National Forest Foundation awards $650,000 for stewardship work
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Thanks to voluntary contributions from ski resort visitors, the the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation will partner to invest about $650,000 in forest restoration and recreation projects. The donations are collected in a voluntary add-on to ticket and lodging sales, a dollar or two at a time.
The grants were awarded recently to organizations like the Blue River Watershed Group, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, the Colorado Mountain Club and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program for projects like trail improvements, wildlife habitat enhancement, tree planting and stream restoration.
The Ski Conservation Fund has been around since 2007 and has invested about $3 million in forest projects. All four Summit County ski areas participate in the program.
In Summit County, this year’s projects include stream restoration along Tenmile Creek near Copper Mountain and invasive weed treatments in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Forest-wide, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory will get funding to work in sagebrush habitat, a critical but oft-overlooked part of the Rocky Mountain ecosystems, critical for many bird species and as winter range for deer and elk.
“By investing in these on-the-ground conservation efforts, we are helping ensure that the health of our forests and watersheds persists over time,” said Marcus Selig, Colorado program director for the Colorado National Forest Foundation. “As demands on our National Forests increase, these actions will create improved experiences and services for all forest users and beneficiaries.”
According to the Forest Service, the awards will support more than 100 seasonal jobs, as well as thousands of hours of volunteer opportunities for area residents and visitors.
“Our project alone is expected to provide 12 area youth with leadership opportunities, involve 50 volunteers in monitoring, seeding and barbed wire removal, and engage 120 local high school students in meaningful stewardship of their forests,” said Markian Feduschak, executive director of the Walking Mountain Science Center in Avon.
Other community organizations receiving grants from the Ski Conservation Fund this year: Blue River Watershed Group, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Colorado Mountain Club, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Eagle River Watershed Council, Friends of Dillon Ranger District, Friends of the Eagle Nest Wilderness, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps-Colorado, Student Conservation Association, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Walking Mountains Science Center, and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers.
In a statement, the Forest Service acknowledged Vail Resorts‘ role in the ski conservation fund. Skier contributions at Vail Resorts make up over half of the funds awarded for implementation of the Continuing Our Conservation Legacy program.
“Each year, Vail Resorts and NFF are able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for important forest health projects on the White River National Forest. The Continuing Our Conservation Legacy program enables Vail Resorts Echo to help fund critical projects within the comprehensive plan that will have a direct benefit to preserving the iconic settings we call home,” said Beth Ganz, vice-president of public affairs and sustainability at Vail Resorts.
In times of tightening U.S. Forest Service budgets and increasing resource needs, partnerships like the Ski Conservation Fund are becoming increasingly important.
“Our forest is a world-class destination for international visitors. Without this help we would not be able to maintain the essential services people have come to expect when they experience what our forest has to offer,” said White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.