New district ranger hired for local forests: A Q&A with Sulphur District hire Eric Freels
The Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests & Pawnee National Grassland announced three new district rangers in a news release Wednesday. Two of the rangers will start May 23 and one will take their new position June 6.
The new Boulder District Ranger, Kevin McLaughlin, will leave his current position as the acting district ranger of the Sulphur District and Eric Freels will become district ranger for the district that sits almost entirely in Grand County.
Freels started working with the U.S. Forest Service in 2001 as a wildlife technician in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests near Steamboat Springs. He worked in other forests in Colorado in Grand Junction and Montezuma County as well before becoming deputy district ranger on the North River and Lee Ranger Districts of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia two years ago.
Here is a Q&A with Freels, conducted via phone and email, with some of his responses edited for clarity.
Q: How do you plan to handle fire danger in Grand County?
A: I don’t want to get too far ahead of the good work that’s going on there already, but as you know, the East Troublesome and the Williams Fork fires were devastating. I plan to be there and support the fire recovery efforts and work with the county and our partners there in that community to not only maintain those recovery efforts, but also to look at ways where we can reduce fire dangers and take proactive measures to have safe communities.
Q: What plans do you have to handle increased visitation?
A: One of my first objectives is to make sure the employees that work on the Sulphur Ranger District have the resources and the staffing that they need to make sure that we’re providing these services to the public. So my first thing is going to be making sure that employees are taken care of, that we are set to provide the service, because, you know, the campgrounds are packed, the trail heads are packed, and we know that. It’s just like, “What can we do?” Well, we need to work with our county partners and our trail partners and our rec partners and Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the state and everyone else and just see how can we make this sustainable for the next generation. I think one of my first steps will be to evaluate where we are with our programs, and see what we need to do to make sure our folks have the adequate resources they need to to provide these services.
Q: Do you have any thoughts about the Rainbow Family potentially having their annual gathering in Grand County this year? How do you prepare for that?
A: We have an incident management team that works with the Rainbow Family, and our regional office has been working with the IMT, this incident management team. If and when they announce they will be in Colorado, and we do not know that, and if they decide to come to Grand County, we will do our best to provide the resources to the county and to the community to meet that need. I’ll just leave it at that. We don’t know they’re coming and we’re not sure where they’re gonna go. From what I understand, that’ll be decided later in June by the Rainbow Family, and so until that time, we’re just gonna keep preparing and working with our internal team to make sure that we have the resources available to meet any needs that might come in and any potential impacts that come to this community.
Q: Will the Sulphur office in Granby reopen and if not, why not?
A: We will be transitioning to a new way to serve the public and community from the district office. We are excited to introduce this new model that will hopefully improve information sharing and access for the public that we serve.
Q: How hard will you crack down on people starting fires in a fire ban/enforce fire bans?
A: A fire ban implemented on the forest is done under careful consideration and we take these restrictions seriously. We will continue to enforce any, and all closures and fire restrictions, to the best of our abilities with the resources and staffing we have available.
Q: How do you hope to improve the Sulphur Ranger District?
A: This district is already an amazing spot consisting of 440,000 acres that provides hiking, biking, skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, forest products and many, many additional great assets and values — it’s hard to improve on that. With that said, I really look forward to supporting the staff here in the district that really makes this district function at the level it does. In addition to our amazing permanent and seasonal employees, the Sulphur RD has some great partnerships in this community that are really unparalleled. I hope to continue building on those relationships and I am excited to see where we can go moving forward.
Q: What are your feelings on vagrancy on the national forest? Have you had to deal with homelessness and/or vagrancy in the past, and if so, how have you dealt with them?
A: As I am sure you know, homelessness is an issue that is growing in our society and this in turn often impacts public lands. I do have experience with this issue and I want to say that it is something that I try to look at through a humanitarian lens first. No one wants to be homeless and forced to live in the forest. When this does occur, I would hope that we first educate the person on forest regulations concerning length of stay and how campsites are expected to be maintained. In my experience, we continue to communicate our concerns with potential resource damage and issue warnings if appropriate. Communication and compassion is key to working with issues.
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