District Ranger: Thanks for your feedback on management of public lands (column)
I recently found a file cabinet in our office attic filled with photographs of the Holy Cross National Forest from the 1920s and ’30s. The photos show all kinds of things: unnamed cabins and structures in the woods, a group photo of all of the Colorado District Rangers at a Ranger meeting in 1921, high-alpine lakes in front of craggy mountain tops and the “hero shot” of some Forest Service staff pointing and posing as Mount of the Holy Cross looms behind them.
Since pouring through the photographs I’ve been struck by just how much has changed since then and also just how much hasn’t.
Some of the major issues facing our local public lands, while certainly challenging and unique, can be directly tied to the original goals of the U.S. Forest Service: to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run. Of course, today more regulations, policies and case law help guide us as managers, but the basic tenets of balancing the myriad uses and resources of National Forests still remain today.
Wildlife and habitat management have been particularly hot topics in recent months. Eagle County residents are accustomed to living amidst the struggle to maintain the delicate balance with the local wildlife populations, and we’ve seen herd numbers rise and fall over the years. And while the numbers of deer and elk in our upvalley units have undoubtedly declined in the past decade, I would urge everyone to take this moment to double-down on responsible recreational habits — respect closures, keep dogs on leash or under voice control, and help be a voice to educate people.
I commend the town of Vail for its role in reinvigorating this community discussion, and I’m excited to see things like the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association’s Adopt-A-Trail Ambassador program taking shape this year. These are some great examples of dialogue, education and action toward helping deer and elk populations and habitat improve.
I also want to point out that while deer and elk get most of the attention, the Forest Service manages habitat for other local wildlife species such as Canada lynx, Brewer’s sparrow, boreal toad and peregrine falcon, to name just a few. Decreasing numbers of any wildlife species is a concern to all of us, especially as the Forest Service strives to focus more broadly on ecosystem and forest health.
I’m proud to report that on the whole, our local National Forest lands are thriving, healthy and productive. Of course, there still remains much work to make them even better, and I’m heartened by the increased attention to improving the wildlife resource.
And it seems there is no better example of a community and the Forest Service balancing multiple important resources than the Berlaimont Estates access project. The Forest Service has received hundreds of comments about this project in the past weeks, and we appreciate the passion and dialogue from so many people. I also understand why this is difficult for so many, as there is a rich history of use in the area and a law about access that most haven’t heard of, as well as nuanced issues that come with private property surrounded by public land.
Please know that the Forest Service has worked on this project for more than a decade. We’ve discussed it with the public, user groups and all levels of government, and we are committed to following process, regulations and the law. Your input has been invaluable, and as we move closer to a final decision, I look forward to continuing the open and transparent dialogue that we’ve had so far.
I’m constantly heartened by the love and appreciation for public lands in this community. The photos in my office remind me that those feelings are not just a recent phenomenon, and my staff and I are incredibly proud to be a part of that local legacy. Thank you for your continued interest in, and stewardship of, these wild and beautiful places that surround us.
Aaron Mayville is District Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service Eagle and Holy Cross Ranger Districts. You can reach him at email@example.com.