New Dillon ranger focusing on forest health, housing
Summit County CO, Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Jan Cutts has been at the helm of the Dillon Ranger District for only three months, but has already decided that the best part of working in Summit County is the high level of citizen interest in public-land management.
Almost 80 percent of the county is national-forest land, so nearly every decision the agency makes affects the way locals live, work and play.
Residents turn out for meetings like the upcoming open house on a Lower Blue logging plan scheduled for Tuesday, and Cutts wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’d like to reach out to some of the folks who might be nervous about such a large-scale project,” she said.
Forest-health work in the Lower Blue is critical because of the important watersheds in the drainage, including numerous pristine headwater streams flowing out of the Eagles Nest Wilderness and into the Blue River.
“I worked in public relations for the Forest Service in California, so working with people is one of the best parts of the job,” Cutts said.
After a transition meeting on her first day in the county, Cutts said she’s been busy getting out and seeing the district, from the local ski areas to some of the areas hit hardest by the pine-beetle infestation.
Cutts came to the Dillon district in August, replacing Rick Newton, who sometimes created friction with his direct style of communication.
Cutts is a little more soft-spoken but is equally passionate about her commitment to public-land stewardship.
She sees the forest-health issue as the biggest and most immediate challenge facing the agency, and has launched a push to explore options for using dead trees as fuel.
“Biomass is one of my drives right now,” Cutts said, explaining that she just finished applying for a regional Forest Service grant that could help stimulate local use of woody debris for heating.
“We have to find sustainable ways to get the wood out of the forest,” she said.
Leaving all the wood leads to unacceptable fuel loading, she explained, at the same time acknowledging that some of the organic mass needs to go back into the forest floor to replenish the thin Rocky Mountain soils.
The next step is to implement some sort of forest management that could help prevent future generations from facing the same problems. That means trying to create more mixed stands of trees, both in age and species, she said.
Cutts, who skis and snowboards, said she hasn’t yet been directly involved in some of the major ski-area projects, including a controversial plan to expand lift-served skiing on Peak 6 in Breckenridge. For now, she’s leaving those issues in the hands of the snow rangers, who have specialized knowledge of winter sports.
Along with forest health, Cutts has started working closely with Summit County on affordable housing. Under a recent county initiative to identify land for potential developments, national-forest parcels could be part of the solution.
Even the Forest Service has a hard time finding people who want to work in the Dillon District because of high housing prices, she said.
Some national-forest lands potentially could be traded to the county for affordable-housing projects, she said.
Cutts is a California native who was born in the East Bay near San Francisco and grew up in Truckee, near Lake Tahoe. She attended the University of California at Davis with the intention of going into forensic pathology, but got sidetracked by a summer job with the Forest Service when she turned her interest to archaeology.
In 1989, she started a full-time career with the Forest Service as an archaeologist before taking on an assignment in public affairs with the Inyo National Forest in eastern California.
In 2005, she was named ranger of the American River District in the western Sierra Nevada.
Cutts believes that a collaborative approach will help the agency find solutions to some of the most pressing public-land issues in the county.
“I’m a fixer,” she said. “And the best solutions are the ones people come up with themselves.”
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.