Local Forest Service leader moves on | SummitDaily.com

Local Forest Service leader moves on

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
Summit Couny, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” The local ranger district of the U.S. Forest Service will be under new leadership in February 2008, as Rick Newton moves on to take a deputy forest supervisor position in Oregon.

Newton came to Summit County as district ranger in 2003 from the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, where he held the same position at the Leadville ranger district.

“I have really enjoyed working with the Summit County community. This is a very special place, and I will be leaving knowing that there are a lot of good people here that are really committed and will continue to help the agency manage the public lands,” Newton said.

Newton garnered praise for his leadership on forest health issues.

“He’s been a tireless advocate for getting work done on the ground,” said Sandy Briggs, lead organizer of the local forest health task force. “Given the constraints of budget and personnel, he’s done very well.”

Briggs added that Newton has always been accessible.

“He gave me a lot of support for starting up the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District,” said Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer on the Dillon district. Waugh said Newton’s interest in helping the group get going was crucial to ensuring grassroots stewardship on national forest lands in Summit County. “That’s probably one of the best legacies he’ll leave,” Waugh said.

Guff Van Vooren, executive director of the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District echoed Waugh’s comments: “We will miss him on the District and wish him all the best in his new adventures,” Van Vooren said.

Currie Craven, co-founder of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness (FENW), said the new countywide friends group meshed will with the mission of his organization.

“Having the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District take off like it did was hugely gratifying and really can be attributed to (Newton’s) support,” Craven said.

Newton, an avid skier, also implemented several ski area projects in the county, including cat skiing operations at Keystone and the Montezuma Bowl expansion at Arapahoe Basin.

On the latter project, Newton made an effort to work closely with local skiers, helping to defuse a potential confrontation over the loss of a favored backcountry stash by working on alternate access points.

Newton raised some eyebrows among Breckenridge Town Council members and residents with his stance on various projects, including the Peak 8 summit chair, the Claimjumper mine cleanup and the planned expansion onto Peak 6.

After public meetings on those topics, some council members expressed disappointment at what they said was Newton’s heavy-handed posture on those issues, and claimed that Newton flouted the public process intended to precede public land decisions.

On the Claimjumper cleanup, Newton said his comments ” and the response ” both touch on his passion for being a responsible land steward.

“We had an obligation to do something there (at the Claimjumper). I think there was some local misunderstanding of what we were trying to do and why, as we were struggling through the public process,” Newton said.

Newton said local ski area proposals for new terrain and lifts ” including the Peak 6 proposal ” are driven by the underlying zoning of the 2002 White River National Forest plan. As district ranger, his role is to implement the plan within the process outlined by applicable rules and regulations, including the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“It’s hard to argue that Breckenridge doesn’t need to make some improvements to accommodate the level of use they already have,” Newton said. “Our forest plan made the commitment to that land use. How we ski it is the critical part. My job is to make sure it’s done in an environmentally sensitive way, and our partners share that concern.”

More broadly, Newton took some heat from watchdog groups like Colorado Wild and the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance for being too close to the ski industry.

Newton said the Forest Service is in partnership with the ski industry to provide high quality recreational experiences on public land, and Summit County’s resorts are slated to under the White River plan to meet an expected increase in demand for skiing.

“I can certainly appreciate those concerns,” Newton said. “I have to try and balance the desires of the American public. There are a lot of competing interests and that means I can’t make everybody happy,” Newton said.

“Obviously perhaps there are a lot of unseen forces he might have been feeling to approve ski area developments,” said Craven, speaking personally, and not as a representative of FENW.

“Of course the ski industry is important,” Craven said, adding that the agency ” regardless of personnel ” doesn’t always seem to be tuned in to how ski area developments affect the county.

Craven said the district ranger must take into account the overall impacts to infrastructure and quality of life when making decisions about ski area expansions.

“Other counties have had discussions about carrying capacity, and I think it’s time for us to have those talks,” Craven said, adding that the Forest Service plays a key role in those considerations.

“That’s something we’ve been hearing more and more,” Newton acknowledged. “We’re trying to be sensitive to those concerns and address them as we move forward with projects. And we’re challenging our partners to do the same.”

Newton’s last day will be some time in February. At that time, a process to find his replacement will begin.


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