As a headwaters state, many of our beloved rivers and streams begin in the high alpine forests of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The winter snow accumulates and then melts in these forests, feeding into our rivers every spring and fueling the lifeblood of Colorado. How Colorado’s forests are managed directly affects our rivers, including water quantity and quality, fish and wildlife, public access and river recreation opportunities, and agricultural and municipal water supplies. In Colorado, around two-thirds of Colorado’s forests are on public land and the United States Forest Service is the federal agency that manages the majority of these forests and the rivers that flow through them.
National Forests are tasked with managing vast acres of land and thousands of river miles that all have competing demands, uses, and ecosystems. This is accomplished through forest-wide management plans that serve as blueprints for 15 to 20 years before they are rewritten and reshaped in the context of current landscapes, ecosystems, and uses. National Forest planning is a critical opportunity to determine rivers as “eligible” for Wild and Scenic River designation, securing interim administrative protections for their outstandingly remarkable values. Residents and visitors to these special rivers know them best and it is up to us to make sure rivers on our public lands receive the protection they deserve. Not only is public input helpful to inform these management plan revisions, it is required by federal law.