Research, Education and Advocacy

The Rio Grande National Forest, located in southwest Colorado, is one of the wildest and most remote forests remaining in the lower 48 states. Encompassing over 1.8 million acres, it boasts multiple peaks over 14,000 feet, and headwaters' areas critical to the United States’ major river systems. One quarter of the Rio Grande Forest is already designated as four Wilderness Areas: South San Juan, Weminuche, La Garita, and the Sangre de Cristo. The other one-quarter is made up of roadless, backcountry areas. These areas contribute to the Forest’s intact ecosystems and contribute to its remote nature. Because access is almost completely limited to foot traffic, (with the exception of administrative access), wildlife has an opportunity to function and rest. The other half of the Forest is open to various forms of recreation, extractive industries, and a wider range of human related activities; this accelerates fragmentation of sensitive ecosystems and challenges the quality of watersheds.


All National Forests have a Land Management Plan (LMP).  These plans are prepared in accordance with several laws and regulations, of which the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) are the most significant.  NEPA is the law that ensures public engagement in the public lands management process by legislating a public comment period. Efforts are currently underway to rewrite NEPA;  this revision will not only make it more difficult for public engagement, but also will give the Forest Service broader discretion on whether or not to apply NEPA.  In other words, the forest planning process could become exempt from NEPA engagement.  We see NEPA as the public nexus for public lands planning and project work. We advocate to keep NEPA intact.  


LMPs outline the goals and objectives of the forest as well as determine desired future conditions.  They inventory forest resources such as timber, soils, watersheds, habitats, wilderness, as well as historic and cultural resources.  It directs activities such as motorized and non-motorized use, roads, trails, fire management, grazing, recreation, etc.  The Rio Grande National Forest is the first Forest in Region 2 to be revising the Forest Plan using the 2012 Forest Planning Rules. (Download PDF here)


The LMP that is currently in use for the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) was written in 1996. The Forest Service has been revising this plan since 2014 with a plan for completion in 2020. The process for revision, all research and baseline data, comments from the public, comments from conservation organizations, maps, and the response of the Forest Service can be found on the Forest Service website. There is some fascinating stuff in there!


The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council has been participating in this Forest Planning process since 2014. We have provided public comment (download PDF here), encouraged public participation, and given the Forest Service research documents that include critical baseline data relative to sensitive species and habitat, ecologically sensitive watersheds and wetlands, and areas recommended for special designations called Wild and Scenic Rivers, Special Interest Areas, and Wilderness Areas.


PDF: SLVEC Final Comment Letter

PDF:  Supporting Research for RGNF Conservation Assessment


PDF: Watershed Health in Wilderness, Roadless, and Roaded Areas of the National Forest System

PDF: Forest Plan Revision comment letter to Dan Dallas, RGNF

Final Recommendations

Final SLVEC Recommendations

1. First, our scoping comments which kick off the official NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and goes through forest regulations and explains to forest managers why we are making these recommendations according to the 2012 Forest Planning Rule.

2. The Alternative Narrative that explains the compilation of research and baseline data collection work we did to justify our recommendations.

3. Our Special Interest Area (SIA) recommendations, including the science gathered on-site to reinforce the uniqueness of the area and exemplify it’s highest qualities, including site specific maps showing clear boundaries.

4. Our Wilderness Area recommendations, also containing site specific maps and emphasizing areas with high quality Wilderness characteristics.

5. Spreadsheet of Rio Grande National Forest Target Species

6. Rio Grande National Forest Roadless Area descriptions.

7. Map of Roadless Areas

8. Sensitive Species Screen in Roadless Areas

9. Connectivity report between Colorado and New Mexico

10. Two maps containing all of our recommendations throughout the entire Forest so you can see how we are trying to protect CORE areas, wildlife corridors and prime watersheds. We are working to maintain ecological health and connectivity, which makes Forests much more adaptable to Climate Change and prime values of biodiversity.

Map #1: Areas Recommended for Conservation Designation and Map #2: Recommended Wilderness Areas.

Supporting Documents for the

Rio Grande National Forest Management Plan