October 8, 2014
|ISSUES AT A GLANCE
This section is designed to highlight various issues where COHVCO,TPA, CSA and their partners and local clubs are defending public access to public lands. This glance at the issues is not an exhaustive list of the issues we are involved with, but rather is highlighting issues of statewide importance or interest. We have identified the user groups most directly impacted by each issue with a logo next to each issue. (Please download the attached PDF in order to see the user group logos mentioned)
1. Legislation to release WSA designation of Molas Pass riding are clears US House of Representatives and BLM extends deadline. NEW!
The Natural Resources committee for US House of Representative has recently favorably voted on legislation to release the Wilderness Study area designation for the Molas Pass area between Durango and Silverton CO. The Senate is expected to take up this legislation in the near future and is anticipated to vote favorably as well. This legislation is critical to insuring that the motorized usage of the area continues and the area is not closed to permittees and the public. BLM has also granted another year of access to the area for dispersed motorized recreation and permittee activity including grooming. This has been a huge effort and thank you to Rep Scott Tipton and Sen. Michael Bennett’s Offices for their tireless efforts to protect motorized access to the area. More specifics on the proposal are available in the “issues” section under Hermosa Watershed Legislation.
The EPA recently decided to continue current ethanol production standards for usage in motor fuels meaning that current E10 limits will remain for another year. EPA testing indicates that small engines not designed for E15 fail almost immediately when it is used as a motor fuel. In
The Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger district recently signed a FONSI determination that allowed OHV usage of 143 miles of roads and trails that had been previously closed in the Travel Management Plan. This provided a lot of access for all recreational users and avoided restrictions that were tough to enforce and made little sense on the ground.
COHVCO, CSA and many other groups have been very concerned about the failure of many federal land managers to address recreational activity in lynx habitat with best available science, which has specifically concluded almost all recreational activity has no impact on lynx that might be in the area. Many land managers continued to manage based on out of date management documents, where there was theoretical concerns about recreational usage. Stakeholder concerns have resulted in the issuance of new management documents that avoids these types of issues in the future by clearly stating roads and trails in habitat are not a major factor for the lynx and that most snow compaction in the Southern Rockies is the result of natural processes rather than recreational usage. These documents clearly state that only major ski areas may impact lynx behavior and provide extensive analysis that weighs heavily against any claim of Wilderness areas being a benefit for the lynx.
This planning initiative addresses the management of millions of acres throughout the western United States and all areas above 10k feet in Colorado. The Organizations have been heavily involved in stakeholder discussions with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife regarding best available science for the management of the Wolverine. As a result of these stakeholder meetings, best available science was clearly reflected in the recent USFWS listing decision as the decision clearly stated there should be no management changes on public lands as a result of the Wolverine. This is a major win as modeled habitat for the Wolverine in Colorado was any areas over 10,000 ft. and at one point closures to motorized access were seen as necessary in all these areas. This determination was a major step forward in protecting motorized access from misguided wolverine management standards.
The Hahns Peak Bears Ears Ranger District has moved forward with construction of expanded of parking areas on the Rabbit Ears Pass area outside Steamboat Springs Colorado. While there was hope part of the expansion would be completed before this winter, appeals of the decision were filed and delayed the start of this project until too late in the season to complete.
The Dillon Ranger District on the White River National Forest issued a FONSI permitting the construction of 21 miles of new single track motorcycle trail outside Silverthorne Colorado. This decision is the result of years of work and partnership between the local club and agency personnel. This trail network will provide a motorized single track opportunity in an area where these opportunities area very limited currently.
This will provide proof of ownership for vehicles that can exceed $15,000 to purchase new and allow for better financing rates from dealers. The issuance of a title will also allow better tracking of stolen OHVs in the state and better rates for those that choose to finance their new purchases. This legislation will become effective in 2014. Our next step is to obtain use of some county roads with the creation of a voluntary license plate on OHVs.
The future riding of snowmobiles in the Red and White area of the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger district was put at issue as a result of a small timber sale that may have permanently closed the entire riding area encompassing thousands of acres. As a result of local clubs efforts and the Organizations efforts riding in this exceptional area outside Vail remains open for the future and clear management for any areas that are cleared is now in place.
The Organizations appealed the KFO RMP which sought to close approximately 40% of routes in the planning area. This plan tragically undervalued recreational usage, estimating that the average user only spends $16 per day, which directly conflicts with BLM conclusions made in Sage Grouse planning that the average recreational user spent $121.96 per day. This is highly relevant as all the KFO has been identified as Sage Grouse habitat. USFS conclusions for average spending, that were asserted to be relied on in the RMP development conclude average spending is between $50 and $61 per day. Hard to say that recreational usage was accurately balanced when recreational usage is so badly undervalued.
The Organizations recently submitted an administrative appeal of the Tres Rios(“TR”) Field Plan Resource Plan and are optimistic about reversing this decision. The appeal centered around the tragic undervaluation of recreation in the RMP. Often TR conclusions on user group spending were 10-15% of the conclusions identified in the research that was asserted to be the sole basis of the conclusions. Developed campers are asserted to spend $46.11 while the research indicates developed campers spend ranges from $217 to $300 per day.
This issue involves litigation in Idaho brought by the Winter Wildlands Alliance attempts to mandate winter travel management for all national forests, limit open riding areas and to invalidate the winter provisions of the travel management rule. Previous decisions from the Forest Service had ruled in favor of motorized users on this issue. WWA appealed the Forest Service decision to Federal Court in Idaho. The trial court ruled in favor of WWA and required winter travel management for all forests and invalidated the winter portions of the travel management rule. This decision is being appealed by the Idaho Snowmobile Association and its partners as the trial court decision is lacking factual and legal basis.
CSA is also aware of similar litigation in California regarding winter travel management and notes the parallels between the WWA litigation and the litigation in Colorado regarding MVUM route designations. These are not isolated issues.
This lawsuit was served on the Forest Service and Colorado Springs utilities by the Center for Biological Diversity and others regarding exclusion of trails in the vicinity of cutthroat trout habitat. This suit sought a blanket exclusion of trails from areas adjacent to streams with cutthroat trout. COHVCO and TPA have intervened and making sure the best resolution for motorized recreation is obtained. Terms of settlement have been reached that would permit new trails to be created in the area and close the habitat area to all threats. TPA and COHVCO are working to insure the closures are applied per the terms of the agreement with the submission of a notice of intent to sue if the terms of the settlement agreement are not complied with.
The first suit was filed on January 31, 2011 by anti-access plaintiffs including The Wilderness Society, Quiet Use Coalition, Wildlands CPR, and Center for Native Ecosystems and Great Old Broads for Wilderness regarding the Pike and San Isabel Forests. COHVCO and TPA intervened with the Forest Service to defend this lawsuit, which could impact every MVUM that has grandfathered existing routes. These defense expenses are being born solely by Colorado OHV advocacy groups. This case seeks to remove any trails that predated NEPA and were grandfathered in the creation of PSI MVUMs. The exact impact of this suit is yet to be clarified but this suit could impact trails such as the Blanca Peak 4wd trail. This case is currently moving forward in the discovery phase of litigation.
COHVCO, TPA, Blue Ribbon Coalition, the San Juan Trail Riders and the Public Access Preservation Association have intervened to defend this matter with the Forest Service. The complaint was dismissed by the trial court and access was maintained. The trial court’s decision has been appealed.
The BLM is entering a national discussion to develop a completely new planning process, which they are calling Planning2.0 initiative. The proposal seeks to speed up the planning process and would expand planning from just the field office level to landscape level plans (similar to the current Sage Grouse efforts), combined with continued field office level planning and expand localized planning for particular issues. After attending the Denver, Colorado meeting some concerns have arisen on this process, despite the early stages of the discussion. These concerns are: 1. Where is the money coming from for the extensive new multi-level planning sought to be developed; 2. Partner involvement in the process appears very limited; 3. There appears to be limited protections of multiple use in the planning process; and 4. BLM is seeking to accept citizen science in planning without identifying how that relates to best available science.
COHVCO and partners have been working with the USFS to streamline reopening of many recreational sites that were damaged by flooding along the Front Range last year. Reopening any of the facilities has been a challenge due to the scale of damage that has occurred. Simply estimating the costs to repair each site has been a significant challenge and COHVCO is working with the USFS to get these estimates and reopen sites as soon as possible.
The Proposed Rule recognizes: 1.Off trail snowmobile riding is a valid usage of NFS lands that should be continued, and is highly valued especially in the Western United States; 2. The proposed rule continues existing management decisions regarding over the snow vehicles, which means the riding area boundaries will not change as a result of the new rule and riding opportunities you will have this year are the same areas as you had last year; and 3. The proposed rule recognizes that open riding area boundaries are significantly larger for winter travel than summer travel and open riding areas for winter.
The Organizations have been heavily involved in the Hermosa Watershed Legislation with Rep. Tipton and Senator Bennett’s Office and are optimistic it will be passed this session. This Legislation would release a wilderness study area and mandate motorized usage of the area consistent with the historical usage of the area. BLM is currently seeking to close this area that has a long history of motorized recreation. In addition the legislation designates a special management area of more than 70,000 acres where motorized usage and routes are to be protected and preserved.
As noted this area has been the basis for litigation. The Organizations have submitted extensive scoping comments subject to the settlement of the litigation to insure that actual threats to the cutthroat trout are addressed in planning and that closures to do target motorized usage. Research indicates that most routes are not a threat to the cutthroat, and as a result should not be closed.
The Organizations are vigorously opposed to the significant change in the direction of this project. Originally the project would have built 34 miles of multiple use single track in the area. For reasons that are unclear, the proposed alternative in the EA now seeks to only develop these trails for mechanized usage only. There is no funding for the development of non-motorized trails and maintenance is problematic without significant monies being available for maintenance.
The Organizations submitted extensive comments in favor of development of new single track trails that connect the Basalt areas to the Gypsum riding areas and parking areas for the use of these trails. These trails have been funded with OHV grants that have been extensively discussed and reviewed and this analysis must be the starting point for any NEPA analysis of the project. The Organizations are hopeful these routes will be developed.
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have recently made proposals that significantly expand the scope of what must be regulated as navigable water under the Clean Water Act. This decision could heavily impact the management of OHVs in areas around newly navigable waters. This proposal is currently under review.
COHVCO is involved in numerous Grouse planning initiatives with Federal, State and local agencies. The Greater Sage grouse plan proposal is currently out for comment. There are several areas of concern that we have since the plan is based on an endangered species that no longer exists, models larger tracts of lands as habitat areas that have not been occupied for a long time, caps road construction and tries to manage under absolute limitation for soil disturbance that will not work in areas where there are large tracts of private lands. Extensive comments were submitted on the proposed Resource Management Plan changes that were proposed by the BLM.
Proposal closes 272 miles (50%) of routes in the preferred alternative. The Organizations submitted extensive comments objecting to many phases of the plan. Again there is a complete failure of economic analysis as the plan asserts that the average recreational user spends $16 per day. the RMP fails to address that Sage Grouse planning addressing recreational usage of the same area estimates the average recreational spend to be in the high $40 range per day and USFS data indicates $63. Hard to balance uses when the review is that incorrect.
The Organizations remain heavily involved in the numerous Wilderness proposals that threaten continued recreational access to large portions of the state. This would include Hidden Gems, and its variations, the San Juan Wilderness proposals and others. Meaningful analysis of these issues and proposals finds that Wilderness creates more trouble than it resolves and negatively impacts most users.
The Organizations just released a new publication highlighting the stark contrasts between the benefits that Wilderness advocates assert in their proposals and the negative impacts that disinterested third parties find result from Wilderness designations. That document is available here: document link