Stewards of the Land

The Roaring Fork Valley (RFV) benefits from extensive public lands including land managed by cities, counties, the state of Colorado, and the Federal Government. Historically, we’ve depended on these agencies, but as budgets for natural resource management get cut and visitation goes up, communities will need to play a more active role as stewards.

What would the Roaring Fork Valley (RFV) be without its public lands? Would tourists, who support the majority of our economy, continue flocking to the valley if they couldn’t visit the Maroon Bells? Would the RFV be such a desirable place to live without hikes on Lost Man, bike rides on the Crown, or a drive up to Independence Pass? If there was no skiing on Snowmass, Buttermilk, or Highlands, would Aspen be a destination on par with Vail, Mammoth, or Deer Valley?

What if the view from Sopris was roads and buildings instead of forest and peaks as far as the eye can see? If it weren’t for the public lands that surround us and account for 80% of land in the RFV, we might lose all the amazing natural amenities the RFV has to offer. In exchange for the many benefits we receive from our public lands, we all implicitly accept the role
of stewards. The majority of these lands in the RFV are managed by the federal agencies. As budget cuts continue in the federal government, especially for the management and protection of natural resources, it seems inevitable that communities will be required to shoulder additional burdens. Being a steward means accepting a greater responsibility for the land than the casual visitor, taking the long view and thinking about the forest, not just today, but into the future.

Over the past eight years the White River National Forest (WRNF) has worked hard to return fire, an essential component of healthy ecosystems in the West, to the RFV. While natural and normal disturbances (like fire) are almost universally regarded as being good for forest health, they often come with inconveniences. Fires create smoke, limit recreation access, and dramatically change the places we love. Beetles, another form of disturbance, can impact our viewshed and make some of our favorite campsites and trails unsafe. Despite the downsides, natural disturbance is important for long-term forest health.

Today, our National Forest is often referred to as a “land of many uses,” something that hasn’t always been the case. The mission of the USFS is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Originally, this primarily meant ensuring sustained timber production, the protection of watersheds, and grazing. In 1960, the Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act significantly broadened the use of the National Forest to include “outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.” In the RFV, we often think of the National Forest as being solely for recreation, but this isn’t the case.

We share the public lands with a multitude of flora and fauna. The earth is currently losing biodiversity to extinction at an alarming rate, much of it as a consequence of habitat destruction and degradation. As we look to expand our recreation activities, we bear the responsibility of minimizing our impact on the plants and animals that live there. This might mean closing areas to recreation completely, abandoning trails or limiting the number of users.

Each year, every person in the US consumes an average of 1,000 lbs. of wood and paper products. In fact, there is a good chance that you’re reading a paper version of this report made from trees. In the past two decades, between 70 and 80 percent of these products were produced domestically. While its painful to see trees being cut down, forests can be sustainably harvested. By using domestic timber, we have more control on the environmental safeguards put in place and enforced during harvest, and we minimize additional environmental impact of transporting wood long distances.

As stewards of our forests, the communities of the RFV have the ultimate responsibility for them. As we all enjoy the many benefits offered by our public lands, we encourage everyone to also think about the responsibilities those benefits entail. Whether it’s becoming involved in the management decisions on the forest (every major public lands decision involves a public comment period), giving up something we enjoy for the benefit of the forest (such as unfettered recreation access), or even committing financially (as Pitkin County, the City of Aspen, and ACES have in Hunter Creek), we all have a role in ensuring our forests continue to be a healthy home for flora, fauna, and ourselves.

Volunteers working on a trail above Crater Lake