SAN LUIS VALLEY— Rio Grande Forest officials hosted two separate meetings this past week to answer questions and concerns pertaining to the recently released forest plan revision draft document. An average of about 40 residents, organization representatives and forest officials from neighboring communities attended both the meeting in Creede and Del Norte.
Forest plan revision management teams opened the meeting with a slideshow and explanation of their process and the history of the Rio Grande National Forest.
Plan revision specialist Erin Minks explained the process by which the draft was created by starting with the reasons why the forest plan revision was taking place. There were several reasons that sparked the need for the 1996 plan to be revised, beginning with the most significant which was the spruce beetle impact on the forest. There is approximately 600,000 acres of Engelmann Spruce trees in the forest that have been affected by the beetle, and future forest management is paramount to the ever-changing environment in the forest.
Due to the high number of trees that are dead or dying in the area, the next most important reason to review the current plan was to look at fire management. In 2013, three large fires ignited in the forest that ravaged 100,000 acres of land. The proposed plan provides overall direction for managing fires based on how and where fires start. Other reasons for the plan revision included communications technology and infrastructure of the forest, increased development along the forest boundary, the Colorado roadless rule and species within the forest of conservation concern.
Each one of these topics played a major role in why the plan was chosen to be revised and now that a draft decision has been placed on the table for public comment, forest officials want to continue the trend of keeping the process transparent to the public by hosting another series of meetings to help with the comment period of the process.
Forest Public Affairs Specialist Mike Blakeman wanted to make one thing very clear to the public, stating that the one thing that is very important for the public to understand is that although there are four alternatives on the table to be analyzed, Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas does not have to choose any specific one and can choose different specifics from each alternative. “The alternatives attempt to capture the diversity of input in order to provide a wide scope to analyze,” said Blakeman.
The next most important thing for the public to keep in mind during the comment period, it that instead of getting onto the website for public comment and telling forest officials what they do and do not like about the draft plan, they need to be sure to explain why something is liked or disliked. “We can look at comments all day long, but we need to know the reasoning behind it in order to fix it or implement it correctly,” explained Blakeman.
The public comment period for the draft plan will remain open until Dec. 29.