Sulphur Ranger District welcomes Jon Morrissey
If you spend a bit of time wandering around Grand County you will find a surprising variety of terrain including high alpine meadows, low riparian valleys, vast undulating steppes and seemingly endless forests filled with lodgepole pines and aspen trees.
Folks who do not live in the high country often conjure images of those forests when they imagine the mountainous regions of the state. Despite the variety of landscapes found in Grand County, that mental image, of a mountain forest, is an appropriate symbol for our home as most of the public land in Grand County is administered by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
A sizable portion of northwestern and north central Grand County is within the boundaries of the Routt National Forest but most public land in the county is part of the Arapaho National Forest.
Federal officials from the Sulphur Ranger District, based in Granby, oversee most of the Arapaho National Forest in Grand County. The District recently welcomed Jon Morrissey as the new District Ranger, replacing longtime District Ranger Craig Magwire who retired in April after serving as District Ranger in Granby for 15 years.
Morrissey’s duties as District Ranger formally started on June 27. He comes to Grand County from the White Mountain National Forest in N.H. but has spent extensive periods of his multi-decade career with the USFS in Colorado.
Originally from San Antonio Texas, Morrissey earned a bachelors degree in forestry from Texas A&M University before moving into the professional working world. The desire to enter the forestry profession stemmed from his love of the outdoors and trees, an appreciation Morrissey credits his father for instilling in him. “I’ve always loved trees,” Morrissey said. “I got that from my dad. Through the Boy Scouts I developed a love of mountains; really wherever it snowed, which was not San Antonio.”
BEGINNING A CAREER
Realizing central Texas wasn’t necessarily where his heart was leading him, Morrissey looked to the high country. His initial work for the USFS was as a volunteer in the Red Feather Lakes area, just a short ways north of Grand County. He continued working as a seasonal volunteer for the USFS during summers for the next several years, heading deeper into the Rockies to the White River National Forest. During those years as a volunteer Morrissey worked primarily with timber related issues, including conducting stand examinations and presale forestry in preparation for logging activities.
He eventually moved to Atlanta Ga. when he took a position with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in hopes of locking down permanent, non-seasonal employment. The southern seaboard states were far from the snowy forests Morrissey dreamed of but sometimes long-term goals supersede short-term desires. “Going from Vail to Atlanta was interesting,” Morrissey said. “I was not that happy being in Atlanta, but it worked out great.”
From Atlanta Morrissey moved back to Colorado and began working in the Uncompahgre National Forest, based out of Montrose, where he oversaw that regions forestry program as it related to timber issues and harvesting timber. It was around that time Morrissey decided to shift the focus of his work from forestry to recreation, another key aspect of the USFS management of public lands.
From Montrose Morrissey moved to Crested Butte where he served as the Recreation Staff Officer and oversaw all recreation within the Gunnison Ranger District, including trails, wilderness areas, developed recreation areas, outfitters and guides and ski areas. Morrissey would eventually head back east to N.H. before returning to the Centennial State to become District Ranger for the Sulphur Ranger District.
“I love working on the ground,” Morrissey said. “This agency has a lot of passion for working on the ground. You will find that with the staff. Passion is what keeps them motivated.”
Working within the Sulphur Ranger District offers unique challenges Morrisey has not experienced in other roles with the USFS; notably, his work with Front Range water diverters including Denver and Northern Water is a unique dynamic with which few other forests contend. Similarly working in a District with a ski resort is fairly unique, though Morrissey has experience working in other Districts, including Gunnison, which also housed ski resorts.
Morrissey and other officials from the Sulphur Ranger District are looking towards the future and have a few projects already in mind. Morrissey said the USFS would be reviewing recreation amenities in the Meadow Creek Reservoir area to, “see what opportunities we have to enhance recreation.”
The fire hazard posed by the abundance of beetle kill pine is also a top priority for Morrissey. “We need to be doing some prescribed fire in some of these stands under a managed situation,” Morrissey said. “We are looking at doing more of that over the next few years. Not just burning piles, but bringing some low intensity fire in. We will learn a lot from the Beaver Creek Fire.”
The need for prescribed burns to mitigate the fire hazard posed by dead timber has increased over the years, according to Morrissey, because most of the easily accessed timber has already been harvested. What gets left behind are stands that are more difficult, if not impossible, for commercial loggers to access.
“We have harvested a lot of the easy country,” Morrissey said. “The ground has gotten harder, now we are trying to do it behind subdivisions or on steeper land. We have done about as much treatment as we can to remove trees. We are to the point we have to switch gears to treat vegetation. Prescribed fire is one of those avenues.”
Morrissey and his wife Colleen Hannon currently live in the Three Lakes Region. The couple was married after Morrissey moved to Montrose to begin working in the Uncompahgre National Forest.
“For us, the landscape is what we just love,” Morrissey said. “There is something about western Colorado, the landscape is so different from the Front Range; broad valleys, kind of self-contained peaks, wildflowers, animals – the amount of wildlife here is just amazing. All these things contribute to the quality of life. I’m looking forward to exploring the District.”