Our public lands seem to be a particularly hot debate as of late. Do we increase Wilderness? Where should mountain bikers be disallowed? What areas should we make non-motorized? What public lands are “for sale”?
Over the course of a few years, the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative has been working hard to develop a comprehensive land management plan for our Forest Service lands that takes into account recreation, resource management, conservation, and ecology. The GPLI constists of ten local organizations which represent users of various interests including ranching, water resources, motorized use, conservation, mountain biking, recreation, and hunting and angling. Over the course of years, this group has met to develop a balanced and insightful use plan for Gunnison Public Lands which satisfies the needs of all user groups. They have set a model for the nation in representing all users, promoting awareness of land use, and developing a culture of compromise. By coming together to develop an insightful well-balanced proposal for sustainable growth and use of our Gunnison National Forest, the GPLI is setting a positive example for promoting shared use of our public lands.
Check out the Proposal
We at Share the Slate believe that you should always educate yourself on issues surrounding our public lands. The GPLI proposal is no different. We recommend that you check out the proposal on the GPLI website. You can even see it in map-view with or without explanations.
We were able to attend an informational meeting over the summer where we explored the proposal further. We were impressed at how comprehensive the proposal was and that each land use designation had a very specific reasoning. Be sure to check out the PDF document proposal for full details.
As you explore the proposal, you’ll see that some areas are designated as “SMA” which means special management area. GPLI defines:
Special management areas (SMAs) provide permanent legislative direction for special management of public lands to protect and provide for important conservation, recreation, economic, and scientific values uses. SMA’s can be tailored to existing uses and are not guided by any existing legislation. For example, SMAs can be designated to provide outstanding opportunities for a particular suite of recreational activities can also focus on the conservation of rare species or critical habitat.
In short, SMAs can be designated for motorized or non-motorized, mechanized or not-mechanized. Their use is more tailored to suite the needs of the area and can protect the lands from mining and forestry. You could say it’s similar to a Wilderness designation, but without limiting some forms of recreation and research that Wilderness may not allow.
Our Thoughts on the Proposal
GPLI states that
This process ensured that the initial proposal:
- Does not close any roads or trails that are currently open, existing trail uses would remain essentially the same.
- Allows future trail projects to be considered for construction through agency review from the BLM and Forest Service.
- Does not affect popular over the snow riding areas.
- Protects quiet use in areas with high ecological value.
- Ensures that current ranching operations and water use can continue.
- Protects critical habitat for species such as mule deer and elk, while providing flexibility for habitat restoration projects for species such as bighorn sheep and Gunnison sage-grouse.
In general, we find this to be true. The majority of backcountry skiers, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and hybrid users will be unaffected by any of the new designations made by this GPLI proposal. But you should check it out yourself!
What You Can Do
There are a number of things you can do to take action:
1) Read the proposal and educate yourself on it. If you disagree with a particular designation, read the explanation for that designation in the proposal so you can better understand the reasoning behind it.
2) Provide feedback to GPLI via their contact form.
3) Join the GPLI mailing list to stay involved.
4) If you like the proposal, sign the public letter of support.
What Needs to Happen with the Proposal
Now that GPLI has developed the proposal, they are bringing it to the community and various stakeholders. They want you to understand the proposal and what it would mean for the future of our public lands. Eventually, the GPLI wants to gain the backing of our federal legislators and have them propose this land use plan as a bill to Congress.
But, that’s a long ways away. The GPLI states that
the following steps should be taken before any legislation is drafted:
- The Gunnison County community and state and federal land management agencies have an opportunity to review and comment on the initial proposal.
- Communities who are users and stakeholders of these public lands are consulted as decisions are made for areas in the initial proposal defined as ‘Considered for SMA and/or Wilderness, To Be Vetted With Regional Communities’.
- Boundaries of initial proposal areas are fine-tuned to ensure that they are compatible with the topography, existing water structures, fences, and the needs of local grazers.
- This initial proposal is revised to reflect the information learned and feedback received in the bullet points above.
In a Nutshell
Educate yourself about the proposal, provide feedback, stay informed and be part of this important process that will be changing our public lands!