DOLORES Unsatisfied with progress being made through government channels, members of the public took matters into their own hands Friday, participating in a protest march against U.S. Forest Service actions on public lands.
Carrying picket signs and banners, more than 100 people marched from the intersection of Colorado highways 145 and 184 to the Dolores Public Lands Office, where a short rally was held to express public dissatisfaction with road closures and policy changes on public lands.
The event was organized by Doug and Kim Maxwell and Louie and Hellen Edwards. Officers from the Colorado State Patrol and Montezuma County Sheriffs Office monitored the route.
Its one right after another the government is taking away, and it has got to stop, Doug Maxwell said before the march began. We want to possibly get national attention to the issue and get the whole nation to wake up to what is going on.
Public discontent with Forest Service decisions has been growing in the wake of the release of the Mancos-Cortez and Rico-West Dolores travel management plans over the last four years. The fervor reached a new pitch last fall when the Forest Service released the Boggy-Glade travel management plan, which called for the elimination of motorized cross country travel and game retrieval and the closure of 155 miles of Forest Service roads.
Displeasure with the plan led Montezuma County commissioners to create the Public Lands Coordination Commission to study the impact of Forest Service decisions on the county.
These are our public lands, said Dennis Atwater, a member of the commission who spoke at the rally. They are supposed to belong to the public, and the federal government cannot own these lands. This is not a short war. It is a long war. We are not asking for anything that doesnt belong to us.
Along with dissatisfaction toward Forest Service officials, people in the crowd also expressed frustration and disappointment with what they view to be a lack of action on the part of county commissioners, none of whom were in attendance.
Not one of them came today, Louie Edwards said about commissioners while addressing the crowd. If it were up to me, they wouldnt be going back to office. If they are not going to do their job, they should step aside.
Edwards statement was met with loud cheers from the crowd.
Fire them! the crowd shouted about commissioners. Vote them out!
Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell addressed the group, thanking them for conducting a peaceful protest and encouraging continued civil discourse.
Isnt it great to live in a country where we can gather and fight for what is right, Spruell said. We dont have to burn cars or buildings, but we can bring attention to whats wrong and make a wrong right.
Speakers at the rally, including Edwards and Atwater, urged the Forest Service to reverse its travel management decisions and start over with a process that includes coordination with county governments and the general public.
Coordination is a mandate, Atwater said. They have to work with us.
Forest Service officials were not given an opportunity to address the protesters, but Dolores Public Lands Office Manager Steve Beverlin, Forest Service natural resource specialist Tom Rice and San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles were on hand to listen to the speeches and answer any questions.
They demonstrated their rights to come here and pursue dialogue as they see fit, Rice said. What we need to do is let everything settle itself through the legal means they see fit and the coordination process that has started with Montezuma and Dolores counties.