Hunter-Smuggler Cooperative Plan
Advocating for ecologically sensitive management
in “Aspen’s backyard”
The Hunter-Smuggler Cooperative Plan is implementing a variety of forest treatments and recreation projects in the Hunter Creek Valley and the northwest end of Smuggler Mountain. The project is being led by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies in consultation with the City of Aspen, Pitkin County and the Forest Service. The Wilderness Workshop has been a consistent participant in shaping the projects to be more ecologically sound.
The plan originally proposed a series of forest treatments in an attempt to reduce the amount of beetle-killed trees, to increase aspen stands and to increase age diversity of the forest. Many of the more extensive treatments have already taken place or have been shelved due to cost or a recognition that they have minimal benefit to ecological values.
In general aggressive forest treatments that involve the use of bulldozers, helicopters and extensive thinning or clearcutting do not belong in the backcountry.
If we do a good job protecting our homes and important infrastructure from wildfire by thinning trees and removing fuel in the immediate vicinity of structures (think several hundred yards from homes and other infrastructure), then natural and ecologically critical processes like wildfire and beetle infestations can play out on their own in the backcountry.
Most significantly, we were part of the collaborative team that helped implement a successful 900-acre prescribed burn on the south facing slopes of the Hunter Creek Valley in the spring of 2016. Click here for more details about prescribed fire.
As a voice for ecological principles, we’ve also pushed to ensure that trail development doesn’t occur in ecologically sensitive portions of the project area.
Many of the trails in the Hunter-Smuggler area were built illegally (i.e., without Forest Service permission). While most of these trails are now well established and have been brought into the agency’s formal trail system, both the Forest Service and WW agree that the era of building bandit trails on our public lands is over. Recreation constitutes one of the biggest impacts and threats to our wildlife populations, largely due to the habitat fragmentation that comes with increased trail development and use.
Fortunately this doesn’t mean we can’t recreate in the backcountry or even build new trails. What it does mean is that we must utilize deliberate planning processes informed by good science and the advice of wildlife management professionals like those at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. Throughout this planning process, we’ve consistently advocated for a trail system that avoids important wildlife habitat, preserves some areas of the project area as wild and undeveloped, and focuses on quality instead of quantity. Specifically, we’ve signed off on trails like the new Hummingbird trail and the Iowa Shaft Shortcut and we’re working on repairs and short re-routes of other trails like the Sunnyside and Plunge Trails.
“We’re not so poor that we have to spend our wilderness or so rich that we can afford to.”