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Commissioners, GMUG eye forest plan

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The Delta County commissioners met on Monday with GMUG officials to discuss the forest management plan revision process that the Forest Service announced earlier this month.

Delta County's policy on public lands is one of strong support for the doctrine of multiple use, and commissioners took the opportunity to emphasize that point once again on Monday. Commissioner Doug Atchley told the Forest Service representatives that because of the large amount of public lands in Delta County "the decisions you make have a dramatic impact on our county's economy."

Attending the session were GMUG forest supervisor Scott Armentrout, forest planner Samantha Staley, and Paonia District ranger Levi Broyles. They laid out a proposed three-year-long plan for developing a new forest management plan. Armentrout sketched out a forest plan revision process that would be completed quickly. "No one would think of three years being quick. But it is quick in terms of forest planning," he told commissioners.

The last attempt at revision of the GMUG's 1983 forest plan "took too long," Armentrout said. As the plan was being written, changes in forest uses, in lands policies, and in politics took place. Just as the lengthy plan revision process was concluded, a 2007 federal court decision invalidated the Forest Service planning rule that had been used as basis for the document, and it has been sitting in administrative limbo ever since.

Also since that time, forest use has increased. OHVs and dispersed camping have both become increasingly popular. Spruce beetle has invaded the GMUG, and recreational festivals have increased.

Armentrout said he wants to conduct "purpose driven meetings" that will speed up the plan revision process -- a process that will use and build upon information gathered in the last forest plan process. He said he is looking for "broad stakeholder participation."

As outlined for commissioners, the process will include open houses in all eight of the major GMUG land base counties. Two other counties have smaller portions of GMUG managed lands.

County administrator Robbie LeValley noted the county was a major participant in the last forest plan revision and asked if additional data gathering would be required this time around. Armentrout explained the large database of information from the last attempt at a revision will be updated as needed, with the county's help.

The GMUG has other work on its agenda as well. Staff positions need to be filled, a major remodeling project at the Delta headquarters will be taking place, and in order to expedite the forest revision process, GMUG planners are considering work on oil and gas policy documents separate from the forest plan.

Armentrout said an online newsletter will track the revision process. The GMUG's online site posted the following notice recently:

"The GMUG is finally starting its plan revision. The notice of intent to initiate assessments was published June 2, officially beginning the planning process. For now, our team is sifting through information to get a picture of current conditions and trends on the forests. This summer, we'll host a series of public open houses and webinars so we can hear from the public about what's working, and what's not working In the fall, we will publish our draft assessments for more feedback."

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commissioners, forest service, GMUG
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