Paonia Ranger District

Office Information

Photo of Paonia District office The Paonia Ranger District, one of two Districts on the Gunnison National Forest, encompasses the headwaters of the North Fork of the Gunnison River, the Paonia District is primarily a recreation and range district with significant minerals potential.  There are 478,000 total acres on the District with 244,000 acres designated as Wilderness.  The Paonia Ranger District office is in the town of Paonia and has 10 full time employees


Photo of a woman on a horse riding in the mountains. The Paonia Ranger District has three developed campgrounds, McClure Pass, Erickson Springs and Lost Lake. Erickson Springs and Lost Lake are managed by a contractor called Recreation Resource Management (RRM). Dispersed camping is also allowed on most of the Forest including the Wilderness Areas where access is limited to foot or horseback. The District also maintains 277 miles of horseback and hiking trails which afford the hiker spectacular mountain views, wildlife viewing and an abundance of wild flowers. There are also 400 miles of roads, some are open to just ATV use while others are also open to 4 wheel drive vehicles. Winter recreation is also popular on the District. Snowmobiling is a popular winter use in addition to skiing. A designated Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway traverse a portion of the District.




Special Uses

Photo of an outfitter guide camp with people posed near the tent. There are 130 Special Use Permits related to ditches, reservoirs, springs, waterlines, recreational residences, and roads are authorized on the Paonia Ranger District. Also the Outfitter Guide program falls under the jurisdiction of “Special Uses”.  There are approximately 15 outfitters on the District that operate under permit providing mostly summer and hunting trips into the forest, both in and out of the Wilderness areas.  Permits are issued for special events like the West Elk Mountain Men rendezvous, races, weddings and other gatherings.


Photo of a black bear and a cub. About 6,500 elk and 17,000 deer live on the District. The Paonia Ranger District supports habitat for 314 different species of wildlife and fish. There are 55 threatened, endangered, rare or sensitive plant and animal species which occur or have the potential to occur on the district. Surveys are conducted to identify impact of management activities on species of wildlife as well as identifying habitat needs such as the goshawk nesting site. Wildlife biologists coordinate and provide input to many other management programs such as timber, range, minerals, and recreation. The district conducts habitat improvement projects on big game winter range using tools such as fire, mechanical chopping and seeding.


Photo of a drilling rig. The District contains a large amount of coal and gas resources. Currently, there are approximately 85,000 acres of gas leases and 16 wells on the Paonia District. Gas wells on the Gunnison National Forest produce approximately 67 million cubic feet annually. With respect to coal, Paonia is the only District on the forest with three active underground coal mines, Mountain Coal, Oxbow and Bowie. The District acts as the surface management agency. There are approximately 14,000 acres of coal leases. These mines combined support 900 families and produce 17 million tons of coal annually. Once removal activities are completed, for gas or coal, the sites are revegetated. The mineral specialist works to see that these uses are carried out according to plans and many other specialists coordinate these activities.


Photo of cattle grazing in a mountain meadow. The District issues term grazing permits to 50 ranchers to graze 8,000 cattle and 18,000 sheep. These ranchers follow grazing plans that are revised annually. The 50 ranches support over 50,000 acres of undeveloped open space in the North Fork Valley. Two groups of these ranchers have been recognized for outstanding Management of National Forest range lands – West Elk Livestock Association in 1997 and Campbell & Sons Ranch on the Terror Creek Allotment in 2004. Approximately 400 miles of fence, 1,700 stock ponds and other range improvements are maintained in cooperation with the permittees.