CORTEZ – The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners last week filed an official appeal against the U.S. Forest Service’s travel management plan for the Boggy-Glade landscape.
Concerned that the plan would sharply decrease acreage open to mountain bikes and motorized vehicles, the county added its voice to the chorus demanding the Forest Service put on the brakes.
“I believe we are all comfortable with the appeal,” said Keenan Ertel, referring to the trio of commissioners. “From my standpoint, I’m hoping the Forest Service will recognize this has been a flawed process from the outset.”
To incorporate last-minute complaints into the appeal wording, the commission held public hearings Wednesday and Thursday. Dozens of pro-access residents – supporting motorized and mountain bike access – turned out along with small-government conservatives who abhor federal meddling.
Dolores Town Manager Ryan Mahoney spoke up in defense of the plan, calling it “a good start.”
“My main message to the commissioners was that, (by appealing), we’re essentially delaying economic progress,” Mahoney said Friday. “As a town, we supported this version: Alternative D. It supports a variety of user groups and is a reasonable approach to management.”
Specifically, Mahoney is worried that the appeals and resulting deliberations by the Forest Service will stall a planned 7-mile trail stretching from the downtown Peoples (Old Dolores) Cemetery to House Creek Campground. He said Dolores would proceed constructing its end of the trail and assume the alignment will stay consistent when a Forest Service plan eventually is passed. The idea behind the trail is to showcase the shoreline of McPhee Reservoir – “an underutilized asset,” Mahoney said – and create a recreation loop that doesn’t require driving a car to get to trailheads.
James Dietrich, the county’s public lands coordinator, outlined nine appeal points Wednesday morning. After the constituent input, three more were added.
Among them: inconsistencies with the county comprehensive land-use plan, inadequate and ambiguous scientific data showing that motorized cross-country travel disturbs habitat and watersheds, confusion about 30-foot and 300-foot dispersed camping rules, difficulty in enforcing motorized game-retrieval allowances and opposition to “ripping and berming” as methods of road closure.
The county is requesting that the Forest Service eschew Alternative D in favor of the “no-action baseline alternative,” or to reverse course and continue coordinating with the county to iron out disagreements.
The appeal period has ended.
Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla, who wrote the decision, said he had received 11 appeals from individuals and advocacy groups, along with the county commission.
Padilla now has 45 days, starting Monday, to try settling the appeals through informal agreements. If unsuccessful, the appeals then are sent to a review team of Forest Service personnel from Region 2.
The review team would give recommendations to San Juan National Forest supervisor Mark Stiles, who can accept them or make revisions. As the appeal deciding officer, Stiles reserves the authority to uphold the plan or remand it to address deficiencies.
If appealing parties still object to Stiles’ decision, the matter goes to litigation.