must go through. That includes assessment of complicated projects such as ski area expansions.
His other duties included oversight of timber sales, fuels management, wildlife and fish-related initiatives. Basically, he said, he was overseeing everything outside of recreation and engineering for the White River. He was based in Glenwood Springs for that position.
Warner told The Aspen Times on Wednesday that his new position would obviously focus on recreation issues with Roaring Fork Valley forest attracting so many visitors. The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District has five wilderness areas spanning 316,000 acres. There are 36 trailheads within wilderness, including 17 in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, the most heavily used.
There are five ski areas and some of the most challenging peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation. There are 175 miles of mountain biking trails and 346 miles for hiking and horse riding along with 28 miles of off-highway vehicle trails and 24 miles of motorcycle trails.
That diversity is a key quality that attracted him to apply for the job.
“I think the high-use recreation aspect is both an opportunity and a challenge,” Warner said.
The opportunity is to teach people to be good stewards of public lands when they are enjoying the forest. The challenge is preventing resource damage from overuse.
The district implemented a permit system for overnight camping in upper Conundrum Valley two summers ago. It is working on expansion of that system to the popular Four Pass Loop.
Warner said he is well-acquainted with the challenges of keeping the wilderness preserved. As a wilderness ranger, he performed duties from clearing trails to interacting with backpackers.
For the most part, the land and resources in the district are in “great shape,” Warner said. One issue will be making sure the forest is resilient as the threat of wildfire grows in the American West, he said.
Another factor that influenced Warner to apply for the position is the relationship between the Forest Service and local governments, conservation groups and other organizational partners, and local residents. He is eager to continue the development of those ties.
“That relationship we have with our communities is amazingly supportive and yet they don’t let us get away with anything,” he said.
Warner and his wife, Stephanie, have two daughters. They live in the Crystal Valley outside of Carbondale.
Fitzwilliams cited Warner’s varied skills as a plus in his new role.
“Kevin’s diverse experience working with a multitude of stakeholders combined with his passion for leadership and partnering will serve the district well,” Fitzwilliams said in a statement.