The controversy over travel management in the San Juan National Forest has landed in federal court with a lawsuit filed by the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
At the heart of the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court on Dec. 2, is the groups assertion that the Forest Service has unlawfully authorized off-road vehicle use on 14 trails 80 miles in the Rico-West Dolores travel-management area. The Rico-West Dolores area covers 244,550 acres, encompassing federal lands surrounding Bear Creek, Taylor Mesa and around Rico, Dunton, Black Mesa and Stoner Mesa.
The lawsuit names the U.S. Forest Service, the agencys Chief Thomas Tidwell and San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles as defendants, according to the court documents.
The Rico-West Dolores travel-management plan was unveiled in September 2009, but it was reversed in December 2009 for failure to properly analyze impacts of the plan.
Because of other priorities, the Forest Service returned the Rico-West Dolores landscape to 2005 travel-management rules. Officials intend to begin work on the plan again in 2012.
The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers complaint claims the 14 trails at the heart of the lawsuit are closed to motorized vehicles under the San Juan Public Lands Draft Management Plan, and yet the Forest Service has permitted and encouraged the use of two-wheeled ORVs (motorcycles) on these trails.
The 14 trails in question consist of two major trail networks, Calico and Bear Creek, as well as Ryman Creek and Stoner Creek.
It is really only the single-track motorized use that we have a problem with, which is an important distinction here locally, said group member Robert Marion of Mancos.
The group contends the presence of motorized vehicles in known big-game habitat negatively impacts herds.
Motorized traffic has been up there for the past 10 years, which is changing all of those traditional uses, he said. We would like to protect the traditional uses that have been up there for generations.
The lawsuit asks the court to halt the Forest Service from continuing to authorize and encourage ORV use on the trails.
Stiles and Dolores Public Lands Office Acting District Ranger Mark Lambert were not available to comment. Forest Service spokeswoman Ann Bond said it is Forest Service policy not to comment on pending litigation.