From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):
Nearly 112 miles of area rivers are eligible for Wild and Scenic River System designation, based on their outstanding, unique values.
Their eligibility does not mean area waterways necessarily would be so designated, but, under their ongoing forest plan revision, the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests are required to consider rivers and streams, with public input.
“At a minimum, we have to make a determination on eligibility,” acting forest planner Brittany Duffy said Tuesday. “Ultimately, only Congress can designate rivers (as wild and scenic).”
The GMUG began the forest plan revision in June 2017. Now in its second phase, the plan is an overarching document to move the forests to resiliency over the next 15 years.
As part of the process, the GMUG is required to conduct an eligibility process under the Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968…
Prior to any recommendation being made to Congress for additions to the National Wild and Scenic River System, rivers must also be found to be “suitable.” These suitability studies are not required on the Forest Service’s planning rule and the GMUG would initiate such evaluations only upon demonstration of strong local interest or support; Congress’ express interest, or if a proposed project would alter the free-flowing nature of a stream or river, or would affect other resources that made the stream or river eligible.
The GMUG as part of the forest plan revision conducted a draft eligibility study to determine free-flowing conditions and to evaluate outstandingly remarkable values, or ORVs, of local rivers.
ORVs are unique, rare or exemplary features significant within comparable regions — such as scenery, recreation, geology, cultural, recreational or vegetation. Only one such value need be found for eligibility.
The GMUG previously conducted an eligibility study in the early 2000s, which found 76 miles in 18 segments of rivers or streams could be eligible. The new evaluation was conducted to consider changed circumstances, such as species information and classification, Duffy said.
For example, a threatened trout species has been found on the GMUG, as have additional populations of boreal toad.
“While the GMUG is producing the draft eligibility part, we are investigating the options. … We want to make sure we can get to the in-depth discussions with all the stakeholders that are necessary. We want to make sure we’re giving it as much attention as we can,” Duffy said.
Under the new eligibility evaluation, slightly more than 40 miles of waters in the Gunnison Ranger District were listed — portions of Oh Be Joyful Creek, West Elk Creek, West Soap Creek and Copper Creek, and their tributaries.
In the Ouray Ranger District, eligible waterways for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System are parts of Cow Creek, Roubideau Creek and their tributaries, a total of 33.45 miles.
In the Norwood Ranger District, about 8.5 miles of Tabeguache Creek and North Fork are listed, along with less than a mile of the San Miguel River.
The Grand Valley Ranger District rounds out the list, with more than 29 miles of the North Fork, Escalante and Kelso creeks.
Public comment is being accepted until March 22. The full eligibility report can be found at http://fs.usda.gov/goto/gmug/forestplan.