GMUG National Forest
2250 South Main Street
Delta, CO 81416
Re: Foundational problems with Draft GMUG RMP
The above Organizations are contacting you to provide a more detailed discussion of the serious foundational issues with Alternative A (current management) of the draft RMP that was released on August 13, 2021. Our concerns center around two general issues that are critical to our ability to understand and comment on the Proposal. These two foundational issues critical to a meaningful NEPA process and public engagement are:
1. What is current management on the GMUG; and
2. Application of the Colorado Roadless Rule.
The issues are so systemic and pervasive as to cause the Organizations great concern around the basic analysis of impacts from changes, as we have no baseline to compare too. There is so little information provided around how decisions were made to alter current management on 24% of the forest. The Proposal proceeds under the guise that the 24% reduction in motorized access is current management and as a result we simply are unable to meaningfully address lost opportunities on 24% of the forest. The impact this has on the public ability to comment and participate in the process based on the limited and incorrect information provided, Alternative B appears a viable option due to its minimal changes to current management. Our concern is there is an understatement of access provided by current management by as much as 24%, making impacts of even minimal closures to access far more severe on the ground and largely unanalyzed.
We are contacting you to explore resolution of this foundational issue in the plan in a manner that avoids unnecessary collateral impacts to partnerships on the forest that have literally taken multiple decades to develop and benefit all uses. It has been our experience that issues such as those we have found in the Proposal can be devastating to relationships and we have worked to hard on the relationships for them to be lost.
Significant suitability and management area decisions have been made without NEPA
The Organizations are aware the GMUG has had a long and complex planning history and some of this has been undertaken without the NEPA process but rather has occurred through Congressional designations and protections of usages. Congressional actions have impacted a comparatively small portion of the GMUG. While there are reasons that ROS and existing management decisions could be legally changed on a local level on any forest, none of these reasons and analysis are discussed in the Proposal on even a site specific basis.
Rather the Proposal provides that a 24% change in management has occurred simply due to erosion of the NEPA based decisions made in the 1983 RMP. The significant impacts to multiple use access from this erosion is outlined in table 146 of the DEIS as follows:
The 1983 RMP clearly identifies that 64% of forest was motorized suitable when detailed NEPA was conducted. The Proposal simply asserts that this has changed due to the 1991 GMUG RMP supplement and we must assume we are supposed to accept this access and NEPA has simply eroded to 40% of the forest without detailed explanation. This assertion is impossible to accept at anytime and represents a management model that would simply render the entire NEPA process void if allowed to move forward. This is the type of management model that the NEPA process was put in place to avoid.
Three general assertions are made for this management change, covering 5 pages of the EIS, and the reasoning for these changes is simply astonishing incorrect and comically insulting to the partnerships that the motorized community has worked hard to establish on the GMUG. The first reason for this 24% reduction in access is due to mapping, which is specifically addressed as follows:
“One difference is simply that the modeling techniques used were completely different, and the newer models use three-dimensional topography and different buffering techniques, so comparison is simply not one-to-one. Old, locatable maps from the 1991 inventory are sheets of mylar that were estimated with a wheel but never incorporated into the corporate data systems of new.”1
This is so astonishing insulting to basic reality the Organizations are not going to dignify this assertion with a substantive response. 24% of the GMUG management has been changed and that is simply not a mapping error.
The second reason is also comically inaccurate and flies in the face of basic NEPA processes as it asserts the 1991 Timber Supplement to the RMP granted unfettered access to managers to amend the RMP in any manner they found necessary. The Proposal summarizes this reason as follows:
“Beyond mapping techniques, however, much of the shift in acreages between inventories can be explained because the 1991 forest plan contains a lack of management direction to maintain desired summer recreation opportunity spectrum classes on the majority of the GMUG. Rather than plan direction shaping allocations as they have formed over the life of the plan, project-level decisions such as travel management analyses have shifted recreation opportunity spectrum allocations in the absence of any firm guidance.”2
This analysis is again a comical misrepresentation of the limited scope of 1991 RMP supplement, which is clearly stated in the 1991 Supplemental Amendment of RMP as follows:
“The enclosed Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) and the accompanying significant amendment deal with timber management Issues. Changes in management of other resources such as recreation or wildlife are not proposed.”3
The anticipated impacts on existing ROS decisions for recreational access are specifically addressed in the 1991 Supplement as follows:
Each management activity, specifically timber management and road construction projects, would be planned and designed to meet the physical setting criteria for each Recreation Opportunity Spectrum Class and its associated Visual Quality Objectives. Each management activity would conform to the Standards and Guidelines.4
Given that the 1991 Timber Supplement specifically states that planners are not changing any recreational access, any assertion that the Supplement allowed wholesale changes without NEPA analysis lacks any basis in fact or reality. Planners clearly provide the affirmative statement that recreational decisions will continue to be governed by existing ROS requirements. Given these clear and unequivocal statements about access and ROS decisions, the Organizations cannot envision any actual basis for changing the allocations of recreational opportunities from the 1983 requirements. The 1991 Supplemental clearly states 1983 ROS requirements are carried forward unchanged for recreation. The 1983 RMP ROS allocation of the GMUG are clearly provided as follows5:
We agree with the Proposal that at any point any land manager could alter a forest plan or travel plan in any way, but we must disagree that the 1993 Supplement created this ability. The wide range of planning regulations have provided this authority for decades such as the National Forest Management Act. The NEPA process specifically requires a detailed statement of high-quality information on this decision- making process must be provided. Merely recognizing statutory authority is not compliance with NEPA.
The third reason provided for the 24% reduction in access between 1991 and the current time is such a completely twisted interpretation of the Travel Management process that again we are dumbfounded. This reason is summarized as follows:
Additionally, major policy changes occurred with the 2005 Travel Management Rule, which forced the agency to look at site-specific, motorized routes and whether they were a part of the GMUG’s desired network of sustainable routes. When the 1991 forest plan was written, the Forest Service still allowed activities like cross-country travel, but after the 2005 Travel Management Rule was in effect, the agency eliminated many motorized routes and areas from public use. Certain areas were closed that were once open to cross- country travel, administrative routes such as timber roads that were once open to the public were gated, certain trails were converted to non-motorized trails, and if a route was unsustainable, such as an eroding trail traveling straight up a fall line or a user-created trail through a riparian zone, it was closed. All of these actions were compliant with forest plan direction, regulations, and policy; however, when those locations are modeled contemporaneously, the result is a shift from roaded natural and semi-primitive motorized to semi-primitive non-motorized on the recreation opportunity spectrum in the newer inventories.
This summary of the Travel Management Rule is such a completely twisted summary of the Travel Management Rule it is astonishing. Not only is this probably an illegal interpretation of the Travel Management Rule generally, this position utterly ignores the large number of travel planning efforts on the GMUG that have been undertaken and chosen to NOT amend the Forest Plan. The Travel Management Rule and Resource Management planning efforts are entirely separate processes, and we have never heard a summary of these efforts such as that above. Designation of a route NEVER automatically changes the management designations of any area. If an area is open to motorized access, it remains open to motorized access pursuant to the RMP qualifications, such as seasonal closures or other restrictions. Decisions such as travel management could also chose to undertake an RMP revision as part of the travel process. Such a decision would simply require more detailed and extensive NEPA analysis for the decision. That analysis has never happened.
Not only is the above statement a comically inaccurate summary of the Travel Management Rule, it is not supported in any manner by large scale travel management efforts that have occurred on the forest. We are not aware of any combined RMP revision and Travel Plan that addressed significant portions of the forest. Directly to the contrary this type of combined decision making, 2002 GMUG undertook a complete travel management plan for the Forest. This extensive analysis again clearly stated the trave plan relationship to the existing Resource Management Plan for the forest as follows:
“Restriction on use and management necessary to attain certain ROS Class categories, such as Semi-Primitive Motorized or Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized would essentially impose new Forest Plan level direction, and would be significant in terms of the effects on the Forest Plan. The analysis and decision process that would be required to undertake such a change goes far beyond the scope of this Travel Planning process, and hence I deferred making the ROS decision here. That is better addressed in the upcoming Forest Plan Revision.”6
Given the clear and unequivocal position of the Forest that ROS changes are to be undertaken in the RMP revision process and are outside the scope of the Travel Management process for the Forest, we must question how there has been a massive reallocation of these designations on the forest. We are also very concerned that all these changes have been undertaken without NEPA and are now merely being passed off as current management.
Given that these decisions have been made for 24% of the GMUG without NEPA analysis, we vigorously assert these decision must be analyzed under NEPA and do not reflect current management in anyway. The rational for these decisions is astonishingly incomplete and fails to provide any information for the Organizations or motorized community as a whole could possibly provide a substantive comment on.
Colorado Roadless Rule application.
The Organizations are also very concerned about the application of the Colorado Roadless Rule in this decision making environment and how this major rulemaking was integrated into the analysis of current management and the range of alternatives provided in the GMUG proposal. The application of the Colorado Roadless Rule was a major concern in our previous comments on Wilderness Inventories and the planning effort more generally. This concern was raised with the GMUG staff in a phone call earlier this month and avoided completely with an assertion that these Roadless area decisions were put in the right category.
Given that the Colorado Roadless Rule was completed in July of 2012 this process would heavily impact current management on the forest and should be something that existing analysis would easily provide a meaningful analysis of. The Colorado Roadless Rule petition clearly stated the intent was to follow:
The State’s petition requested the rulemaking process do the following:
- Update roadless area boundaries to include additional roadless areas.
- Exclude Congressionally designated lands and private lands.
- Exclude roadless acres that have been substantially altered.
The Organizations raised concerns that Colorado Roadless areas and Upper Tier roadless areas management is not discussed in the EIS in any manner. There is simply no discussion of how decisions are consistent with designations and analysis of areas for possible management in alignment with these characteristics of a roadless area or upper tier area. The words “Upper Tier” or “Colorado Roadless area” simply are not addressed in the Proposal outside the Wilderness inventory. In this discussion, USFS staff simply said these designations were put in the right category. After the concerns above on existing management identified above, we have no idea how this could be justified. We again have serious concerns on how those decisions were made and impacts this may or may not have on decisions such as route density etc.
The Organizations are deeply troubled by the cavalier manner that recreational access is handled in the RMP proposal, as this is a significant departure from the thoughtful and detailed manner the GMUG has always applied in recreational access discussions. There have been many of these. Not only is the cavalier manner of analysis of current management degrading to the years of effort between partners tackling difficult decisions and issues in a collaborative manner, this has led to assertions that simply lack any factual basis at all. This lack of analysis is a direct violation of NEPA requirements as 24% of the forest has been asserted to closed without any NEPA analysis.
We are asking that current management analysis be revised to reflect the current management situation on the ground under Alternative A, Current management is the baseline to assess the impacts and benefits of any proposed changes against and accuracy in this information is critical to the NEPA process. Currently we are unable to meaningfully comment on the Proposal as we believe current access is understated by 24% in Alt A and this change has been asserted to be valid without any NEPA analysis. Not only does this type of management process render the entire NEPA process void, this type of an underestimation results in impacts that are comically underestimated and understated in the NEPA process. Rather than a 5% reduction in access, these type of impacts could be as high as 29% loss based on inaccuracies in analysis of baseline management. Alternative A must be brought into some type of conformity with current management on the ground and then the public must be provided the opportunity to comment on the current management and any proposals.
The Organizations would welcome a discussion of these opportunities and any other challenges that might be facing the GMUG moving forward at your convenience. Please feel free to contact Scott Jones, Esq. His phone is (518)281-5810 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Jones, Esq.
CSA Executive Director
TPA & COHVCO Authorized Representative
1 See, GMUG EIS 2021 Volume 1 at pg. 347
3 See, USDA Forest Service; GMUG Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement 1991 at pg 4
4 See, 1991 FSEIS Summary at pg. I9.
5 See, 1983 GMUG RMP at pg. II-29
6 See, USDA Forest Service; GMUG Uncompahgre Travel Management Plan Record of Decision; 2002 at pg. 10.