On Sept. 20, the San Juan National Forest and BLM Tres Rios Field Office released the long-awaited joint Land and Resource Management Plan and the accompanying final environmental impact statement to address long-term management of 2.4 million acres of national-forest and BLM lands in Southwest Colorado, and an additional 700,000 acres of federal minerals.
The San Juan National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan will guide the management of 1.8 million acres of National Forest System lands in Southwest Colorado. The lands are located m Archuleta, Conejos, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, Rio Grande, San Juan, and San Miguel counties.
Extensive public, tribal and local government involvement has been ongoing since 2004 in the joint effort to update the San Juan National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan of 1983.
The new plan represents a final decision by the Forest Service.
“This has been a long process that has required a great deal of effort on the part of agency personnel, the public and others,” said Mark Stiles, San Juan National Forest supervisor, in a press release. “Through the years we held dozens of public meetings, received more than 50,000 comment letters, consulted with 26 tribes, and met with local governments, other agencies and cooperators. The San Juan National Forest and its tremendous resources are dear to all of those who provided input, and we did our best to listen and address what we heard through this plan and FEIS.”
Some of the major issues addressed in the Land and Resource Management Plan include maintaining functional wildlife habitat, managing lands with wilderness characteristics, establishment of standards and guidelines for energy and mineral development and other uses, management of special areas such as Wild and Scenic Rivers and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, transportation and travel management issues, and protection of air and water quality.
The plan identifies new areas on the San Juan National Forest as unsuitable for overground motorized travel; however, the vast majority of this acreage is located in areas where no current roads or motorized trails exist.
Those areas identified in the plan as unsuitable for over-snow motorized travel will require additional analysis prior to implementation of the new over-snow motorized use restrictions.
About 55,000 acres in four separate areas of the San Juan National Forest are recommended for wilderness area designation. All are within Colorado Roadless Areas. The plan also includes a strategic framework for dealing with climate change through adaptive management and mitigation.
The process of creating the final plan was lengthened by a decision in 2008 to include a revised section on projected oil and gas development with a more-rigorous air-quality modeling study.
The analysis includes an oil and gas leasing availability decision on San Juan National Forest lands. The acreage available for oil and gas leasing on the San Juan National Forest does not significantly change from the old plan, but the new plan does institute new stipulations that will affect future oil and gas development.
The new San Juan National Forest planning documents are online at: www.fs.usda.gov/main/sanjuan/landmanagement/planning.
Electronic versions are also available on CD by calling the San Juan Public Lands Center at 970-247-4874.
Both the BLM and the Forest Service have a process for protesting/appealing the new plan, but only persons or entities that provided comments to the draft plan have standing to protest.