A collaborative effort to protect recreational access and ecological values
We’re convening a collaborative effort with recreational user groups and adjacent landowners to protect this backcountry area north of Woody Creek for its recreational as well as ecological values. The Sloan Peak area is a 44,000-acre triangle of Forest Service land between Woody Creek, Snowmass Canyon and the Fryingpan River. Though not well known by that name, it’s a highly visible parcel (it includes the redrock country immediately north of Snowmass Canyon) and it’s one of the few big unprotected parcels left in the Roaring Fork watershed.
Our goal is to permanently protect Sloan Peak in a way that preserves both the recreational and ecological values of the area. Toward that end, our project is to convene and facilitate a collaborative process involving all the stakeholders in the area: mountain bikers, dirt bikers, hunters and outfitters, snowmobilers, horseback riders, hikers and nearby residents. To honor the collaborative process, we can’t dictate the outcome, but it would likely take the form of a proposal to our members of Congress recommending legislation that overlays a patchwork of protective designations on the landscape.
About half of the Sloan Peak area was originally included in the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal, but the parcel was withdrawn at the request of recreational groups; we will not renege on that agreement. We at the Wilderness Workshop recognize that recreational uses are a fact on the ground in many parts of the area, and are reflected in the Forest Service’s new travel management plan. However, the extent and intensity of these uses is increasing, as our local population swells and as technological advances allow machines to cover more ground and reach ever steeper and more remote places. WW’s mission is to make sure that nature doesn’t get crowded out in places like Sloan Peak, which has extensive forests and very rich mid-elevation wildlife habitat that is in danger of being fragmented and degraded.
The management of the Sloan Peak area could change at any time by administrative decision. The process we’re initiating offers recreationists and conservationists the chance to trade the current uncertain arrangements for the permanence of Congressional legislation. The community will benefit from having the assurance that a major backcountry area will continue to support a sustainable level of recreation that’s compatible with wildlife and ecological values, and that the area will never be developed by extractive industries.
As the Hidden Gems Campaign has often noted, there are downsides to non-wilderness processes. They can be highly labor-intensive to get right. Not based on an “organic” act (e.g., the Wilderness Act), each one must be a customized negotiation between various stakeholders. There’s a risk that extractive industries will try to get their nose under the tent and use the process to authorize logging, mining or drilling. Thus we don’t advocate this approach for lands that are worthy of wilderness designation, but Sloan Peak is a case where alternative designations belong on the table.