Public Comment Processing
RE: Canada Lynx critical habitat designation and DPS Boundary FWS-R6-ES-2013-0101;4500030114
Prior to addressing the specific concerns of the habitat designations, a brief summary of each Organization is needed. COHVCO is a grassroots advocacy organization representing the more than 150,000 registered OHV users seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado. COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations.
CSA was founded in 1970 to unite winter motorized recreationists across the state to enjoy their passion. CSA is the voice of the 25,000 registered snowmobile enthusiasts throughout the state of Colorado. CSA has also become the voice of organized snowmobiling seeking to advance, promote and preserve the sport of snowmobiling through work with Federal and state land management agencies and local, state and federal legislators telling the truth about our sport.
TPA is a 100 percent volunteer organization whose intention is to be a viable partner, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of trail riding. The TPA acts as an advocate of the sport and takes the necessary action to insure that the USFS and BLM allocate to trail riding a fair and equitable percentage of access to public lands. Throughout these comments CSA, COHVCO and TPA will be collectively referred to as “The Organizations”.
1a. The Southern Rocky Mountain areas have been properly determined to be non-essential to the survival of the lynx.
For purposes of this section, the Organizations are referring to the Southern Rocky Mountains as the areas occupied by reintroduced lynx within the boundary areas of Colorado, Southern Wyoming and northern New Mexico. The Organizations vigorously support the exclusion of these areas from designation as critical habitat, given the lack of connectivity of these areas to other habitat areas that are critical to the survival of the species, and the generally poor overall quality of the habitat. Poor habitat quality of the Southern Rockies area is reflected by the large comparative home range of lynx in this area when compared to the size of home ranges in other core habitats. The Organizations would note that significant portions of the habitat areas in Colorado are probably going to further degrade as the timber sales necessary to create multi-story forests in Colorado simply have not occurred, often based on the erroneous position that the 2000 LCAS properly determined that timber sales would impair the quality of the habitat. As extensively outlined in this listing decision, timber sales and harvesting significantly contribute to the overall health of habitat.
While lynx are highly mobile under certain circumstances, such as limited food periods, there is no evidence of lynx successfully traveling from critical habitat areas in the Northern United States to the Southern Rocky Mountain areas. Reintroduction of a comparatively large number of radio collared lynx in Colorado did not result in any lynx rejoining their Northern populations despite several lynx travelling exceptionally long distances in search of habitat. This is a situation where even an abnormally high population pressure on the habitat was insufficient to induce a successful contact between the Southern Rockies areas and more northern habitat areas. If this connection cannot be made under these types of pressures, natural pressures clearly will not result in a connection.
The limited contact that the Southern Rocky Mountain population has to the northern core population areas along the Canadian border further mitigates the ability of the area to be valuable to the conservation of the species. As specifically stated in the listing decision, the Southern Rocky Mountain area is geographically isolated and has very weak connections to other habitat areas, none of which are designated as critical. The Organizations would note that none of the lynx that were reintroduced into Colorado were able to migrate back to the northern habitat areas, despite several of the lynx heading directly for these areas.
1b. Wolverine reintroduction determinations should align with lynx decisions given the similarity of many traits between the species.
The Organizations have been heavily involved in the stakeholder meetings regarding the possible reintroduction of the Wolverine in Colorado and as a result are intimately aware of the close relationship that the lynx and wolverine have had in the western united states. This similarity in management history is based on the large home ranges of each species, each species affinity for snow and similarity of habitat needs. It is also well established that wolverine will travel significantly further in search of new habitat areas than a lynx will travel. Even with the wolverines significantly superior ability to travel over long distances in comparison to the lynx, only one Wolverine (M56) has been able to connect to the Southern Rockies area from the Yellowstone and more northern rocky mountain habitat areas. This speaks volumes to the probability of a lynx making a similar journey, they are basically non-existent.
The Organizations are aware that the USFWS has recently proposed to management the Wolverine in Colorado under a experimental non-essential population designation pursuant to ESA §10j. Given that the Wolverine in Southern Rocky Mountain has already been found to be non-essential for the survival of the population due to the isolation of the area, any finding that lynx in this area are essential to the survival of the species would not be supported by best available science, given the significantly larger distances that wolverine are able to travel to connect with other habitat area.
The Organizations would also note that the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife recently declared the lynx reintroduction a success.1 Clearly the effective reintroduction of the lynx in Colorado is insufficient to delist the lynx, the effectiveness of the state management of the species in this area mitigates any benefits for the lynx that could be derived from a possible critical habitat designation in the Southern Rockies area. The Organizations would note that while this reintroduction has been a painful process for many user groups, the reintroduction has also been a large source of credible information regarding the management of the species. Failing to manage according to this information, most of which directly contradicts the 2000 LCAS would simply compound the frustration of users and limit public support for the management of other species in Colorado, such as the Wolverine.
2. The updated version of the 2013 Lynx conservation assessment strategy must be publicly disseminated.
The Organizations are thrilled that a new Lynx Conservation Assessment Strategy has been prepared, as the 2000 version of this document was highly theoretical and repeatedly states many of the management standards should be updated based on new research. While much of the research that has occurred has not supported many of the restrictions that were proposed in the 2000 LCAS, the 2000 LCAS remains the management standard for lynx habitat from many planning actions in Colorado. The Organizations have participated in numerous site specific planning initiatives, where lynx habitat issues were erroneously relied on to preclude trail development and maintenance. The Organizations are optimistic that a new LCAS would reflect the minimal impacts of recreational activity on the lynx with a new level of clarity, and directly rebut much of the 2000 LCAS.
The Organizations believe it is critical to release this document to avoid any more theoretical planning that negatively impacts the lynx to move forward and allow land managers to accurately incorporate this new information into current land management proposals and avoid having to clarify these plans every time a management issue is addressed in lynx areas. This situation has become even more frustrating recently as CSA has been an active supporter of research in Colorado with the Research Station into the possible impacts of recreational usage of habitat areas. CSA is aware that this research has almost conclusively determined that recreational activity has little to no impact on lynx in the vicinity of the recreational activity.
The Organizations are exceptionally concerned that the new LCAS management standards be immediately released so they may be accurately and properly reflected in the 7 land management plans that are currently in draft or appeal stages of development in Colorado. The Organizations expect much of the 2013 LCAS management and research to specifically contradict previous management positions that were taken based on a critical gap in analysis at the time the 2000 LCAS was developed. The inclusion of the most up to date management in these RMP will avoid creating an ongoing concern with lynx issues in timber sales, summer trail usage proposals and winter recreational activities in general. If these management standards are not included in these RMP these standards will need to be specifically addressed in each subsequent site specific plan to address why the management direction in the RMP has not been followed. The Organizations vigorously assert dealing with these new management standards in a site by site manner will be exceptionally expensive and will probably be less than effective based on the failure of numerous plans to adopt SRLA management standards when those were released.
The critical need to incorporate up to date management standards is also specifically found in smaller planning activities than the numerous RMP revisions that are currently under way in Colorado as was recently exemplified in a timber sale in the Piney Area of the White River National Forest.2 This timber sale has been more than cut in half since the beginning of the NEPA process in order to mitigate possible lynx issues with timber sales that were incorrectly addressed in the 2000 LCAS. This sale was further complicated by the belief that closures of the area to recreational usage were necessary after the fuels mitigation was completed to insure snow compaction standards were complied with. Snow compaction concerns were vigorously opposed by CSA as the area was already being ridden in the winter and the removal of dead trees increased the safety of recreational users.
While the Organizations welcome the 2013 LCAS, the Organizations are frustrated that this document is not locatable on the internet and has not been provided to the Organizations despite several requests to both the contact person in the listing decision and personal contacts with the USFWS in Montana. This document must be made generally available in order for it to be accurately incorporated into the final versions of the numerous land management plans in Colorado and the significant role the document plays in the current listing decision. The level of clarity of the management standards for any area to be designated critical habitat will play a large role in the ability of any organization to support and analyze the designation of the habitat areas and any economic impacts that might result.
3a. Trail based recreation is an economic mainstay for many local Colorado economies.
Many small communities in the vicinity of designated critical habitat are heavily dependent on recreational activities and tourism for survival of the community, after more traditional income sources like the mining and timber industries have left these areas. US Forest Service research indicates that a multiple usage trail network is an effective tool for the development and maintenance of local economies. This research specifically concluded:
“Recreation and tourism economies are the mainstay for rural counties with high percentages of public land. Actions by public agencies to reduce or limit access to for recreation have a direct impact on local pocket books. Limiting access by closing roads, campgrounds, RV parking, and trails for all or one special interests group will impact surrounding communities. Visitors to public lands utilize nearby communities for food, lodging and support facilities.”3
While the development of a recreational trail network can be a significant benefit to local communities, the converse of this is also true as the loss of an existing recreational trail network can create significant negative economic impacts. The scope of losses from large route closures has been the basis for several studies. The findings of this research are consistent with the concerns regarding closures of routes voiced in these comments. In 1999 a joint study of University of Wyoming and US Department of Agriculture found that 72% of economic benefits from winter recreation would be lost with a seasonal closure of the Yellowstone Park to motorized recreation.4 The high levels of economic impact to communities from closures is the result of the wide range of user groups that use a trail network to obtain their primary recreational experience. The Organizations vigorously believe large scale closures in habitat areas would have a similar impact on the local communities as those experienced by the communities adjacent to Yellowstone Park. These must be avoided.
3b. Dispersed trails and roads are multiple use recreational resources.
The Organizations believe that a brief discussion of what an OHV recreational user is will clarify why multiple use trails are of such concern when addressing economic impacts. Forest Service research indicates that families are the largest group of OHV users. This research found that almost 50% of users were over 30 years of age and highly educated. 11.4% of OHV users are 51 years of age or older.5 Women were a large portion of those participating in OHV recreational activities.6 This research indicates that OHV recreationalists are frequently a broad spectrum outdoor enthusiasts, meaning they may be using their OHV for recreation one weekend but the next weekend they will be walking for pleasure (88.9%), using a developing camping facility (44.7%), using a Wilderness or primitive area (58.1%) fishing (44.6%) or hunting (28.4).7
USFWS research indicates motorized access to public lands is a key component of any recreational activity and management of this method of access will impact many other usages than those specifically identified as motorized. The Organizations would note that USFWS research in Colorado indicates that over 75% of the revenue that is derived from wildlife watching in the State is the result of the purchase and use of motorized equipment such as trucks, campers and atvs.8 This is completely consistent with the Organizations experiences for all recreational activities as most users to not have access to non-motorized means of game retrieval or do not have sufficient time to hike long distances to gain access to their favorite fishing hole or dispersed camping site. The wide range of recreation utilizing the dispersed trail network again weighs heavily in favor of in maintaining recreational access to areas that are to be designated habitat.
Given the significant economic contributions to all forms of recreational usage of habitat areas, the Organizations believe this analysis must weigh heavily against the designation of modeled but unoccupied areas for the lynx. As the lynx are not using the areas, and often have not used the area for extended periods of time, the negative economic impacts from the loss of motorized access to these areas has to outweigh any possible benefit to the lynx.
4a. Recently released research from the Western Governors Association finds recreational activity on public lands is largest economic contributor to western states.
In 2012, the Western Governors Association released the conclusions of multiple year research regarding the economic impacts of recreation to western states economies. Given the scale of these findings, the Organizations believe recreational usage would now be added to the priority concerns identified previous by the Western Governors Association. Recreation is the largest economic contributor to western state economies from public lands, which position is summarized in the report as follows:
“The Get Out West Advisory Group identified successfully managing the West’s recreation assets as a key factor in facilitating positive outdoor recreation experiences for the region’s citizens and tourists and for local economic development and job creation in communities around these places.”9
This research also compared recreational contributions to many other economic activities that were present in western states. These conclusions were summarized as follows:
The Western Governors economic impact analysis also highlighted 35 recreational opportunities throughout the western states. The overwhelming majority of these highlighted recreational locations involved the use of a dispersed trail network as part of the recreational experience. While many of these opportunities are outside areas to be designated habitat,analysis of these highlighted locations clearly evidences the critical role that the dispersed trail network plays in all recreational activities.
This research did identify other activities as larger economic contributors to western states, but these activities were not connected to public lands or small municipalities such as those impacted by the critical habitat designation. Western Colorado communities are simply not know as banking, health care or insurance centers of the western states. They are however known for their exceptional recreational opportunities. The Organizations believe these findings warrant clear management standards that properly balance economic impacts from closures with benefits to the species from the management standards. Failure to properly measure and balance all recreational interests will have profound effects on recreational access to public lands and will result in significant negative economic impacts to all communities that will do little to benefit the lynx.
The Western Governors’ Association released its Get Out West report in conjunction with its economic impact study of recreation on public lands in the Western United States. The Get Out West report specifically identified that proper valuation is a significant management concern as follows:
“Several managers stated that one of the biggest challenges they face is “the undervaluation of outdoor recreation” relative to other land uses.”11
The Get Out West report from the Western Governors’ Association also highlighted how critical proper valuation of recreation is to the development of good management plans based on multiple use principals. The Get Out West report specifically found:
“Good planning not only results in better recreation opportunities, it also helps address and avoid major management challenges – such as limited funding, changing recreation types, user conflicts, and degradation of the assets. Managers with the most successfully managed recreation assets emphasized that they planned early and often. They assessed their opportunities and constraints, prioritized their assets, and defined visions.”12
The Organizations these type of economic concerns regarding accurate inclusion of economic analysis in land management plans are mirrored in the Endangered Species listing and are compounded by the fact that Colorado has 7 RMP currently in draft or final version currently. Providing the 2013 LCAS in a timely and effective manner will minimize possible impacts to Colorado economy that could result from an erroneous reliance on out of date standards that are currently provided in these RMP.
Recreational usage of public lands is a significant portion of the Colorado economy, especially in the smaller mountain communities which have already lost more traditional sources of revenue, such as timber, farming and mining. In 2008, COHVCO commissioned an economic impact study to determine the economic impacts of OHV recreation on the Colorado economy. A copy of this economic impact study is attached for your reference. This study found that over 1,000,000,000 dollars of positive economic impact and 10,000 jobs resulted from OHV recreation to the State economy. 13 Over $100,000,000 of this economic impact were the result from motorized recreation in the winter seasons, which are often the major concern for lynx management.
In addition to this direct positive economic impact to Colorado communities, OHV recreation accounted for over $100,000 million in tax revenue to state and local municipalities.14*** These are tax revenues that motorized recreational users of the forest pay with little objection to obtain the benefits of their sport, and are used to address a wide range of needs for the local municipal government. Given current economic conditions, our Organizations believe these positive economic impact numbers must be meaningfully addressed in all government activities.
The economic contributions of motorized recreational usage of lynx habitat in Wyoming are significant as well. Wyoming State Parks recently identified that snowmobile recreation in Wyoming, most of which occurs in areas that are lynx habitat contributes $146.8 million a year to the Wyoming economy. While the economic contributions of motorized recreational usage of other habitat areas is not specifically identified in these comments, the Organizations believe these contributions will be as equally significant to those states as has been specifically found in Colorado and Wyoming.
4c. USFS NVUM analysis further supports the significant economic contributions of motorized usage of public lands.
The Organizations believe the comparative spending profiles of recreational users must be addressed in habitat designations. As previously stated in these comments, motorized access is a key component of many recreational activities that are not specifically identified as motorized recreation. Economic impacts of habitat designations must also address that the motorized users spend on average 2-3 times the average of the non-motorized community in pursuing their chosen forms of recreation. 15 It is the Organizations position that given the integral part that motorized access plays for all recreational activities and the comparatively high spending profile of the motorized community, any exclusion of motorized access in habitat areas, will have a disproportionate impact on economics. Allowing non-motorized access only will not significantly off-set the impact of such an exclusion.
The Organizations vigorously support the exclusion of the Southern Rockies geographic areas from designation as critical habitat, as these areas have an established history of being geographically isolated from northern core habitat areas of the lynx. As was conclusively proven during the reintroduction of the lynx in Colorado, even under abnormally high population pressures, lynx are not able to reconnect with northern core areas. Exclusion of this area as non-essential habitat for the lynx also brings the lynx management standards into conformity with wolverine habitat decisions, which also found this area to be non-essential for the survival of the Wolverine due to its geographic isolation. In addition to being geographically isolated, CPW has effectively managed these areas for the benefit of the lynx. While this management has been at times problematic for the motorized community, the designation of the area as critical habitat would exacerbate this issue rather than resolve it. Resolution of these types of conflicts is critical to the continued management of the lynx and other species in Colorado.
In addition to the exclusion of the southern rockies geographic area as critical habitat, the Organizations vigorously assert the significant economic impacts of excluding motorized recreation must be accounted for in the designation of critical habitat to be in compliance with federal law. These economic contributions are significant and would impact many other recreational activities beyond those traditionally identified as motorized.
Please feel free to contact Scott Jones at 518-281-5810 or by mail at 508 Ashford Drive, Longmont, CO 80504 for copies of any documentation that is relied on in this appeal or if you should wish to discuss any of the concerns raised further.
Scott Jones, Esq.
Director of Operations
Trails Preservation Alliance
John F. Lane
3 Humston et al; USFS Office of Rural Development; Jobs, Economic Development and Sustainable Communities Strategizing Policy Needs and Program Delivery for Rural California; February 2010 at pgs 51-52
4 David Taylor; Economic Importance of the Winter Season to Park County Wyoming; University of Wyoming Press; 1999 @ pg 2.
5 Cordell et al; USFS Research Station; Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation in the United States and its Regions and States: A National Report from the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) February, 2008; pg 56.
6 Id at pg 56.
7 Id at pg 41-43.
8 US Fish & Wildlife Service; 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – Colorado; at pg 40.
9 Western Governors Association; Managing the Regions Recreational Assets; Report of the Get Out West Advisory Group to the Western Governors’ Association; June 2012 – pg 1.
10 Western Governors Association; A Snapshot of the Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation; prepared by Outdoor Industry Foundation; June 2012 at pg 1.
11 Western Governors Association; Get out West Report; Managing the Regions Recreational Assets; June 2012 at pg 3. A Copy of this report has been included with these comments as Exhibit 1.
12 Get Out West Report at pg 5.
13 COHVCO Economic Impact Study- 2008; Lewis Burger Group; pg ES-5. A copy of this report is submitted with these comments.
14 Id at pg ES-5.
15 See; White and Stynes; Updated Spending Profiles for National Forest Recreation Visitors by Activity; Nov 2010 at pg 6.
Archive | December, 2013
December 2, 2013
The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, a close friend of the AMA, recently announced structural changes, a new board member and a new partnership alliance with the Trails Preservation Alliance.
Effective immediately, John Lane will continue in the Chairman role, while Jerry Abboud will take over the position of President/ Chief Executive, Operations and Legislative Officer of COHVCO. John will work closely with the Board to drive fund raising and connections/collaboration with the various populations of OHV recreation across the state. Jerry will be responsible for the day to day affairs and operations of the organization, where he will report to the COHVCO Chairman and Board of Directors.
A little background on Jerry…. Jerry Abboud has spent the past 27 years as an advocate for motorized recreation in Colorado. He has lobbied for motorized access and motorized recreational interests in Colorado and at times in Washington D.C. He is a cofounder of COHVCO in 1987, and hasworked closely over the years with organizations such as the Rampart Range Committee, Rocky Mtn. Enduro Circuit, Colorado Association for 4WD Clubs and the Colorado Snowmobile Association, among others.
Jerry has represented COHVCO in working with the American Motorcyclist Association, the Motorcycle Industry Council, the ATV Safety Institute, Blue Ribbon Coalition, National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council and worked in the power sports industry in Colorado for 18 years. He successfully wrote and lobbied Colorado’s OHV program, served on the State Trails Committee, State Forest Advisory Committee and numerous federal agency work groups. Finally, Jerry is a graduate of the University of Nebraska College of law in 1981.
Regarding other business, a stronger partnership and alliance was forged between the Trails Preservation Alliance, led by Don Riggle, and COHVCO. The TPA will step up to shoulder most of the work regarding Land Use Issues. This is critical work that must be closely monitored and executed on, allowing John, the Board and Jerry to continue to focus on the work surrounding state and federal, legal and legislative issues. Thank you to Don Riggle and the TPA for partnering on this critical work.
Finally and with great excitement, the Board would like to welcome Douglas Morris as our newest Board Member, representing the Rampart Range Committee. Over the years, Doug has been in the thick of the OHV industry, working for the American Motorcycle Association (2001-2009) as the Director of the All-Terrain Vehicle Association, Operations Manager for Fay Myers (1998-2001), and Regional Manager for the Motorcycle Safety Institute (1992-1998). We welcome Doug and are eager for the contributions he will offer COHVCO.
USDA Forest Service
The SJ/TR FEIS and RMP assert that economic contributions are based on and consistent with USFS VNVUM analysis and specifically cites to recently released NVUM research on economic contributions of recreation. Any allegation of consistency of findings is facially arbitrary and capricious and must be reversed, as the SJ/TR conclusions on recreational economics are anything but consistent with the NVUM economic conclusions as evidenced by the fact the SJ/TR asserts to be providing analysis consistent with high spending forests. This is directly contradicted by the conclusions regarding the spending profiles of user groups that are reached in the SJ/TR FEIS as these conclusions are often numerous factors less than the spending profiles that are identified for user groups for a low average spending forest. For several user groups, the average spend for that group is completely outside the conclusions for the range of spending for the same group. The FEIS analysis also fails to provide any analysis of how the changing management standards will impact funding to state agencies, whose funding streams have been directly tied to management issues addressed in the FEIS and RMP. An example of such a secondary impact would be that a lack of access for hunting has been specifically identified as the single largest issue that can be addressed in land management to maintain hunting funding for wildlife management.
The Organizations are vigorously opposed to the manner in which NVUM analysis is alleged to be relied on for some issues and completely overlooked for other management issues. The NVUM analysis overwhelmingly concludes that current management is effectively providing a high quality recreational experience to users of the planning area. These conclusions are simply never addressed nor does the FEIS or RMP provide any analysis on how the high levels of proposed management changes will impact the already high level of customer satisfaction. The Organizations believe that an 83% increase in areas where motorized usage is unsuitable will directly impact the quality of most users experiences to possibly improve the alleged negative experience that is currently provided to less than 2% of visitors.
In addition to arbitrary and capricious analysis of economic issues, the current management of numerous locations in the SJ/TR planning area are not accurately reflected in the FEIS/RMP. These are areas with long histories of motorized usage that remain open to such legal usage at this time. The FEIS/RMP also proposed to make landscape level determinations regarding the suitability/unsuitability of areas for motorized usage. While these determinations appear to be limited to USFS lands the future of this standard for possible application on BLM lands is unclear. As such the errors in the development of this standard are addressed here and the Organizations are not comfortable in assuming that BLM areas currently limited to existing or designated routes currently will not be designated as unsuitable at some point in the future.
Several factors appear to have been relied on in the determinations of area suitability that arbitrarily and capriciously conflict with both agency analysis and USFS regulations such as the Colorado Roadless Rule. How most of these factors are integrated into the final suitability determinations simply are not addressed Habitat areas are excluded from future suitability despite USFWS analysis made as part of the Endangered Species Act review process that motorized usage of these areas for numerous species is not an issue. Roadless areas are managed under a single standard of review that conflicts with the newly released Colorado Roadless Rule and fails to analyze how areas motorized usage would be a protected characteristic of a roadless area and then found to be unsuitable for motorized usage in two review process that occurred at functionally the same time in the same area.
Prior to addressing the specific appeal points, a brief summary of each Organization is needed. The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”) is a grassroots advocacy organization of approximately 2,500 members seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado. COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations.
The Trail Preservation Alliance (“TPA”) is a 100 percent volunteer organization whose intention is to be a viable partner, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of trail riding. The TPA acts as an advocate of the sport and takes the necessary action to insure that the USFS and BLM allocate to trail riding a fair and equitable percentage of access to public lands.
Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) was founded in 1970 to unite winter motorized recreationists across the state to enjoy their passion. CSA currently has 2,500 members. CSA has become the voice of organized snowmobiling seeking to advance, promote and preserve the sport of snowmobiling by working with Federal and state land management agencies and local, state and federal legislators. For purposes of this appeal, Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, the Trail Preservation Alliance and Colorado Snowmobile Association will be referred to as “the Organizations” in this appeal.
It is the Organizations position that the FEIS and RMP must be remanded to the Field Office for further analysis of the issues more specifically addressed in this appeal. The analysis of these issues and associated balance of uses that will result from meaningful analysis and a hard look at accurate information must then be provided to the public for an additional comment period. It is the Organizations position that an RMP for this area that is based on accurate economic information and accurate application of management standards will look significantly different that the current management standards sought to be applied.
To continue reading the entire 91 page appeal, download the PDF.
South Park Ranger District
ATT: Kristen Meyer
RE: Badger Flats Habitat Improvement Project
Dear Ms. Meyer:
Please accept this correspondence as the comments of the Organizations with regard to the above Project. Prior to addressing the specific merits of the Proposal, we believe a brief summary of each Organization is needed. The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”) is a grassroots advocacy organization of approximately 2,500 members seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado. COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations.
The Trail Preservation Alliance (“TPA”) is a 100 percent volunteer organization whose intention is to be a viable partner, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of trail riding. The TPA acts as an advocate of the sport and takes the necessary action to insure that the USFS and BLM allocate to trail riding a fair and equitable percentage of access to public lands. For purposes of these comments, COHVCO and TPA will be referred to as the Organizations.
The Organizations have serious concerns regarding several aspects of the Proposal, including possible impacts from active litigation against the Pike San Isabel forest that may directly impact much of the analysis and review of routes that would have to be undertaken. This is
litigation that the Organizations have been granted intervener status in and are now actively assisting the Forest Service in defending. The Organizations vigorously assert that this matter must be resolved prior to the proposal moving forward.
The Organizations are also concerned that much of the Proposal does not appear to be relying on best available science regarding the movement of wildlife in the Proposal area. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has provided extensive site specific analysis of wildlife issues in the planning area. While there are passing references to trail usage in the area in this analysis, development of adjacent private lands and military bases is specifically identified as the major concern. This site specific analysis also specifically states that the elk and deer herds in the planning area are currently at 2-3x the target population for the area. The Organizations believe providing a quality wildlife habitat is a critical use of public lands, but providing such a habitat entails addressing the actual threats and challenges to that habitat. Arbitrarily managing an issue that is not a threat to the habitat will never improve the quality of the habitat for the species to be protected. While there may be management issues in the proposal area, the Organizations do not believe they are of such as scale as to warrant the preparation of documentation for mitigation as much of the issues can be addressed through annual management and maintenance.
The Organizations are also concerned that the Proposal area has been heavily impacted by the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic. The large amount of dead trees in the planning area from this impact may also be directly impacting wildlife movements, as areas of cover that have been historically provided, are no longer available. The large number of dead trees additionally significantly increase the fire risk in the area, and as noted in CPW site specific research, burn areas make poor quality wildlife habitat. The Organizations will note that areas that have been remediated for beetle impacts often return to a basically healthy state at a much more rapid pace and return to a significantly improved quality of habitat than unremediated area. This issue simply is never addressed in the scoping or how the proposal would improve the ability to remediate this area in the future. The Organizations believe this proposal will not improve the ability to mitigate forest health issues.
1. Current litigation involving the South Park Ranger District must be addressed.
On January 28, 2011, the USFS Pike/San Isabel National Forest and Supervisor Jerry Marr were sued by the Wilderness Society, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Wildlands CPR, Quiet Use Coalition and the Center for Native Ecosystems in Federal District Court for Colorado.1 This suit specifically challenged the placement of over 500 miles of routes on the MVUM of all six ranger districts in the PSI, including the South Park Ranger District. A copy of this complaint has been included with these comments for your reference. At this stage of the litigation, the Organizations to not believe the full extent of the routes and impacts has been full identified by the Plaintiffs. Allegations in the suit involved a wide range of issues related to MVUM development, including but not limited to, the inclusion of historical routes on an MVUM, violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act and NEPA. The Organizations believe that the PSI has stopped all travel management in the Forest until such time as this litigation can be resolved.
The Organizations sought to intervene in this matter to assist the Forest Service in the defense of this matter. Since being granted status as an intervener, the Organizations have been active partners in defending this matter, and clearly have a vested interest in resolving this matter. The Organizations have to disagree with the position asserted in the scoping letter that the Proposal does not affirm or deny the existence of system roads at this time. The Organizations believe the Proposal does nothing but affirm or deny the existence of routes in the area, and the proposal cannot move forward without such a determination.
The Organizations are very concerned that the existence of many routes in the South Park Ranger district have been directly challenged and the Court has not provided guidance regarding the sufficiency and validity of the current MVUMs for the District. As such this project will not have a proper standard for the determination of what is and what is not a designated route in the planning area. This information is critical to the project and identification of illegal or unauthorized routes and is currently unavailable during the pendency of this litigation.
The Organizations also note that if authorized and unauthorized routes cannot be identified in the planning area, the identification of administrative routes and routes that may not currently be open to the public and are held in reserve also cannot be identified. It is the Organizations vigorous assertion this Proposal is exceptionally premature given this litigation and will be relying on a determination process for the roads and trails in the proposal area that has been directly challenged in the litigation and will be addressing numerous routes that may be specifically challenged in the litigation.
2a. Best available science in the planning area has not been relied on in the Proposal.
The Organizations believe the asserted purpose and need for the project conflicts with best available science for the management of deer and elk herds in the planning area. Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife consistently prepares site specific analysis of deer and elk herds throughout the state, addressing herd size, sex ratios and threats or challenges to the management of that herd. The Organizations assert this research is clearly best available
science on these issues, given the site specific nature of its analysis and peer review process that is undertaken by CPW prior to the adoption of these plans by the CPW Commission.
The Organizations believe that identification of the proper GMU for the proposal area is critical to applying this research. The Organizations have serious concerns that the proper plan has not been relied on the development of the proposal, as CPW has recently released a new Herd Management plan for the GMU south of the planning area (E23), while the Herd Management plan for the Proposal area (E18) is several years older. These concerns are based on the proximity of timing in the release of the new E23 Herd Management Plan and this proposal and the fact that several sections of the scoping letter appear to have been directly cut and pasted from the E23 plan into the scoping letter. While the Organizations are aware the GMU issues may be similar, this is simply not a proper or credible basis for planning.
The Organizations believe a brief comparison of the proposal area and the GMU boundaries will clarify this concern as the proposal boundaries almost entirely overlap the E18 planning and analysis boundaries.
*See the PDF for image: Badger Flats Habitat Improvement Project* 2
By comparison, the E18 planning area is managed under the following boundaries:
*See PDF for Figure 5. E-18Map * 3
Given the overlap of the planning area and proposal area, the Organizations believe there can be no argument that E18 analysis and research is the proper planning tool to be relied on for the development of mitigation in the proposal area.
2b. The current elk population in the E18 planning area is 2-3x the CPW target for the area.
Once the proper planning area is identified, a review of this plan reveals that CPW specifically concludes the current elk herd population is 2-3x the target population for the planning area. This herd has remained at 2-3x the population goal for more than 15 years. The E18 Herd Management Plan provides the following graphic representation of the herd size:
*See PDF for Figure 1. E-18 Elk posthunt population estimate, 1990 through 2006* 4
The Organizations must note that the E23 Herd Management plan notes the elk herd in that planning area is also holding at 2-3x the target population for the planning area. Given the exceptional size, health and historically stable nature of the herd size, the Organizations have to question the validity of any assertion that habitat quality is a problem for this herd. An assertion that route closures are necessary to protect herd populations must also take into account the herd size is 2-3x what it should be for the planning area. The Organizations do not believe this has occurred in the Proposal.
2c. The threats and issues identified in the E-18 Herd Management Plan do not bear any relationship to the management actions in the Proposal.
The E18 Herd Management Plan also provides a detailed analysis of the threats and challenges to the elk herd in the area. These threats and challenges are summarized as follows:
“Changes in land use and conversion of ranchland to residential subdivision have negatively impacted the carrying capacity of the area as well as impacting hunter access and harvest success. While there is adequate forage in most years for a larger population (4,500) than currently exists in the DAU (2,400) based on a habitat assessment model developed for Colorado’s HPP program, localized conflicts with agricultural producers still occur. There is relatively little hay production in this DAU and no game damage claims have been paid, but complaints of forage competition and fence damage have increased in the last two years.”5
The Organizations would also note that camping and motorized recreation in the E18 planning area is specifically addressed in the E18 herd plan, which clearly states:
“Multiple uses of the public lands in the DAU include heavy recreational use of both National Forest and BLM lands throughout the year. Recreational activities include hiking, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, ATV and snowmobile riding, four wheeling, wildlife watching, hunting and fishing. Additionally, most of the public lands have seasonal grazing allotments.”6
The Organizations believe it is significant to note that while this usage was specifically addressed in the E18 Herd Management Plan, at no point is this usage even identified as a management concern in the E18 plan. This lack of concern regarding high levels of recreational usage must be taken into account in the Proposal, which proposes to manage these uses to address a non-existent threat to the animals in the area.
It is significant to note that the E-23 Herd Management plan, which appears to be a significant factor erroneous relied on for the development of the Proposal given the large amount of materials that have directly transferred from the plan to the scoping letter, notes a wide range of factors, including the Hayman burn area, large amounts of private lands development and military bases in habitat areas as significant factors impacting the elk population.7 The E23 plan does provide more analysis of recreational usage of habitat areas, however it is significant to note that at no point is motorized recreation identified as a disproportionate impact. Rather the E23 speaks to all recreational usage of habitat. If all recreational usage of habitat is a concern, all recreational usage should be managed under multiple use standards while protecting elk habitat. However that management becomes problematic as precluding all recreational usage will never off set development of adjacent lands and limiting hunting access would reduce the effectiveness of one of the major tools the CPW is using to attempt to reduce the elk population in that area, which is hunting. Precluding recreational usage for the benefit of elk habitat is simply arbitrary and conflicts with federal law.
2d. Elk response to hunting pressure is identified as a significant factor moving animals off public lands in the E18 plan.
The Organizations are also very concerned that seasonal management issues, such as hunting pressure, are now asserted to be properly relied on for management decisions that impact the year round public access to the planning area. This is simply not acceptable, as the seasonal hunting usage in the planning area has consistently found to obtain a much higher level of wildlife response than the use of the area for non-hunting activity the rest of the year. This is an issue that must also be addressed if there is a desire to maintain wildlife on public lands. The E18 Herd Management plan addresses Elk response to hunting pressure as a major issue in the planning area. This concern is summarized as follows:
“There has been a significant loss of elk habitat due to changes in land use. Much of the conversion from agricultural to residential use has occurred in winter and transitional ranges which are critical in determining the carrying capacity of the area. Impacts from development include direct loss of habitat capability as well as the loss of the ability to hunt those lands for elk population control. Elk quickly learn to take advantage of areas closed to hunting. Future conversions of agricultural and open lands to residential uses will further reduce the ability of this DAU to support elk.”8
Elk response to hunting pressure is an issue that has been extensively researched and consistently found to more directly impact elk movement when compared to other factors such as recreational usage of roads and trails in the habitat areas. Researchers have specifically concluded that elk move away from hunters without regard to the number of roads in the area, which has been summarized as:
“After eliminating the effects of primary and secondary roads, elk were farther from primitive roads than random points within the study area for all 10-day intervals except 1-10 October (Table 2). Elk were farther from secondary roads through the period of 1-10 October after which elk dispersion patterns were indistinct relative to secondary roads. Elk locations relative to primary roads were similar to those for primitive roads in that elk were increasingly closer to primary roads during the 10-day intervals from 22 August to 10 October. After 11 October, the average distance of elk to primary roads increased through 30 November.” 9
Even in comparatively unroaded areas on the planning area, elk still move to private lands in response to hunting pressure commencing the open of hunting seasons. The Organizations have to believe that if these studies were reviewed as part of the Proposal development process, these findings would have immediately brought into question any assertion that road closures in travel management would address elk movement in response to hunting in any meaningful manner. Studies addressing elk herds inhabiting the public lands in Colorado have specifically concluded that:
“We used the difference in the model averaged predicted proportion of elk on private land immediately before and after opening day to estimate the direct effect of opening day of hunting. Elk on private land increased 8-17% at the opening of early season hunting.” 10
The Organizations believe that this analysis must be the first tool utilized to address the response of elk to hunting pressure issues in the proposal area and travel management should not be the first tool used to try to address off trail non-OHV related management issues. As extensively discussed in the E18 Herd Management Plan, CPW has tried a variety of different hunting management practices in the planning area to try and reduce the elk overpopulation, with varying levels of success. While the Organizations are sympathetic to these management challenges, the Organizations do not believe the failures in managing these issues justifies moving to management of issues that pose a significantly lower level of threat than the response to hunting pressure.
3. HPP input regarding the usage of public lands remains governed by multiple use mandates for that public land.
The Organizations will note that the E18 Herd Plan makes several references to recommendations from the Habitat Partnership Program with CPW. These references are summarized as follows:
“The South Park Habitat Partnership Program (HPP) committee, in cooperation with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) and United States Forest Service (USFS), is actively promoting habitat improvements in areas that can support more elk or where elk use is not problematic. The goal of this effort is to move as much of the elk use as possible to habitats on public lands where there are no or very limited conflicts.”11
The Organizations will note that these HPP recommendations are not a replacement for the multiple use mandates for the management of public lands. The Organizations would also note that while wildlife managers may see the use of public lands as an area where there are little to
not conflicts, the Organizations believe this proposal is the direct result of conflicting multiple uses on this public land. Arbitrarily accepting these type of recommended usages is neither acceptable or legal.
4. Impacts of the mountain pine beetle must addressed in habitat effectiveness analysis.
The Organizations are also aware that much of the Proposal area has been heavily impacted by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. It has been the Organizations experience that areas impacted by the pine beetle epidemic experience a significant decline in the quality of wildlife habitat in the areas. This position has been supported by a significant body of scientific research.12
It has been the Organizations experience that private land owners have been far more effective at mitigating the impacts of the mountain pine beetle on private lands than the federal lands managers. Given that wildlife will move to the mitigated areas as it is superior quality habitat, the Organizations believe this factor must also be addressed in the Proposal. This issue simply has not been addressed. The Organizations vigorously assert that the complete closure of the planning area, which we are aware is outside the scope of the proposal, will never be sufficient to counter the huge impact that the mountain pine beetle epidemic has had on the planning area. The Organizations vigorously believe that planning must rely on all best available science for the planning area, and the current Proposal simply has not done this as the proposed management starts with the position that closures and recreation can be managed to improve habitat to levels where wildlife remains on public lands. The Organizations believe this position is simply erroneous.
The Organizations believe there are significant issues with the current litigation that is addressing trails usage and planning on the South Park Ranger district that must be resolved prior to the Proposal moving forward. Resolution of these issues is critical as the current proposal may impact the litigation and would be making determinations and reviews of legal or user created routes that could be impacted by any verdict from the litigation. This must be avoided.
In addition to the concerns regarding litigation, the Organizations vigorously assert that the Proposal fails to address best available science and the fact that elk herds in the Proposal area are 2-3x the target populations for the these herds. The populations have historically remained at these levels, making any assertion of poor habitat quality problematic at best. In addition to failing to address overpopulations of elk in the planning area, the Proposal seeks to manage recreational access and usage in the area, despite best available science specifically concluding that this usage is not a priority issue in the Proposal area. This type of arbitrary management is neither acceptable or legal for the management of public lands.
If you have questions please feel free to contact Scott Jones at 508 Ashford Drive, Longmont, CO 80504. His phone is (518)281-5810.
Director of Operations
Trails Preservation Alliance
John F. Lane