Known for 14,000-foot peaks, stunning summer wildflowers, and cascading streams, the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests in Colorado are home to a wide variety of wildlife and flora, and are a major draw for locals and visitors to the region. Encompassing nearly 3 million acres of public lands, the forest is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service under a land and resource management plan, or forest plan.
To help the U.S. Forest Service and the public identify areas of significant ecological value for potential conservation-oriented management, The Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned Conservation Science Partners to evaluate more than 40 national forests throughout the country based on a set of science-based indicators relevant to biodiversity and carbon. The GMUG analysis is the first in this series.
Healthy national forests support biodiversity, store carbon, filter drinking water, and provide recreational opportunities that bring jobs and other economic benefits to gateway communities. As the climate continues to warm and development and other human activities continue to exert pressure on forest ecosystems, it is increasingly important for stakeholders to understand which national forest lands have the highest ecological value, which in turn will help the Forest Service decide how to best balance conservation, recreation, development, and other uses in managing the land.
The GMUG analysis goes a long way toward providing that help by showing which unprotected areas of the forest have the highest ecological value. For example, the area around Chalk Mountain, east of Grand Junction, is within the top 10 percent of ecologically valuable areas on the forest, but these values could be threatened if activities such as route development or commercial timber harvest are allowed to occur.
It is important for the Forest Service to consider this data in order to craft a forest plan for the GMUG that ensures the ecological sustainability of the forest and contributes to the social and economic sustainability of surrounding communities.
Download the full report PDF:
John Seebach is a project director and Blake Busse is a principal associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. public lands and rivers conservation project.
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