Hayden Tim Peterson sees the forest in units and map coordinates.
Instead of a scenic overlook of mountain peaks, lakes and trees, Peterson sees a grid of use areas, filtered through a list of his opinions on various environmental issues.
Last Friday, Peterson, 27, and his partner Chris Fish, 26, were having lunch in the Routt National Forest near Sand Mountain. Steamboat Lake could be seen in the distance.
The lunch site was a boulder field with views as far as the Hinman wildfire site, but Peterson's eyes were on the ground. He walked straight for a small patch of bare black earth and ran his hiking boot over the mound. He started explaining the effects of slash burning on the forest, especially if the burn is too large.
"If the fire gets too hot, it sterilizes the soil," he said. "The only species that come back are the hardiest weeds."
Over the last decade, environmentalists have lived in trees and chained themselves together in the foyers of paper companies to prevent what they see as the destruction of forests. Meanwhile, there are those like Peterson who take a very different approach to accomplishing a similar goal.
Peterson and Fish work for an organization called the Southern Rockies Forest Network. On paper, the group is involved in a non-profit web of environmental organizations almost more complicated than the forest data being cataloged.
In the field, however, their mission is more straightforward. According to Peterson, the group is not against clear cutting or motorized recreation per se, but members believe that there are appropriate places for such activity.
Armed with a GPS, a clipboard and a camera, the two hike and mountain bike through the forest taking readings and pictures of even the smallest human impact.
The project is two or three years away from completion, at which time, all findings will be released to the public.
"The speed at which we finish will be depend on funding," Peterson said. "We started this project when the stock market was doing well. Now that the economy has changed, we are not so sure where the money is going to come from."
The group received $21,000 this year to cover six months of fieldwork expenses, computers, maps and salaries for the two workers.
Fish only works two days a week on the forest inventory. He spends the rest of his time as a brewer at the Steamboat Brewery & Tavern and as a cook at the Steamboat Yacht Club.
"I would do this full time, but it wouldn't pay my bills," he said. "We don't do this for the money. We do it because of our belief in the issues."
Fish graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a degree in geography. According to Peterson, he is a rare find for the organization.
"I have a really hard time finding people to do this job," he said. "Most people have a hard time being alone for long periods of time or they don't know where they are and they try to fake it.
"Fish is the exception. He knows what he is doing and he does what he says he will."
On Friday afternoon, the woods were busy with hunters setting up camp for the opening day of archery hunting. A few sheep were grazing along the rocky hillsides.
Peterson pulled up next to a hunting camp and started photographing a road that the Forest Service was attempting to close to vehicle traffic. Part of the mission of the two men is to make sure unnecessary roads are closed permanently.
A "Motor Vehicles Prohibited" sign was on the side of the road.
Peterson carried a log out of the woods and placed it across the two-tire track. He picked up the sign, dusted it off and placed it in front of the log.
Fish took pictures of the area and recorded the latitude and longitude readings.
Along any given road, Fish stops every quarter mile and takes a photo and a reading. If there are any clear cuts, former roads or any other sign of human impact at all, it is recorded.
The information goes into a computer and later onto a map. The data serves two major functions.
One, Peterson hopes to remap the entire National Forest according to areas that have and do not have roads. The areas designated as roadless large swaths of land that have seen no recent human impact will later be fought for as protected land.
"Clear cuts and new roads should not be allowed in the roadless areas," Peterson said.
The Forest Service has already mapped the area, "but they fudged a few boundaries to be on the safe side," Peterson said. "They have projects that they want to do later or maybe they want to build road there."
Second, the data will be saved for later use when future logging or road-building projects come up for approval. With cataloged photos and an inventory of the entire forest, the activists hope they can put up an informed fight.