By Gregg Goodland
Special to The SUN
The Rio Grande National Forest announced the release of its new Rio Grande National Forest Land Management Plan, which provides management guidance for the 1.8 million-acre national forest located in south central Colorado. The plan sets the framework for all management activities on the Forest for the next 10 to 15 years.
“The Land Management Plan empowers us to make land management decisions to improve forest conditions and provide clean air, water and forest products to the communities that rely on the Rio Grande National Forest,” said Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas. “I am pleased that years of dedicated collaboration on behalf of forest staff, partners and interested parties have allowed us to reach this important milestone.”
In the first three years of implementation, the Land Management Plan will support nearly 1,600 jobs in the recreation, timber and grazing industries equaling $50 million in labor income. The plan also promotes healthy watersheds that supply clean, abundant water to the San Luis Valley, which supports an agricultural industry worth more than $500 million.
The plan prioritizes the use of active management to foster sustainable and productive use of the forest. Compared to the 1996 plan, this new plan is less prescriptive and emphasizes flexibility and commitments to working with the public. Management direction has been updated for all plant and wildlife species. The Land Management Plan also recommends 40,052 acres be added to the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area and 3 miles of river added to the eligible and suitable Wild, Scenic and Recreation river system. Protecting cultural values, including having availability and access to firewood and forest botanical products for use by local community, allowing multiple-use access to the forest and improving recreation opportunities remain key priorities.
The Land Management Plan emphasizes partnerships and citizen science efforts that provide the efficient monitoring necessary to ensure that work done on the ground is meeting current and future needs. The Land Management Plan also recognizes the role of naturally ignited fires on the landscape and encourages them to be used as a tool to restore natural processes, improve forest conditions and protect communities from destructive wildfires.
The final record of decision, also being released, responds to instructions from the objection reviewing official and describes the selected alternative, which has become the Land Management Plan. The Rio Grande National Forest previously published a draft record of decision and a final environmental impact statement, which analyzes the environmental, social and economic effects of the Land Management Plan and lays out management alternatives.
The Rio Grande National Forest Land Management Plan, final record of decision, environmental impact statement and associated documents are available online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=46078.