Browns Canyon

Rafters float through Browns Canyon, constantly discovering what’s up around the next bend.

A team of geographers at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs has begun translating comments gathered at Browns Canyon National Monument listening sessions into documents and maps that will guide the development of a management plan for the area.

The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Consensus Building Institute, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization, conducted six listening sessions in October and November to inventory public opinions about the national monument.

The forums, which took place in Leadville, Denver, Colorado Springs, Cañon City, Buena Vista and Salida, allowed attendees to draw on maps, rank the importance of different resources and fill out surveys.

John Harner, UCCS professor of geography, received a $28,746 grant from the Forest Service to process that information using geographic information system (GIS) software and spreadsheets to create maps and reports the Forest Service and BLM will use to better understand the “diverse connections people have to the land, including places where activities occur and places that have special meaning,” according to a newsletter published by UCCS.

The team of geographers, which consists of Harner, graduate student Becky Gronewold and undergraduate Jesse Miller, has just completed entering GIS data from the Salida listening session and will finish entering data from the five other events this week, Harner said.

“There are thousands of scribbles on the maps” that participants drew on during the sessions, but the GIS software is designed to handle that kind of complex data, said Harner.

The GIS “is a big database with spacial capabilities. We can combine and overlay (the data) in different ways, such as densities of use,” he said.

Despite the sophistication of the software, Gronewold and Miller have had to redraw the shapes participants put on the maps and do “a little interpretation from time to time” of ambiguous markings, Harner said.

As for the comments submitted at the sessions, Harner said those will be analyzed to “produce basic statistics, such as how many people want horseback riding, who wants hunting, who wants hiking.”

This process of mapping the human ecology of public lands was pioneered in the Pacific Northwest, said Harner, by Forest Service scientist Lee Cerveny, who is based in Seattle, Wash.

The BLM and Forest Service are applying human ecology mapping to Browns Canyon National Monument as part of the agency’s attempt to implement what Melissa Garcia, associate district manager at the BLM’s Front Range District Office, calls “Planning 2.0.”

The intention of Planning 2.0 is to “provide opportunities for early and meaningful public involvement” and to gather “high quality data and information from the public up front to inform land management agencies in the development of their landscape level management plans,” said Garcia.

This approach, Garcia said, differs from past standard practice in that it involves more public engagement during the initial assessment of the management situation.

Human ecology mapping is also an attempt by the Forest Service and BLM to improve in an area where they have been lacking in the past, said Harner.

The agencies “are very good at collecting data on environmental stuff, such as invasive species and water quality, but they are not very good at collecting data on the human side,” Harner said.

Harner said he expects to send preliminary results to the BLM and Forest Service by February.

The GIS data provided by the UCCS team will then be analyzed by Cerveny and the Consensus Building Institute to draft “an executive summary about what was heard as a precursor to providing a more detailed report for inclusion in the planning assessment,” said Garcia.

“The executive summary will be presented to the public at one in-person session and also made available online,” said Garcia.

That is tentatively planned to take place at the end of February or early March, she said.

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