“The Insatiable Appetite for People to Come Here”: Interview with Scott Fitzwilliams, White River NF Supervisor

Glenwood Springs, CO – May 13, 2016: Hanging Lake, as breathtaking a spot as you can find in Colorado’s high country, has been at risk from the crush of visitors who stomp up the trail and walk around — and sometimes in — the lake and its feeder waterfall. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

The Denver Post printed an interview with Scott Fitzwilliams, the White River NF Supervisor last week. Has your local paper done a similar interview with a Forest Supervisor? If so, please link in the comments below. It might give us a different perspective on regional variation in “what’s happening on/challenging” the National Forests.

Here’s a link to the whole story. Needless to say, there’s a lot of ski resort stuff in the interview.

DP: There’s legislation in Congress that would enable the Forest Service to retain a portion of revenue-based fees collected from ski areas on public land. That could be huge for the White River. Fee retention is not a new idea. The 2004 Federal Lands Enhancement Act enabled forests like the White River to retain some recreation fees. How has that worked out for you guys?

S.F.: It’s made all the difference. In this forest we are able to retain about $1.3 million in fees from outfitter guides, Maroon Bells, Vail Pass, campgrounds that are nonconcessioned. Since we have been able to do that with a clear and concise and rather firm direction from Congress that those fees go toward supporting the program that generated the fees, we have been able to invest in things like trails, trailheads and maintenance of that, for example, our outfitters and guides use. Frankly that has been lifesaver for us. If you were to model this fee retention proposal similarly, we have a proven track record that we make good use of fees.

DP: Crowds in the White River forest have led to some innovative management strategies with plans for permitting at hotspots such as Vail Pass, Hanging Lake, Maroon Bells and Conundrum Hot Springs. What are some of the challenges in deploying those kinds of management plans?

S.F.: Resort-based recreation is major part of our niche, but really what shapes this forest is the interstate. It really does. We look to a future where that’s not going to stop no matter how they get here, whether it is light rail or extra lanes. What we are talking about it how we create a scenario where we can get people on the forest, enjoy the forest and maybe in more developed pods or in shorter-duration experiences they can get right off the Interstate 70 corridor. It’s a tough time to do it, but where we have to be in the future is really looking at this I-70 corridor, where we have maybe webs going off into the Roaring Fork Valley and places like that. The insatiable appetite for people to come here is not going to change.

It’s this combination of managing and providing the experience because that’s what we do and it’s super important and if we want support for our public lands. Putting up a sign that reads “Sorry. The park is closed,” or overly restricting people is not the way to get support for conservation of public lands or a sustainable environmental ethic. These types of decisions and planning processes I think we will see more of in the future. I’m not sure where the next one is. Some of the more popular fourteeners around the state are being talked about. Again it’s not us outright trying to limit access. It’s more about managing people space and time. These are hard processes. To do it right it takes time.

7 thoughts on ““The Insatiable Appetite for People to Come Here”: Interview with Scott Fitzwilliams, White River NF Supervisor”

  1. Fitzwilliams is right; it takes time to get it right. Especially true when people are the issue; NF visitors are both a challenge and an opportunity.
    Some other things it takes are sufficient funding and staffing to manage high levels of recreation use. Both of those are lacking here in Region 6. Mt. Hood NF is a very heavily used NF due to proximity to Portland metro area. The Hood used to be an icon for recreation management in R6; but sadly, no longer is. The recreation program has been emasculated by the last two Supervisors and the RO. R6 sends more money to other NF’s in region that have lower recreation use than the Hood. Makes NO sense!
    The result is poorly maintained trails, campgrounds and other rec. facilities. A real shame and disservice to the public who are the landowners! Rec. use levels on the Hood will continue to increase as the metro area and gateway communities continue to grow.
    Big question is: will Regional Forester Jim Pena step up and address the challenge or will he let it slide and get worse?

    • Old Woodsman, you’re right on, regarding recreation on the Mt. Hood — which is almost leterally my back yard. On some roads the potholes are huge, and a real danger to motorists. Some formerly paved roads are slowly crumbling and being swallowed by vegetation.

      What if forests could issue long-term recreation stewardship contracts, with timber sales matching or slightly exceeding the maintenance and development needs of the forest?

      • Timber sales were at high enough levels in the past (before the NW Forest Plan) to get most of the road maintenance done that way. And many of those roads were built by timber sales. Recreation has been affected by the same budget cuts that have affected all other Forest Service activities. The way the forests are funded has changed. There are no longer separate pools of money (for the most part) that can be used for recreation vs. timber vs. watershed restoration vs. road maintenance – it is integrated budgeting. Each forest develops their program of work according to their priorities for that forest.

        While having stewardship sales support the maintenance needs sounds attractive, it once again ties road maintenance to timber harvest levels…

        There are also Timber Sale Pipeline funds which are collected from timber sale receipts, of which 75% goes to timber sale preparation and 25% goes to the recreation maintenance backlog.

        And, under the 2018 Omnibus, Secure Rural Schools Title II is back, and those funds can be used for road maintenance….why not work with the forest to submit some RAC proposals to get some road-related recreation maintenance completed?

        • I’ll do so, momoftuba. I’m on the Hood/Willamette RAC — my first meeting will be in June.

          But what’s wrong with linking roads/rec and timber? I don’t think the amounts needed would approach the levels of the 1970s/1980s.

  2. It is not just about the money. I think some it could be contributed to attitude within the bureaucracies,
    Maybe instead of posting signs at trailhead telling you what you can’t do they could have a map showing you where you are. Maybe instead of dumping rocks to destroy dispersed camping opportunities they could think about providing more facilities. Maybe instead of spending all the money for decommissioning roads they run a grader down it clean the ditches. Maybe they could start thinking of it as the people’s forest.

  3. Maybe, as mayor of a national forest (decider of the program of work), the forest supervisor should involve constituents in the budgeting process where priorities for use of funds are determined. How often is this debated in a public setting where the constituents would feel they can make their wishes known?


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