By Monday is the final extended comment deadline for the Rico-West Dolores Travel Management Plan Draft Environmental Assessment. This process laudably requires the Forest Service to designate and sign where motorized activities (motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles) are allowed to go, rather than the historical practice of permitting them most anywhere within the Forest except where posted.
This is the public's opportunity to get part of our San Juan National Forest trail planning right. If we don't, the Rico-West Dolores area is at risk of becoming a national sacrifice region for mostly out-of-area motorcyclists.
Because of a Washington edict to complete all San Juan TMPs by year's end, there has been a rush by the Dolores Public Lands Office to complete the Rico-West Dolores assessment in which scientific, trail-by-trail analysis was disregarded and the motorcycle lobby currently has the upper hand.
Alternative E, the preferred alternative would designate 110 miles of trails for motorcycles; whereas, a more environmentally benign Alternative C would designate only 40 miles for motorcycles. Elsewhere in the
1 million-acre Dolores District there are hundreds of miles of trails and roads open to motorcycle use in environments that are far less fragile and more appropriate.
The Dolores Public Lands Office rejected recommendations by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, including the recommended closure to motorcycles of 17 miles of the Upper Calico Trail (south of the trailhead at Lizard Head Meadows). In particular, it punted on the issue of seasonal trail closures by not addressing this issue at all in the Draft Environmental Assessment.
All four outfitters that provide horseback or hunting services on the Dolores and West Fork of the Dolores are opposed to the motorcycle designations in the preferred alternative. The Dolores Public Lands Office used selective science in minimizing the impact of that option on big game, utilizing a shorter "security zone" distance area - a quarter mile - than the half mile used for other parts of the forest.
The Forest Service budget cannot afford the existing, extensive trail maintenance and reconstruction needs, and is falling further behind in addressing motorized trail damage. The Forest Service has become co-opted by motorcycle groups and relies on their grants to perform limited "stewardship" work on motorized trails. Then these groups feel entitled to continued use regardless of the growing damage.
Many San Miguel and Dolores County residents and property owners, including myself, enjoy hiking, hunting, horseback riding, mountain biking and fishing near Rico, Lizard Head Meadows and the upper West Fork of the Dolores River. My client, Dunton Hot Springs Resort, is a major stakeholder and employer on the upper West Fork. Dunton stands with the town of Rico, the Rico Alpine Society, the North San Juan Advisory Council, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Trout Unlimited and the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in opposing the preferred alternative.
Hunters' reveries and shot opportunity are destroyed by passing motorcyclists. Mushroomers on the Calico Trail have seen their quiet foraging quests exploded by motorcycle noise. Horseback riders on steep trails loathe dangerous encounters with large groups of motorcycles. Hikers encounter grossly rutted banks of bridgeless, muddied side streams that motorcycles have charged through.
Motorcycles simply do not belong in streambeds, wetlands, erosive trails or steep hillsides, alpine meadows and tundra. In many cases, the preferred alternative would allow them to keep damaging these sensitive areas.
In recent years, Dunton has witnessed a marked increase in motorcyclists in the upper West Fork and Lizard Head Meadows area. Selection of Alternative E will make this sensitive alpine region an increasingly popular national destination for dirt bikers. Spillover effects throughout the San Juan and Uncompaghre national forests can be anticipated if traditional users don't speak out.
The proponents of Alternative E are well-organized. Forest Service files are full of form letters from out-of-area motorcyclists supporting the Preferred Alternative. This can be counteracted only by commenting to the Forest Service and copying your elected officials. Dunton respectfully asks that you consider submitting a comment opposing Alternative E, and supporting Alternative C subject to Division of Wildlife recommendations.
The Draft Environmental Assessment is viewable at www.fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan/projects/projects.shtml. Comments will be accepted until close of business Monday. Written comments should be mailed to Steven K. Beverlin, Dolores Public Lands Office, 29211 Colorado Highway 184, Dolores, CO 81323, Attn: Rico-West Dolores TMP EA. Comments can be e-mailed to comments-rocky-mountain-
san-juan-mancos firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can be called in to Penny Wu, Dolores Public Lands Office at 882-7296.
Steve Johnson has practiced law on the West Slope for more than 27 years. His practice focuses on real estate, land use and development, local government, water and natural resource law. He can be reached at email@example.com.