MONTE VISTA — The Upper Rio Grande Economic Development meeting welcomed Rio Grande National Forest Divide District Ranger Martha Williamson who gave a presentation on the Sustainable Recreation Management plan currently in progress for the forest surrounding the San Luis Valley.
Williamson along with several other organizations has been monitoring and collecting data on the increase in recreational growth in the Rio Grande National Forest over the past several years and has started the process of creating a plan to meet the management needs of the forest and communities affected by the current growth.
“What I think is super interesting and also good to keep in mind as I talk about sustainable recreation and risk management as it relates to sustainable recreation and what that means to upper Rio Grande communities and economic development is that everyone has a connection to the forest and that it means something personal to everyone. The people across the Valley, the people that are here in addition to the people who may come here for the recreation opportunities, the Valley communities have a long and deep multi-faceted connection to the forest because of livelihood, childhood memories or personal activities,” said Williamson.
Williamson went on to explain that the common goal of the plan is to create sustainable recreation in the long run and to make sure that everyone benefits and enjoys the future of recreation in the Valley.
“In order to be sustainable, we need to make sure that what we are offering and what the recreational growth that is occurring right now doesn’t make it that there are fewer opportunities in the future,” she said. “That is right at the crux of where the risk management comes in. What is at risk is the forest’s ability to offer the same or similar quality and extent of recreation opportunities for future generations.”
Williamson pointed out that the communities and economic development in the Valley are interconnected and interdependent on the forest and everything it has to offer including recreation.
“The people who live here are connected to the forest through recreation of course but there are also people whose livelihoods depend on the forest and what the forest has to offer like timber for logging and forage for grazing, hunting opportunities and recreation opportunities through outfitter and guide services,” Williamson said.
The level of generational connections that have thrived in the Valley for years is one of the things that Williamson stated is special and something that should be protected as much as possible. Williamson spoke about the need for forest stewardship, knowing how to correctly interact with the forest and the communities that rely on it for a multitude of opportunities as well as the need for sustainable growth within the forest.
The plan focuses on where increased management will need to take place in the forest to help minimize risk. By doing so, the forest service will look at and assess threats plus vulnerability in areas where increased recreational growth occurs.
“This isn’t going to be about getting people out of the forest but being able to sustain growth of opportunities and get people into the forest,” Williamson said. “There is no doubt that recreation and tourism equals people coming to the forest and to recreate in the forest and that will have an impact on the forest. There is no way to add more people and add more use without having some sort of impact.
“The main take home for everybody is how we do this. How the forest is going to continue to offer recreation opportunities for everyone in the long run without foregoing future people’s ability to enjoy the forest. It is important that we, we being the forest service, and the local communities keep good communication open because we really do impact each other,” she said.
Williamson used an example of a stage three fire restriction which would stop people from coming to the forest because of restrictions and would ultimately impact the communities who rely on the recreation and tourism opportunities for economic stability.
“That is a dramatic example, but my point is that we do rely on each other, and we depend on each other. So as always communication is key,” she said.
Through this plan the goal will be to manage the continued growth of recreation in the forest in a way that would ensure the continued quality of opportunities provided by the forest and to educate the public on good forest stewardship, Williamson said. The forest service plans to keep looking forward and manage areas with high growth through risk management, data collection and working with other agencies throughout the Valley.