DENVER – The population explosion has been felt at the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area, and the U.S. Forest Service is doing something about it before it gets worse.
The United States Forest Service announced on Thursday morning the release of the draft decision for the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan.
The plan, which will be implemented after discussions with the public and findings from an environmental assessment, will set guidelines and direction for overnight use of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in the White River and Gunnison National Forests, according to Kate Jerman, a spokesperson for the White River National Forest.
“The decision is based on the years of monitoring data, public input, extensive inventories and the environmental analysis findings that demonstrated the need for action to protect the natural resources from increasing degradation resulting from overnight use,” said Karen Schroyer, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.
The plan will be put in place in three different phases: Phase 1 will focus on implementing a reservation system for a limited entry overnight permit starting with the Conundrum Hot Springs and the Conundrum Creek zones. The reservation system is expected to be in place by the summer of 2018.
Phase 2 will focus on the Four Pass Loop, including Crater Lake, Maroon Lake, Snowmass Lake, North Fork and East Fork and Upper Snowmass zones. While Jerman did not say when implementation would take place, she did say it would occur sometime after the Conundrum Hot Springs and Conundrum Creek zone implementation.
“Over the years, the Four Pass Loop has seen resource impacts due to increased levels of overnight camping such as human waste issues, campsite proliferation, vegetation damage, soil erosion and loss of vegetation due to illegal campfires,” Jerman said.
During the 2016 summer season, Jerman added, Wilderness Rangers encountered 273 incidences of unburied human waste in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Phase 3 will focus on implementation for the Capital Lake and Lower Capital zones after successful implementation of Phases 1 and 2, Jerman said.
The release of the draft decision will allow for a 45-day objection period only for people who already submitted written comments during the scoping period which began in November of last year and the comment period, which began on March 29, 2017.
Why is a management plan being implemented now?
U.S. Forest Service officials said the explosion in visitation to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area has resulted in degradation to the area’s physical resources, which include disturbance to wildlife, habituated wildlife to human trash and campsites, illegal tree cutting coupled with fire scars, trash, human waste, campsite hardening and proliferation.
So, you’re basically saying it’s all the fault of the transplants?
No. The US Forest Service has documented the increase in degradation way before transplants discovered this hidden gem we call Colorado. Officials said the area has been documented as a management concern since 1986 -- a total of 31 years!
Will the plan affect day time use of the wilderness area?
No. The plan only addresses overnight use (camping) of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
So what do officials hope to get out of all of this?
It is the hope of the U.S. Forest Service that the plan will provide a long-term direction and flexibility focused on reducing biophysical impacts from camping activities to the wilderness area.