Jackson Mountain Landscape Project: Why here? Why now? Now what?


It’s not every day that a district ranger provides insight into decisions made by their agency. We commend Josh Peck for providing additional background on the decision reported on today’s front page.

We agree with the agency’s decision regarding the gravel pit and respect the reasoning behind the trail development decision. 

Terri Lynn Oldham House

The following is District Ranger Josh Peck’s explanation regarding the discontinuation of the trail development and gravel pit elements of the Jackson Mountain Landscape Project.

To the Pagosa Community,

I wanted to take the opportunity to share more of my thinking behind why the Pagosa Range District has chosen not to continue with the trail development or gravel pit elements of the Jackson Mountain Landscape Project at this time. Before the Forest Service moves forward with any proposed action, we need to answer two questions: “Why here?” and “Why now?” 

In both proposals, the “Why now?” is commonly understood: We have a pressing need for gravel on county and forest roads, and there is a need in the community for a variety of recreational opportunities — in this case, opportunities for more diverse mountain biking experiences than what are currently available. 

What became clear to me after reading the roughly 375 comment letters submitted is that we had not fully considered the “Why here?” question. 

While there were multiple issues raised about the trail development proposal, the primary concern was the conflict between recreationists and wildlife. Admittedly, I was not surprised by the issues raised during the scoping period, as we had spent almost a full year working with partners to refine a project proposal with these issues in mind. I felt that by avoiding a large percentage of high-priority elk habitat and applying seasonal restrictions during spring and fall migration periods, we had space to consider a new trail system. As it is supposed to do, the scoping process and the comments we received provided more information and an opportunity to reassess the proposal. The items that gave me pause were:

1) Planned remapping of migration corridors by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which will increase areas of high-priority elk habitat on Jackson Mountain.

2) The potential for future private land development to the west, which would further constrict this corridor and amplify the impacts of a trail system. 

3) Current Forest Service research related to impacts to elk from nonmotorized and motorized recreation on elk dispersion. 

These three factors, along with our general concern for the health of our elk population in Southwest Colorado, have led me to the conclusion that we would be in error to proceed with the consideration of a trail system envisioned in the original proposal.

In general, the comments related to the gravel pit were very similar. The strong theme throughout was less related to a specific issue and more related to whether this is the best place for a pit, especially considering the potential larger plans for Jackson Mountain. I feel that many of the issues raised could be addressed through mitigations, project design and working with our partners. 

Acknowledging the potential or perceived impacts to the San Juan River Village, I find it difficult to answer the question “Is this the best location?” We have examined many areas, but I cannot answer with confidence whether we have taken a hard look across all possible locations and weighed those against the potential impacts to affected communities. For that reason, I have chosen to pause moving forward with the gravel pit analysis.

Now what? Very simply, the path forward for both proposals is to consider the “Why here?” question by taking a hard look across the entire district for opportunities, concerns and constraints. Exactly how we’ll go about this has yet to be fully developed, but in general it will rely upon diverse stakeholder group and public input at the outset to identify if, where and how these opportunities could be provided with manageable impacts.

I want to close with sharing appreciation for our partners who have been engaged from the very beginning of this project and have put significant effort into this project. 

I also want to thank the Pagosa community itself. I appreciate the engagement in scoping, whether it was through a letter, call, the public open houses or email, and I appreciate that you are invested in caring for the national forest lands that we steward. 

The challenges we face as a community span public and private lands, whether balancing opportunities for recreation and protection of high-priority wildlife habitat, ensuring we have infrastructure to support our growing community, or working toward a community that is resilient to wildfire. We all face these challenges and will only be successful if we are working together.  

Josh Peck

District Ranger

Pagosa Ranger District