White River gets new forest leader | AspenTimes.com

White River gets new forest leader

Maribeth Gustafson will become the new supervisor of the White River National Forest in April.

A woman who is used to high-profile, high-pressure jobs within the U.S. Forest Service has been named supervisor of the White River National Forest.Maribeth Gustafson will take the post in April. She replaces Martha Ketelle, who was promoted to the Forest Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., last summer.As forest supervisor, Gustafson will oversee management of the 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest, which stretches from Aspen to Meeker and from the Rifle area to the Summit County line. The White River – which includes major ski areas such as Aspen, Snowmass, Beaver Creek and Vail – has the highest recreation use of any forest in the country.Gustafson said she is used to dealing with tough land management issues in her current position as forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in California. As the forest supervisor there for five years, she’s had to balance high demand for recreation with protection of natural resources.She said she is currently responsible for protecting spectacular Lake Tahoe, which is known for its clear water, and the watershed that supplies it.

“I wanted to go to an equally special place,” Gustafson said. “Lake Tahoe is a special place and I wouldn’t leave it for just anywhere.”She said she realizes her actions at the White River National Forest will be heavily scrutinized. “There will be high public expectations,” she said. The White River National Forest has one-sixth of the forest lands in Colorado, but one-third of the recreational use on forest lands in the state. About 95 percent of the backcountry use comes during summers.”Some areas are already crowded, and they may reach capacity during the next 10 years,” said a 2002 document by the Forest Service.The California native received her college degree in botany, then started a career in the Forest Service that has stretched 24 years. She is 49 years old.Before taking the post at Lake Tahoe, Gustafson served for three years as the assistant director for fire and aviation management for the region that included all of California – another pressure-packed position.

Gustafson was selected by Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables for her experience in that position as well as her performance dealing with ski areas and building partnerships with communities, according to Forest Service spokesman Jim Maxwell. Gustafson is also impressing people outside the Forest Service. Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Roaring Fork Valley-based Wilderness Workshop, said he was looking forward to working with Gustafson after assessing her credentials.Her education in botany gives him hope she has special understanding of biodiversity issues. She also has valuable experience dealing with the ski industry. Heavenly Valley is within her current management area.Shoemaker said the well-connected, well-financed ski industry can be good at pressing for what it wants, sometimes to the detriment of the environment.Gustafson’s experience with ski areas is good “because we don’t want a greenhorn in here,” he said.His only concern at this point is her apparent lack of experience dealing with oil and gas issues on national forests. The western portion of the White River National Forest began to be tapped last year as part of the gas boom sweeping western Colorado. More public lands are expected to be affected.

Shoemaker said the top spot of the White River is so important because issues in the forest receive extreme scrutiny from environmentalists, diverse user groups, industries and the White House. Management issues in the White River tend to have broader implications.He predicted Gustafson will be hemmed in, to some extent. “This administration will make sure this forest doesn’t do anything that starts a trend against their agenda,” Shoemaker said.Gustafson said she addresses issues from an academic approach – researching conditions and positions as thoroughly as possible before making decisions.She can count on being baptized by fire on the job as White River National Forest supervisor. A draft plan on travel management is expected to be released the same month she takes office. That plan will determine where motorized vehicles can travel, where mountain bikers can roam and what trails are restricted to hikers. It’s guaranteed to stir controversy.Gustafson vowed to be prepared.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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