Fostering collaboration a priority for Steamboat’s new district ranger

Tara Umphries started her new job as the district ranger for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District based out of Steamboat Springs on Oct. 14. (Photo by Matt Stensland)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The new district ranger for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District, based out of Steamboat Springs, was looking for a smaller, close-knit community when she applied for the job.

“I had a desire to get back to a position that allowed me to interact with more of a precise piece of ground and community,” said Tara Umphries, who started her new job Oct. 14.

She replaces Chad Stewart, who left to be the district ranger for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.

As district ranger, Umphries will work with a staff of 29 year-round employees and help manage the 1.1 million acres that encompasses the Routt National Forest.

“We have a really diverse program in this community,” Umphries said. “Steamboat really has a robust recreation program.”

Umphries has extensive experience working with wildfires, and she most recently came from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region Office in Lakewood where she worked in the safety, fire and aviation management program.

“Tara brings an excellent background in complex interagency efforts that will serve her well in her new role,” said Russ Bacon, forest supervisor for the Medicine Bow and Routt national forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland. “She has a great track record of working with partners and stakeholders which will help her as she builds on existing relationships and develops new ones.”

Umphries has a masters degree in forestry from the University of Montana and has spent 17 years working at the district, forest and regional level programs in several Forest Service regions in addition to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. She also did a three-year stint with the Roosevelt Hotshots, an elite, 20-person crew of firefighters based out of Fort Collins.

Umphries has a connection to the Steamboat area, having worked on the Hinman Park Fire in 2002.

As the district ranger, Umphries will have to work closely with other government agencies and elected officials.

“Ever since, I’ve been a commissioner we’ve had a great relationship with our federal partners,” Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said. “We don’t have to agree on everything, but we need to know what each other is working on. They understand our role and ask us for input.”

Monger said he is looking forward to working with Umphries as the Forest Service deals with a dying and distressed forest and uses county roads to haul out timber.

“There is so much on the public land that filters into the private land,” Monger said.

Commissioners will also be working with the Forest Service as planning continues for Mad Rabbit Trails project in the areas of Mad Creek, Rocky Peak and Rabbit Ears Pass.

“We’re definitely following the Mad Rabbit thing,” Monger said.

Umphries will also collaborate with community groups like the Friends of Wilderness organization in Steamboat.

During the summer, she came and visited the group during one of their volunteer days.

“That was wonderful,” said Bob Korch, Friends of Wilderness trail maintenance coordinator.

The group will continue to communicate with the Forest Service as Friends of Wilderness works on the Continental Divide and Wyoming trails.

“We’re trying to make a positive impact on the Wilderness,” Korch said.

Umphries said the Forest Service’s emphasis at the local and national levels in 2019 will be on timber and reducing the fuels that feed wildfires.

The Forest Service will also continue its close relationship with Steamboat Resort as improvements are implemented, and there is a restoration project planned for the California Park area to improve hydrology, fisheries and the range.

“I’d really like to have a long-term group to help with recreational planning,” Umphries said.

She said fostering collaboration and collecting input from members of the public are among her priorities.

“Most of them have big loud voices, and that’s so neat to have that in a community,” Umphries said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

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