The U.S. Forest Service has released its draft management plan for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison, also known as 'G-MUG' national forests. The plan includes a significant increase in the amount of land that would be available for logging, and groups that advocate for public lands are raising concerns that it recommends only 34,000 acres of new wilderness across the forest.
Forest plans are revised roughly every 15 years, and Allison Elliot, a former board member at the Western Slope Conservation Center, said there's no time to waste.
"That's just a small fraction of what could be set aside and designated as wilderness," she said. "So, to be able to protect wilderness and wildlife and water, watersheds - this is the moment."
The forests are home to species on the Endangered Species List, from the Gunnison sage grouse to the Canada lynx. Elliot added that this land also is home to diverse ecosystems and wildlife. Public comments about the draft plan can be submitted until Nov. 11.
Arvin Ramgoolam, a business owner and public-lands advocate from Crested Butte, said he thinks the plan not only should include more wilderness land, but also take into account the impact that making so much land available for timber harvest could have on climate change.
"It needs to be reflective of the state of Colorado," he said, "thinking in terms of the amount of water we might have available in the next 50 years, or even 100 years; the amount of impacts you might experience from climate change, changing temperatures in the West."
He backed the theory that "public lands belong in public hands," and urged people who care about how the forests' more than 3 million acres of forestland are managed to get involved in the process. Comments can be submitted online, or at open-house events and webinars hosted by the Forest Service on Zoom.