RIO GRANDE NATIONAL FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN
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 final Land Management Plan that is currently in use for the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF), was completed in 2020. Since 2014, 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 related PDF and Word docs here)
We have 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.
SLVEC SCIENCE-BASED RECOMMENDATIONS
Final SLVEC Recommendations
1. There are two parts to the “beginning comment stage” for the Rio Grande National Forest starting in 2015.
a. First, we went through an Assessment process and we commented on the Assessments the Forest Service did to analyze different aspects of the Forest, those comments are here.
b. We also have links to ecological assessment maps and analysis (appendices) that gives us the science basis for our recommendations.
c. Then, we had to write “Scoping comments”, which takes all this information mentioned above and structures it into the Framework that the Forest Service uses to inform the 2012 Planning Rule process, links to these scoping comments are here.
2. The Alternative Narrative that explains the compilation of research and baseline data collection work we did to justify our recommendations.
3. Wilderness Areas recommendations, including the science gathered on-site to reinforce the uniqueness of the area and exemplify its highest qualities, including site specific maps showing clear boundaries.
4. Special Interest Areas 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.
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.