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A study identifies the most important sites to protect in central CO forests

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A new report identifies the areas most valuable for preserving biodiversity and fighting climate change within the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests, which are managed as a unit commonly known as "G-MUG."

Researchers with Conservation Science Partners identified the top 10% of areas of high ecological value. Report coauthor Justin Suraci said he hopes the data will guide the U.S. Forest Service, which is working on a new forest plan for the area, with input from stakeholders, including tribes.

"They have to revise how they're managing the forest in terms of places that they will designate for resource extraction or motor-vehicle use," he said, "versus setting places aside for biodiversity, conservation, et cetera."

People can find the draft proposal and submit public comments on the U.S. Forest Service site now through Friday, Nov. 26. Local groups are submitting a joint Community Conservation Proposal for consideration.

Mike Burkley, an outdoorsman from Paonia in the North Fork Valley, said he's glad places such as the top of Mount Lamborn made the list.

"It's known to be one of the best habitats for black bears in Colorado, and it's got a lot of elk, deer," he said. "Great solitude, incredible scenery. And it's a very important water source for our valley."

Scientists looked at multiple criteria to select the areas of high ecological value, including the amount of carbon they sequester above and below ground, and the number of imperiled species.