Over the past 10 years, I have watched the Burnt Timber Trail transform from a beautiful access trail into the Weminuche Wilderness to a ravaged highway suitable for Jeep enthusiasts more than wilderness-goers. I am referring to the lower section of the trail, where the sheep neck down into a 15-to-20-foot-wide herd and destroy everything in their path.
The upper section of the trail has been degraded in another way. One of my favorite parts of this trail is three miles in, just as you crest the knoll before the ravine and approach tree line. Here, I like to break left (west) off trail and up into the rolling meadows and aspen stands. But where I once walked these beautiful, wild, high-grass meadows, there now are countless erosion paths leading in every direction.
Look a little closer at the vegetation, or shall I say, the remnants of vegetation in these meadows. Regulations on motorized travel in the San Juan National Forest have been handed down with a heavy hand to end the development of unregulated/unwanted/unmaintained/unapproved trails. Yet we allow equal, if not more widespread destruction to take place within our most coveted wilderness landscapes.
The arguments echoing in the outdoor community over multiuse trails and biased treatment of some groups over others continue. Why are “we” chosen as a user group being regulated on our public lands and “they” are not?
If the Forest Service truly is working toward protecting, managing and preserving our public lands, then ending grazing is the next challenge. The argument of history and agriculture will be loud and have deep ties politically and within our communities. But no matter how strong or deep the roots are for those who support grazing in wilderness areas, the fact is the damage is being done; the landscape is being forever altered in a place whose sole designation stands for the preservation of the natural environment. There can be no biased treatment of user groups, where some are allowed and others are not, in the destruction of our public lands.