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Piedra River group hears update on Forest Plan

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” — John Donne.

This was a theme of the Piedra River Working Group, which met Tuesday night. The agenda for the evening listed the order of the meeting in nice and neat Roman numerals: introductions, review, discuss potential threats for individual segments and categorize in areas.

While the agenda was neat and orderly, nothing that was discussed in the meeting had an isolated effect, and each of the 14 stakeholders at the meeting had some understanding that each idea they presented, each protection to the Piedra River they recommended, would have a variety of consequences, some of which would be intended and some unintended, with unforeseen negative impacts to the river and the community that surrounds it.

The Piedra River Work Group began meeting in October of last year. The group’s purpose is to bring diverse stakeholders together in a collaborative process to determine values needing protection and recommend the types of tools necessary to protect the values and water development. One of the possible protections for the Piedra River is the Wild and Scenic River designation. However, the effects of such a designation would be many, varied and wide ranging, and at this time the group is still trying to find out how those effects might look now and down the road.

“Let’s be careful what we do because there will be unintended consequences. But, there are unintended consequences if we do nothing,” said San Juan Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles.

Stiles presented an update on the progress of the new San Juan National Forest Plan, which is online to be completed by this October. A draft was published in 2007.

“To the extent possible, the plan will reflect the work of the river work groups,” Stiles said.

Due to the upcoming deadline for the plan, Stiles said that timing is of essence. However, he added that the work group should not feel pressured to rush the process because there can be various ways of reflecting the group’s work, whether by framing it as prospective in nature or by adding it to the Record of Decision, which has a later publishing date.

Stiles continued to say that when asking if the current river protections are adequate, it should be clarified if it is adequate for today or for down the road. Stiles then listed four main values to be protected: non-static hydrography, water temperature, water quality and low levels of use. Chuck Warner, with Trout Unlimited, suggested making part of the Piedra Watershed a Colorado Roadless Area.

John Taylor, a Hinsdale County rancher and farmer, said he is worried about what the impact of the roadless area would be on upstream irrigation. Taylor continued to say that if, in the future, he could not get water for irrigation, he would be selling his land, and the main concern is that the most likely buyer would be a developer.

The group did not come to a unanimous decision on how to best protect the values or what to recommend in the forest plan. The group members did, however, reach a consensus that they did not want any major land use changes in the upper Piedra Valley.

The Piedra River Work Group will next meet on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 5:30 p.m. in the Ross Aragon Community Center.

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