In the United States, there are over 150 national forests that cover millions acres of public lands. Our national forests play a critical role in providing incredible opportunities for outdoor recreation as well as offer critical wildlife habitat. America’s national forests also play an important role in supporting local economies as well as providing essential ecosystem services to our communities such as clean air and water.
Right now the majority of the national forests in the U.S. are revising their forest plans. Forest plans set the direction and goals for how we use our national forests for decades to come. One of the key components of forest planning is community engagement and collaboration as the agency seeks to engage multiple voices and viewpoints in the forest planning process. With our help, we can guide the Forest Service in the planning process to be responsible stewards of creation while taking important measures to conserve water resources, protect wildlife and critical habitat, support outdoor recreation and enhance ecological integrity. The forest plan aims to balance the preservation of our land, water and wildlife with the enjoyment and traditional uses of our communities.
It’s important that spiritual leaders from Earth Keepers make our voices heard to ensure that responsible stewardship and strong environmental ethics are incorporated into each forest’s plan. Right now, Earth Keepers is specifically working in the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests in New Mexico and the Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado to protect certain special management areas aimed at protecting important cultural heritage areas, maintaining pristine landscapes and protecting native species and wildlife corridors. The landscapes we are proposing for special management are essential not only to protecting the area’s culture, history and spiritual traditions, but also serve as critical wildlife habitat, migration routes and breeding grounds for a variety of iconic western species including: elk, mule deer, antelope, black bear, cougar, lynx, golden and bald eagles, burrowing owls, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. The areas needing special management and protection are:
Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico:
Caja del Rio Wildlife and Cultural Interpretive Management Area: Bordering Bandelier National Monument and connecting various western mountain ranges, the Caja del Rio Wildlife and Cultural Interpretive Management Area is an area of profound cultural and historical significance as well as is critical to wildlife habitat and connectivity. As one of the most ecologically rich habitats in North America, the proposed Caja del Rio Wildlife and Cultural Interpretive Management Area connects a vital wildlife corridor from the state of Colorado to Mexico. The proposed Management Area is home to herds of mule deer and elk and a variety of unique and sensitive plant and animal species, including black bear, cougar, Western Burrowing Owl and Golden Eagle. The area has also been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) with a river corridor critical for waterfowl and non-game species migration.
Carson National Forest in New Mexico:
San Antonio Management Area: The San Antonio Management Area is approximately 148,000 acres of rolling grassland surrounded by conifers, ponderosa pines, and aspen stands in the northern western area of the Carson National Forest. This area is adjacent to the BLM’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument as well as the Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado is critical to wildlife movement and connectivity. This site is an important migration corridor for mule deer, pronghorn antelope and native Rio Grande cutthroat trout as well as is critical to wintering/calving elk herds.
Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Management Areas: This management area is comprised of three high value areas for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout: (1) north of Cruces Basin; (2) in the Comanche Creek Basin; and (3) the Rio Grande del Rancho and nearby streams. As the New Mexico State Fish, management for the recovery of Rio Grande Cutthroat trout is important to New Mexico’s culture, history, and sporting heritage.
Valle Vidal Management Area (VVMA): Valle Vidal (“Valley of Life”) Management Area is approximately 100,000 acres of beautiful rolling grassland meadows surrounded by conifers, bristlecone pines, and aspen stands in the northern Carson. It is home to one of New Mexico’s largest elk herds as well Rio Grande Cutthroat trout. This management area focuses on promoting habitat and wildlife connectivity to protect migrating species like elk with seasonal closures during wintering and calving months.
Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado:
Spruce Hole/Osier/Toltec Special Interest Area: This 36,000-acre area is critical for big game movement from southern Colorado into northern New Mexico. Protecting this wildlife movement corridor in the forest plan will ensure key roadless habitat in Colorado that is connected to core wildlife habitat in New Mexico. This area is also of critical economic and cultural importance to local communities within Rio Grande, Mineral, Alamosa and Conejos Counties.
Chama Basin Watershed Protection Special Interest Area: This 17,790-acre area encompasses the headwaters of the Rio Chama providing critical habitat for migrating elk, mule deer and many other species. This area is of critical importance to the cross border collaboration of the Rio Grande National Forest and the Carson National Forest, state game agencies and various Tribal communities.
Jim Creek Special Interest Area: This 9,500-acre tract has native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout and protecting this area in the forest plan will ensure preservation and restoration of the native species and habitat.
Carnero Creek Special Interest Area: This 42,800-acre area has a high-quality population of native Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Designating this area in the forest plan will improve native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout habitat and ensure that species conservation is the management priority for the area.
Whether you are a hiker, birdwatcher, angler, camper or simply enjoy the silence and solitude of God’s creation, you can play an important role in the forest planning process! Through giving a public comment, attending a public meeting or joining us at one of our events, you can help can make difference by ensuring the protection of vital watersheds, wildlife habitat and corridors, and our way of life for future generations.