Forest Service turnover troubles Pitkin County commissioners |

Forest Service turnover troubles Pitkin County commissioners

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Pitkin County commissioners want a lasting relationship with the next top U.S. Forest Service official in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.

The commissioners pumped interim Aspen District Ranger Bill Kight for information Tuesday about why the position seems to turn over so often. Irene Davidson left the post last month after serving a little longer than two years.

Kight, a versatile member of the White River National Forest supervisor’s office in Glenwood Springs, is filling in as the district ranger during a search for a replacement. He said the cost of living and stress drive many people from the post. Candidates typically look at the cost of living and housing for the Roaring Fork Valley before they take the job.

However, they discover it is even tougher in person than it is on paper, Kight said. That contributes to them transferring out of the Aspen area.

“I guess beauty has a price,” Kight said.

The topic came up during a quarterly conversation between the county commissioners and the Forest Service. They tackle many of the same issues, so they get together regularly to talk about solutions. The commissioners were concerned because turnover breaks continuity on resolving issues.

Kight said stress might also play a role in turnover, though he didn’t elaborate. The Aspen-Sopris District deals primarily with recreation-related pressures, like too many people visiting stunning wilderness sights, the effects of motorized vehicles on wildlife habitat, and conflicts between various users. Natural gas exploration has popped up as an issue in the far reaches of the district, southwest of Carbondale. The bark beetle epidemic is starting to kill off parts of the forest.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said it will be a priority for him to provide affordable housing for agency employees to stabilize the work force.

A check of the employment history of the Aspen-Sopris District Ranger position shows that it has been fairly stable, despite the county commissioners’ perceptions.

Prior to Davidson, Bill Westbrook held the position from January 2004 to February 2007. Westbrook held the post when the Aspen and Sopris districts merged. He was the Sopris District ranger before that, so he took the Aspen job with experience in the area. He left for a similar position in the Portland, Ore., area.

Jim Upchurch was the Aspen District ranger when it was a separate district, from June 2000 to late 2003. He took a promotion.

Rob Iwamoto held the post from 1992 until 1999. He left for a similar position in Washington state. Davidson also transferred to Washington. She is the Naches District Ranger in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

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