Several hundred public comments were received regarding a resource management plan for the Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan, U.S. Forest Service district ranger Matt Janowiak said Wednesday.
“This is one of the first NEPAs (National Environmental Policy Act) that I’ve been a part of where I’ve seen people really take the time and tell us what they think,” Janowiak said.
On Wednesday, Janowiak, along with Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell and Trails 2000 executive director Mary Monroe, took a tour of the Hermosa Creek watershed with Republican Congressman Scott Tipton.
“The volume of public comments really speaks to how engaged this community is,” said Churchwell.
In 2014, after six years of negotiations, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act was signed, a bipartisan effort that designated 37,400 acres as a wilderness area and 70,600 acres as a Special Management Area in the San Juan Mountains, north of Durango.
Lauded as a landmark collaborative victory, the Forest Service is drafting a management plan for the special-use area that would allow a range of recreational uses that include hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, ATV and other motorized use. A draft plan was released in July and comments were taken until Oct. 1.
“Now it’s really a model across the West of how to come up with a balanced solution,” Churchwell said. “Everyone had to give something up to get something that fell in line with their values.”
Tipton, who, with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., pushed for the legislation, said Wednesday passage of the Hermosa Creek act was a “good example of collaboration” between many interest groups.
Tipton, criticized this election cycle for sponsoring a bill that some believe would sell off public land, maintained Wednesday those allegations are an “incorrect, untrue statement.”
“I’ve hunted and fished on these lands my entire life,” Tipton said. “And I understand the importance of protecting and having access to these public lands.”
The tour showcased the cutthroat reintroduction programs in the watershed that, once complete next year, will create the longest continuous stretch of cutthroat habitat in the United States, Churchwell said. The group also stopped at the facilities and campgrounds proposed for changes in the draft plan throughout Hermosa Creek, which Janowiak said is the second-most used area in the Forest Service’s Columbine District with thousands of visitors each year.
Janowiak said the Forest Service will review public comments and make any necessary changes to the environmental assessment, which will again be up for public comment in the spring.