Let forest’s managers manage
The White River National Forest is one of Colorado’s greatest natural treasures and one of the nation’s most visited forested areas. Some of my fondest memories are of times spent with my family hunting, fishing and hiking on the forest. A host of dedicated U.S. Forest Service professionals are tasked with the important mission of maintaining the forest, while ensuring that Coloradans benefit from its many available uses. They are able to accomplish this mission using a number of administrative and infrastructure support sites. Many of these sites, acquired by the Forest Service decades ago, have become obsolete. These outdated properties, which are not large, make little sense for the efficient management of our forest. A more consolidated framework that will foster communication and continuity within the forest is desperately needed. Without action, this situation will continue to worsen over time, further hampering the Forest Service’s ability to manage our public lands. To address this problem, the White River National Forest, after much hard work and outreach efforts to local stakeholders and elected officials, including myself, developed an innovative working plan to streamline their administrative infrastructure. The plan recommends that the Forest Service consolidate some sites and modernize others to bring overall improvement to the their administrative facilities. Under existing authority, the funds resulting from the potential sale or lease of these sites would go directly to the U.S. Treasury – not the White River National Forest. These funds could not be reinvested in an improved administrative infrastructure. As someone who has worked with the Forest Service for several years to find ways to address their administrative site difficulties, I asked them to suggest possible solutions to this problem. Among their suggestions was to acquire the authority to retain the funds to develop a modernized and consolidated system of administrative facilities. Thus I took the initiative to introduce legislation that would grant them such authority. Frankly, this should have been done a long time ago.Some, including Congressman Udall, who are new to the area and new to the issue, have alleged that opportunities for public participation have been bypassed in the introduction of this legislation. This is simply not the case and demonstrates either a lack of knowledge on the subject or is a delaying tactic. Officials at the White River National Forest have already conducted widespread discussions with local citizens and elected officials to discuss the plan.If passed, this legislation would allow the Forest Service to begin the process of deciding what actions, if any, would best fit the properties listed in the bill. Federal regulations require that the public would be involved in deciding the fate of each property. Furthermore, the Forest Service has plans to go above and beyond what is mandated by law to ensure the inclusion of public input. Now, we will always have individuals, who for their own benefit, want the properties for themselves or do not want the properties used for Forest Service benefit. Although these objections are far and few between, they are attempts to distract us from the issue. We will also have people who are new to the forest, and thereby easily influenced, object. But the time has come to move on. This is not a tough bill, and our forest managers need to have the ability to move forward.This design is consistent with my philosophy that Congress must provide our nation’s land managers with the means necessary to combine sound science, with the input of local citizens, to devise land management plans that are narrowly tailored to the unique characteristics of our public lands and surrounding communities. Decisions concerning lands that affect local communities should be made at the ground level, not by politicians in Washington. Let our managers manage.Rest assured, passage of this legislation will provide a vehicle through which the Forest Service can move forward with input from local communities to modernize their administrative infrastructure. The end result will be improvement in the management efficiency of the White River National Forest. That is just common sense.U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, represents the 3rd Congressional District. His district included Eagle County until two years ago.