White River considers administration consolidation | VailDaily.com

White River considers administration consolidation

Kathy Heicher

The agency has periodically talked about such changes over the last decade, and lately, district rangers and forest planners have been making the rounds to towns and counties to discuss possible changes and related impacts.

One of the likely options would be combining the administrative facilities of some district offices, such as the Eagle district and the Holy Cross district in Minturn, for maximum efficiency. That combined office would likely be located in the Eagle area. However, Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle says the agency will make sure that a U.S. Forest Service presence of some sort will remain in both Eagle and Minturn.

“We don’t want to leave any of the communities that we are currently in. … We may not have a fully staffed office in each community, but want to have a presence at both ends of the valley,” says Ketelle. “Where we can combine facilities and still deliver a high level of service to the public, we are considering consolidation.”

Similar combining of facilities is also being considered in the Roaring Fork Valley. Ketelle said many forests in the federal system have made similar changes in the last decade to reduce administrative and overhead costs. The changes are also being driven by a national objective by the agency to upgrade the quality of office space where forest employees work.

Eagle District Ranger Cathy Kahlow points out that her staff is crammed into a building that was built in 1937. The structure has outlived its functionality, she says. There are problems with providing the necessary wiring for current technology, and for finding the physical space for staff.

“We can’t grow any more. We have some position needs, but the employees end up at the Holy Cross office because there is no space here,” says Kahlow.

The Forest Service is also concerned about locating facilities in the areas where employees live. In recent months, the agency has been surveying employees to determine where they live, and the commutes they are making. Many employees of the Holy Cross Office in Minturn live downvalley, where housing prices are somewhat cheaper.

While eyeing facility consolidation, the agency is aware of the specific functions and needs of each district office. Ketelle says at the Holy Cross office upvalley, visitor service is important, as well as the administrative relationship with one of the Forest Service’s key land-use permitees, Vail Resorts.

The situation on the west end is similar, says Kahlow. Where the office deals not only with walk-in visitors, particularly during hunting season, but also works with ranchers who have grazing permits and with special uses, such as rafting and snow sports.

One of the options being explored forest-wide is combining facilities with other federal and state agencies involved in resource management, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Division of Wildlife.

Facility partnerships with towns, counties, and the private sector are also a possibility. Two weeks ago, forest officials and the Eagle County commissioners discussed the possibility of finding some mutually beneficial solutions to seasonal employee housing. The county needs space to house bus drivers in the winter; the Forest Service needs residences for its summer crews. The informal discussion included some talk of a joint facility to be developed on the old county Road and Bridge Department site in Eagle.

Land exchanges to facilitate building needs are also a possibility.

Forest officials have also discussed the potential changes with the Minturn and Eagle town boards, and have scheduled meetings with Colorado congressmen and senators.

“Communities are very possessive of their offices. We know they have a strong interest in keeping a Forest Service presence,” says Ketelle, adding that while the agency is looking for efficiencies, the Forest Service is unlikely to reduce the number of employees on the forest.

Any major changes will require legislative approval at the national level. Still, Forest Service officials say they expect to see some changes within the next few years.

“It is a very high priority of the Forest Service to work toward the changes in 2003,” says Ketelle.

Support Local Journalism