DENVER, CO — The U.S. Forest Service’s decision to exclude scientifically-based conservation protections in its finalized Rio Grande Forest management plans jeopardizes wildlife populations, migration corridors and critical habitat. The new plans will guide land management decisions for the next two decades.
“We share this landscape with wildlife and have an obligation to protect it for future generations. We’re disappointed that the U.S. Forest Service failed to follow place-based solutions based on best available science to protect wildlife migration corridors in the Rio Grande National Forest,” said Andrew Black, field director for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “Such short-sighted planning will impact mule deer and elk herds not only in Colorado but in New Mexico as well. With ever-increasing pressures on our public lands, conserving these critical migration pathways and keeping important habitats connected is the key to ensuring that wildlife populations stay healthy.”
“Protecting the ability for elk, pronghorn and mule deer to move between summer and winter range allows wildlife to carry out ecological demands such as seeking food and genetically diverse mating partners. It is key to the health of our wildlife populations and the rural communities that depend on outdoor recreation economies,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “This forest service plan incorrectly regards the protection of well-identified wildlife corridors as adding unneeded complexity and fails to map big game winter range."
The Rio Grande National Forest is part of a much broader ecosystem that stretches from southern Colorado into northern New Mexico. This Upper Rio Grande watershed is considered one of the best-connected wildlife landscapes in the country, but in recent years development, climate change and other threats have placed increased pressure on these areas and the wildlife that inhabit these landscapes.
The National Wildlife Federation, since the beginning of the Rio Grande National Forest Land Management Plan development stages, has urged planners to recognize the Spruce Hole and Chama Basin as special interest areas which are vitally important to preserving migration pathways and maintaining habitat connectivity in the Upper Rio Grande. In addition, Chama Basin encompasses the headwaters of the Rio Chama, which is a source of livelihood for many rural communities in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. While these areas were acknowledged in draft plans, they were left out in the final.
Last year, the National Wildlife Federation, along with its Colorado and New Mexico affiliates and nearly 5,000 concerned citizens, filed formal objections to the plan for not conserving these two areas. However, the Forest Service disregarded the objections and failed to adopt these critical protections in the final plan, despite being in a time when our land, water and wildlife continue to face unprecedented threats.
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