Written in partnership with Kestrel Kunz, American Whitewater.
The western slope of Colorado is home to some of the country’s most prized free-flowing rivers and streams, and yet it has no rivers that are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Right now, the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests in western Colorado are going through forest planning, a process that updates the “blueprints” for how each forest is managed, including what lands and waters are protected.
As part of this process, the Forest Service does an evaluation and inventory of land and water resources, including potential Wilderness areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Wild and Scenic eligibility evaluation is the headwaters for future protections of rivers and creeks on our national forests, and it is intended to be as broad as possible. The protection process is a bit like a funnel – a lot goes in to the top of the funnel and much less comes out at the bottom. The eligibility phase is the broadest initial evaluation, and should include every river segment that is both free-flowing and has one or more outstandingly remarkable value (ORV), which are the baseline factors for a river to be considered eligible for Wild and Scenic.
On the GMUG, the Forest Service recently completed this evaluation but included only 30 eligible river segments – just 3% of the total rivers in the forests. American Whitewater and Outdoor Alliance shared our concerns with the Forest Service about the extremely limited scope of the Forest Service’s evaluation, especially given the quality and quantity of rivers on these forests. You can read the full letter sent to the Forest Service by clicking at right.
In its evaluation, the Forest Service reviewed 975 river segments, but only included 30 eligible segments, totaling 112 river miles. For a third of the segments they rejected, there was no justification for why the river segment was deemed ineligible. Leaving so many quality river reaches unprotected and without even the opportunity to be considered for Wild and Scenic River designation is an injustice to these beloved watersheds. The GMUG is the largest National Forest Administrative Unit in the Rocky Mountain Region and the review should be as in depth as the forests are large.
In its letter to the Forest Service, American Whitewater included requests for new eligibility findings for a number of river segments, including photos and detailed descriptions of the outstandingly remarkable values of these rivers. You can see the full list of rivers here.
The Forest Service recently announced that it would be releasing a working draft plan, and Outdoor Alliance and our partners at American Whitewater will give more detailed feedback about river protections. You can read the full Working Draft here and send a comment to the Forest Service using the tool below (or directly here).