Archive | December, 2017

Objections to Rico West Dolores Travel Management Draft

Delivered via email to

Objection Reviewing Officer
San Juan National Forest
15 Burnett Court
Durango, CO 81301

RE: Objections to Rico West Dolores Travel Management Draft

Dear Objection Reviewing Officer:

Please accept these objections to the Draft Record of Decision (“Draft ROD”) for the Rico West Dolores Roads and Trails (Travel Management) Project on the Dolores Ranger District, San Juan National Forest.  The Responsible Official is District Ranger Derek Padilla.  These objections are submitted on behalf of the San Juan Trail Riders (“SJTR”), Public Access Preservation Association (“PAPA”), Trails Preservation Alliance (“TPA”), Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”), and BlueRibbon Coalition/ (“BRC”), including these organizations’ individual and organizational members who have enjoyed, and plan in the future to enjoy, access to the Rico West Dolores area (collectively, the “Objectors”).

These objections are submitted in accordance with 36 C.F.R. part 218.  The Objectors, as well as their members, filed comments raising the issues, otherwise providing a basis for these objections, or the issues arose after the opportunities for comment.  These comments include all comments filed by objectors and their members which, by way of illustration and not limitation, include our firm’s scoping comments dated January 30, 2015 and DEIS comments dated July 15, 2016.   The “lead objector” is SJTR.  The point of contact for the lead objector and all objectors is the undersigned, and please direct all communication regarding these objections to Paul Turcke at 950 West Bannock Street, Suite 520; Boise, Idaho 83702; 208-331-1800;  We formally request a resolution meeting in accordance with 36 C.F.R. § 218.11.  We hereby authorize, indeed encourage, the Reviewing Officer to extend the time for a written response to objections, particularly if it will facilitate a thorough effort to explore opportunities to resolve objections.  See, 36 C.F.R. § 218.26(b).

I. Interest of the Organizations

Our clients have a unique perspective and longstanding interest in use of the Rico West Dolores area and management of the project area.  Aside from member and stakeholder participation in the full array of planning processes, we have played a central role on behalf of recreation interests in litigation, particularly including as defendant-intervenors in Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Colorado Chapter v. U.S. Forest Service, Case No. 11-CV-3139 (D. Colo.) and Nos. 13-1216 and 14-1137 (10th Cir.).  We remain committed to this presence in ongoing management of the Rico West Dolores, in whatever role may now become necessary.

SJTR is a Colorado nonprofit corporation with approximately 400 members.  SJTR is based in Durango and its members are primarily from Colorado.  SJTR goals and purposes include to provide an organized network for trail enthusiasts, to promote active participation in off-highway vehicle management, to maintain a focused dialogue with the San Juan National Forest, to educate land managers about “Tread Lightly” and other trail conservation practices, and to encourage cooperation and coordination between user groups and engaged interests.  SJTR members have used and have concrete plans in the future to use motorized and non-motorized means, including off-highway vehicles, horses, mountain bikes, and hiking, to access federal lands throughout the United States, including Forest Service-managed lands in the Rico West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest.

PAPA is a Colorado nonprofit corporation with approximately 300 participants.  PAPA is based in Telluride and its members are primarily from Colorado.  PAPA protects and promotes public land access, primarily through advocacy and on-the-ground support such as volunteering for trail projects, event support or similar activities as authorized by the Forest Service and other partners.  PAPA members regularly use Forest Service lands throughout the United States, including the Rico West Dolores area, for recreational and aesthetic purposes including off-highway vehicle, motorcycle, mountain bike, equestrian, or hiking travel on trails or primitive roads.

TPA is a Colorado nonprofit corporation.  TPA is a volunteer organization created to be a viable partner to public lands managers, working with the USFS and BLM to preserve the sport of trail riding and multi-use recreation.  TPA acts as an advocate for the sport and takes the necessary action to insure that the USFS and BLM allocate a fair and equitable percentage of public lands access to diverse multi-use recreational opportunities. TPA members have used, and hope in the future to use, motorized and nonmotorized means, including off-highway vehicles, horses, mountain bikes, and hiking, to access federal lands throughout the United States, including in the Rico West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest.

COHVCO is a Colorado nonprofit corporation.  COHVCO is a grassroots advocacy organization representing approximately 230,000 registered off-highway vehicle (“OHV”) users in Colorado seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of multi-use and 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.  Like the other organizations, COHVCO includes members who use motorized and non-motorized means to gain access to and recreate upon lands in the Rico West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest.

BRC is a nonprofit corporation that champions responsible recreation and encourages individual environmental stewardship.  BRC has members in all 50 states, including Colorado.  BRC members use various motorized and nonmotorized means to access public lands, specifically including the Rico West Dolores project area.  BlueRibbon has a long-standing interest in the protection of the values and natural resources addressed in this process, and regularly works with land managers to provide recreation opportunities, preserve resources, and promote cooperation between public land visitors.

All of the above-described organizations have participated, including through their members, in the multiple administrative processes and earlier lawsuit involving the Rico West Dolores area.  In addition to their unique perspective in these roles and as trail-based recreationists, the organizations’ members own property, hold jobs or conduct businesses, and are members of the communities within and near the Rico West Dolores area.  Many have lifetime familiarity hunting, fishing, camping, and participating in a wide range of outdoor activities in the locale and in specific sites throughout the Rico West Dolores area.  This background and perspective is particularly relevant given the creative and unusual framing of some issues and factual conclusions in the Draft ROD and related documents.

II. Background and Adverse Impacts of the Decision

The Rico West Dolores Draft ROD would impose dramatic and unwarranted changes to a long-established road/trail system.  It is important in framing the objections to understand the nature of this area, the balance of uses, nature of potential resource concerns, and history behind the project.  We will highlight these restrictions within the same subareas as outlined in the Draft ROD.

A. Subarea 1 (Draft ROD at 13-15)

This area focuses largely on ATV and UTV riding balanced against “walk in” opportunities in Fish Creek and Willow Divide.  While the Objectors include many participants in these forms of recreation, these opportunities are limited in the Rico West Dolores area and it is not a significant destination for this type of activity.  We generally support the concepts of providing specific opportunities for ATV and UTV recreation including designation of new routes or conversion of roads to trails, but the handful of provisions to this effect in Subarea 1 are of minimal benefit in comparison to the significant restrictions elsewhere under the Draft ROD.

B. Subarea 2 (Draft ROD at 15-16)

The closures on Winter Trail and the associated connections to East and West Fall Creek Trails represent significant losses of historical, high quality single track motorized opportunities.  As the Draft ROD notes, Calico North (Trail 208) is a desirable technical motorcycle route.  Draft ROD at 15-16.  The Draft ROD changes eliminate loop riding via Winter Trail, relegating motorcycle users to out and back riding and thus greater two-way traffic on Trail 208, or to loop riding on NFSR 471 and “conflict” with higher traffic volume and full-sized vehicles.   The stated rationales are questionable.  “User conflict” in this area is created by and uniquely benefits the highly successful and opportunistic commercial enterprise at the Dunton Resort.  Similarly, the alleged intent to reduce “impacts to wetlands and the fen” ignores the fact that the trails themselves will still remain, and that the agency is actually expanding and hardening the trail prism in this area.  The Draft ROD’s changes are significant “wins” for Dunton, offset by an intentional “loss” for motorcycle enthusiasts.

C. Subarea 3 (Draft ROD at 16-17)

The closure of Spring Creek is unnecessary, curiously documented, and easily avoided.  The decision documents do not adequately explain whether “greenback lineage cutthroat” populations is even a proper term, let alone provide any data or defensible analysis showing their existence in Spring Creek.  Assuming there is a legitimate management concern, the Draft ROD fails to address the fact that route-based watershed impacts are primarily a function of route location and attributes, and minimally correlated to recreational traffic on the trail.  In other words, it is the fact the trail exists, and attributes such as proximity to the waterway, soil type, sloping, gradient, and precipitation that determine impacts.  Any trail-related impacts to Spring Creek watershed quality will be minimally reduced, if at all, by eliminating motorcycle travel.  Regardless, SJTR has identified to the Forest Service a re-route of this trail segment, shown on prior Forest Service maps, which would avoid over two miles of the creek bottom and provide a far better long-term solution for any alleged watershed issues.

We recognize the new designation along Loading Pen Trail would authorize motorcycle use.  The purpose for this designation was to facilitate loop riding in conjunction with Stoner Mesa Trail, connected along Spring Creek Trail.  With the elimination of the Spring Creek connection, the Loading Pen designation is of minimal value.  In fact, the Draft ROD seems designed to create maximize adverse impact to motorcycle riding opportunity, and then arithmetically camouflage this harm through inclusion of low quality miles along Loading Pen.

D. Subarea 4 (Draft ROD at 18)

The closure of Wildcat to motorcycles has significant implications and seems integral to a thinly-veiled plan to insulate the Town of Rico from motorized trail connections.  The purported rationale – to address a “specific type of livestock grazing system” – is ludicrous.  In our collective centuries of experience in public lands management, on behalf of recreation and livestock interests, we have never seen a Forest Service employee advocate for one permittee’s herding effort by advancing a public trail closure on this rationale.

E. Subarea 5 (Draft ROD at 18-20)

The main problem here is the highly unusual and unnecessary “short term” closure of Johnny Bull Trail and portions of East and West Fall Creek Trails based on alleged inability to document a “public right of way” for motor vehicle access on a few small segments of trail that cross mining claims.  Draft ROD at 19.  There is no prerequisite that the Forest Service possess a “documented public right of way” prior to designating trails – agency units routinely address this common challenge through various approaches.  In many instances, the Forest Service only addresses route designation on Forest Service-managed lands, and declines to address a route’s status on other jurisdictions, particularly where that status might turn on application of state law or circumstances beyond the Forest Service’s jurisdiction or authority.  Regardless, the agency should prioritize its apparently ongoing effort to rectify this situation.  If the agency is insisting on having a documented right of way on these particular sites, it should culminate those efforts post haste and should make increasingly clear the conditional approval of access along the affected routes, should appropriate documentation or other authorization/approval of the routes be obtained.

F. Subarea 6 (Draft ROD at 20-21)

The elimination of motorized trail access to the Town of Rico is unacceptable and irrational.  The closure both Burnett Creek and Horse Creek trails was purportedly to “[m]eet[ ] the desires of the Town of Rico and its residents” and to reduce “conflicts” “between the populated area of the Town of Rico and motor vehicle use.”  Draft ROD at 20.  These rationales defy common sense – even the Draft ROD acknowledges safety/access concerns creating by eliminating connection to the trail system.  Suggesting that access is provided by Highway 145 is irresponsible, and strains credulity.  More fundamentally, the conclusion that the “Town of Rico” “desires” elimination of motorized trail access is not unsupported, but flatly contradicted, by the record.  See, Town of Rico comments dated July 25, 2017 (signed by Town Manager Kari Distefano) (attached hereto as Exhibit A).

G. Subarea 7 (Draft ROD at 21-23)

This Subarea is not a significant focus for the Objectors’ members.

H. Subarea 8 (Draft ROD at 23)

The closure of Ryman Creek Trail and refusal to consider alternative motorized access along Salt Creek Trail continue a theme of irrational decision elements which strategically eliminate key route connections.  Similar to the concerns raised above on Spring Creek, the alleged soil/maintenance issues raised for both these routes are primarily a function of trail attributes and the continued existence/placement of the route, not whether the route is traversed by hikers, horses, bikes or motorcycles.  See, CBHA Declaration of Jonina Vanderbilt (Dkt. 34-6) at ¶ 7 (discussing “entrenchment, braiding and water damage” issues on Calico Trail and noting “[t]hese problems occur to improper trail design and the use of the trail by all types of users.”  The Draft ROD ostensibly addresses this concern, by proposed to decommission a section of Ryman Trail, which could certainly resolve any legitimate downcutting concerns.  However, the Draft ROD would offset these supposed impacts along the ridgeline by designating an alternative nonmotorized route in Ryman Creek itself, and allowing the continuing existence and nonmotorized use along Salt Creek, which was alleged to have “the same trail maintenance concerns identified for Ryman Creek Trail.”  Draft ROD at 23.  This rationale in internally contradictory.  What seems more obvious is a predilection to eliminate any motorized connection along Ryman/Salt Creeks, combined with motorcycle closures on Wildcat and Burnett Creek, thus creating a motorcycle impenetrable bubble around Rico.  This bubble eliminates historical loop connections from Hermosa District trails to the south/east, and provides an enhanced nonmotorized experience for a handful of individuals the agency has selectively chosen to benefit.

I. Subarea 9 (Draft ROD at 23-24)

Unfortunately, the Draft ROD does not accurately describe the effect of the elimination of motorized access along the Bear Creek-Little Bear Creek trails.  This closure, and the unwillingness to consider a suitable replacement route, will disconnect the Rico West Dolores and Manco/Cortez landscape.  Assuming the “nonmotorized” experience for hiking/fishing along Bear Creek is a legitimate basis for excluding historical motorized travel, the agency irrationally failed to consider “win-win” alternatives.  These would have included designation of the Little Bear Pack Trail for motorized use, and continuation of long-occurring access along the Morrison Trail 610 “stock driveway, road and bridge” which has been specifically dedicated for public use to the Forest Service.

J. Summary

The above-detailed closures work in concert to create significant adverse changes to motorized trail-based recreation and access.  The bare statistics alone reveal significant reductions in access.  In particular, motorized single track went from 114 miles to 83 miles, which is arithmetically nearly a thirty percent reduction from the status quo.  Draft ROD at 10.  These figures alone tell only part of the story, for as the above subarea descriptions reveal, the miles that were eliminated for motorized travel were of unique importance to the functionality and quality of the route network.  Additionally, seasonal restrictions were added on the remaining trails, imposing an inflexible prohibition of motorized use from November 1 to May 31 every year.  Draft ROD at 11.

We are experienced participants in the land use management process, and can appreciate that no stakeholder will “win” on every issue in a decision of this nature.  However, the Draft ROD reflects an almost surgically precise evisceration of strategic elements of the Rico West Dolores motorized trail network.  This is the exact trail network that the Forest Service successfully defended only a few years ago in the CBHA litigation, against the same alleged concerns that now form the rationale for many of the Draft ROD changes.  The Draft ROD has inexplicably tipped the balance in creating winners and losers.  The Objection Reviewing Officer should seize this opportunity to restore balance and integrity by identifying specific areas for further analysis or refinement.

III.      Objection Issues

We raise the following objections, which provide a legal basis for our requested changes to the Draft ROD.

The objection process necessarily anticipates the possibility of and likelihood of success in subsequent litigation brought by an objector.  In such a challenge the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) waives the United States’ sovereign immunity for those aggrieved by “final agency action.”  5 U.S.C. §§ 702, 704; Lujan v. National Wildlife Fedn., 497 U.S. 871, 882 (1990).  APA section 706(2) provides the relevant standard of review: a reviewing court shall “hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be—(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; [or] (C) short of statutory right; [or] (E) unsupported by substantial evidence….”  This standard of review is “narrow” but the agency:

must examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made….Normally, an agency rule would be arbitrary and capricious if the agency has relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.

Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983) (citations omitted).  This is considered a deferential standard of review, but as we will outline below, the agency will hopefully recognize, and avoid, the litigation risk that attends this uniquely flawed decision.

A. The Subpart A Analysis Reflects Error.

The Forest, perhaps as part of a larger effort in Region 2, has elected to navigate new procedural ground by including a “Subpart A Minimum Road System” analysis within this project.  This effort is flawed on multiple levels.  For starters, the documents reveal the Dolores District misunderstanding of how Subpart A developed.  See, e.g., Draft ROD at 4 (stating that “the TMR instructs National Forest managers to identify the Minimum Road System….”).  The TMR is properly understood to be the comprehensive modification to the system of designating roads, trails and areas for motor vehicle use formally released on November 9, 2005.  70 Fed.Reg. 68264-68290 (Nov. 9, 2005).  This Final Rule focused on creation of new provisions in Subparts B and C, and contained only technical and minor provisions affecting Subpart A.  Id. at 68287-68288.  In reality, the “minimum road system” (“MRS”) aspect of Subpart A was created on the verge of the clock striking midnight on President Clinton’s final term in office.  66 Fed.Reg. 3206-3218 (Jan. 12, 2001).  This rollout of Subpart A and MRS happened concurrently with the infamous Roadless Rule.  66 Fed.Reg. 3244-3273 (Jan. 12, 2001).  It is unfortunate that the agency did not recognize and correct the confusion reflected by its perception/statement.

This misunderstanding is not a matter of semantics.  The MRS is arguably another arrow in a quiver built at the urging of preservationist special interests to complicate and reduce historical motorized access to the National Forest System.  It is concerning that the Dolores District so conspicuously grafted Subpart A onto this project, while failing to appreciate its historical context.  Subpart A’s MRS analysis has never been well understood or widely applied, and has rarely formed a basis for litigation, let alone remand of Forest Service travel decisions.  See, e.g., Ctr. for Sierra Nevada Cons. v. U.S. Forest Service, No. 2:09-cv-2523 (E.D. Cal.) (Dkt. 76, Order dated May 26, 2011).  It is an anachronistic effort to throw up hurdles and reduce roads, which has been rendered unnecessary by Subpart B’s designation requirements.  The agency is taking unnecessary risk in relying too conspicuously on Subpart A here, or in any travel management project.

1. The “Minimum Road System” Analysis Violates Procedural Requirements.

Subpart A does not contemplate identification of MRS in a project-level decision like this Rico West Dolores Travel Management Project.  The regulation states that the MRS must be identified “[f]or each national forest, national grassland, experimental forest, and any other units of the National Forest System.”   36 C.F.R. § 212.5(b).  This language directs an outcome on a unit-by-unit level, which here is for the San Juan National Forest.  The MRS must be tied to various factors, such as “to meet resource and other management objectives adopted in [the Forest Plan].”  Id.  Neither the regulatory language nor logic support an effort to identify MRS in piecemeal fashion within Forest subunits, or every time some project is undertaken.  Rather, MRS should occur, if at all, on a Forest-wide level, most logically in conjunction with the Forest Plan.

2. The Forest Has Not Adequately Involved the Public.

The MRS requirement, both on its face and as applied here by the Dolores District, unwisely if not illegally creates an unjustifiable risk that NEPA analysis of travel management will be segmented in violation of basic NEPA principles.  The regulations require that in conducting the MRS analysis the responsible official must “to the degree practicable, involve a broad spectrum of interested and affected citizens, other state and federal agencies, and tribal governments.”  36 C.F.R. § 212.5(b).  Relatedly, the Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) regulations direct that “NEPA procedures must insure that environmental information is available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken.”  40 C.F.R. § 1500.1(b).

The MRS requirement was included midway through the analysis.  The only opportunity for any comment on its inclusion was “after the fact” upon release of the SDEIS.  It has become apparent in the Draft ROD/FEIS that the MRS involves numerous procedural shortcuts, and heavy reliance on the September, 2015 Travel Analysis Process Report.  The “public involvement” for this process was woefully deficient, and lacks disclosure to the full public during generation of the Report.  See, TAP Report at 20-21.  In fact, the first step of “public involvement” and perhaps the instigation of the agency’s questionable effort to now combine Subpart A/B planning was “visits” and “suggestions” from Wilderness Society staff.  Id. at 20.  The public has not been adequately involved in Subpart A analysis.

As long as Subpart A exists it will fuel a “chicken or egg” comparison to Subpart B.  Agency counsel skillfully deflected these questions in the above-cited litigation, but by inviting it here the Dolores District creates unnecessary risk.  The inevitable loser in this discussion will be those who rely on the ever-declining system of roads providing access to the National Forest System.  The confusion surrounding Subpart A is one of the issues that should be rectified in the objection process and addressed in any instructions/remand.

B. The Agency Has Failed to Sufficiently Document Site-Specific Conclusions.

The Draft ROD and FEIS employ a narrative style that largely fails to meet applicable requirements for presentation of technical conclusions.  Under even “arbitrary and capricious” review the agency must articulate a “rational connection between the facts found and the choice made….”  Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n., 463 U.S. at 43.  NEPA imposes various technical protocols including disclosure of methods, presentation of hard data, and disclosure of any “sources relied upon for conclusions” in an EIS.  40 C.F.R. § 1502.24.  NEPA does not envision undocumented narrative exposition, but requires that “[a]gencies shall insure the professional integrity, including the scientific integrity, of the discussions and analyses in environmental impact statements.”  Id.; Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign v. Tippin, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99458, *29 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (“NEPA does not permit an agency to rely on the conclusions [of agency experts] without providing both supporting analysis and data”).  A “bare assertion of opinion from an [agency] expert, without any supporting reasoning, would not pass muster in an EIS.”  Great Basin Resource Watch v. BLM, 844 F.3d 1095, 1103 (9th Cir. 2016).

We will identify specific failures to meet these requirements within specific objections below.  However, the overall approach to this decision-making process violates these fundamental principles.  We specifically note and incorporate by reference again the effective earlier testimony of Forest Service specialists on many of the same issues on the same trails.  See, CBHA Declarations of Mark Stiles (Dkt. 43-2); Deborah Kill (Dkt. 34-3); Christopher Bouton (Dkt. 34-4); Penelope Wu (Dkt. 34-5); Jonina Vanderbilt (Dkt. 34-6); Ivan Messinger (Dkt. 34-7); David Gerhardt (Dkt. 34-8); Cara MacMillan (Dkt. 34-9).  The Draft ROD attempts to sidestep these declarations, claiming they “do not necessarily conflict” with the FEIS, did not address all concerns, and only addressed whether there was an immediate need to close 14 trails named in the lawsuit rather than long-term effects.  Draft ROD at 5.  Virtually everything in this statement is wrong.  Much of the testimony addressed universal facts or general management perspectives on recreation management.  In reality, there has been no meaningful change in conditions and recreation use on these trails is “low to moderate on an upward trend.”  FEIS at 67.  The Draft ROD attempts a complex solution to problems that largely do not exist.  A good place to start in exposing these misstatements is the reliance on “user conflict” to close trails.

C. The Forest Illegally Relies upon User Conflict to Justify Closure.

The Draft ROD relies heavily upon purported “user conflict” as the rationale for closing trails to continuing motorized travel.  See, e.g., FEIS at 4 (characterizing basis for motorcycle trail restrictions as “to address resource impacts, livestock distribution concerns and balance requests for nonmotorized areas”); Draft ROD at 6 (identifying “specific needs for change” to include “nonmotorized recreation experience”).  This rationale is flawed on multiple levels.

1. Subjective User Conflict Cannot Support Closure.

Subjective preferences of users, individually or collectively, cannot justify elimination of access to the less popular or less conflicted users.  At most, the Travel Management Rule requires the agency to “consider effects…with the objective of minimizing….(3) Conflicts between motor vehicle use and existing or proposed recreational uses” of the Forest.”  36 C.F.R. § 212.55(b).  The regulation refers to conflicts of “use” not conflict between “users.”

This language is derived from the Executive Orders, issued by Presidents Nixon and Carter.  See, E.O. 11644, 11989; 42 Fed.Reg. 26959.  While there has been debate about whether the EO’s create an enforceable right of action, the Forest Service effectively rendered this a non-issue when it chose to paste the EO language into regulations adopted via notice and comment rule-making.  The present-day interpretation by some special interests and land managers does not rationally interpret this language.  The actual wording refers to conflicts between “uses” not “users.”  The historical context is relevant, as in the early 1970’s off-highway vehicles were relatively new and largely unregulated.  The EO’s reflect a crude first step at the anticipated need to balance a new and developing use with the conservation efforts of the era reflected in contemporaneously adopted statutes like NEPA and FLPMA.  In any event, it was not intended then, nor does it make sense now, to allow some quantum of subjective complaining by some class of “user” to exclude other users from public lands.

Nor is subjective “user conflict” an “environmental” impact under NEPA.  A recent Ninth Circuit decision correctly notes that “controversy” as a NEPA intensity factor “refers to disputes over the size or effect of the action itself, not whether or how passionately people oppose it.”  Wild Wilderness v. Allen, 871 F.3d 719, 728 (9th Cir. 2017).  The panel further indicated it “need not address the question of whether on-snow user conflicts are outside the scope of the agency’s required NEPA analysis entirely because they are ‘citizens’ subjective experiences,’ not the ‘physical environment.’”  Id. at 729 n.2 (citations omitted).  In a largely forgotten effort, the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized that NEPA focuses on impacts to the physical environment.  “It would be extraordinarily difficult for agencies to differentiate between ‘genuine’ claims of psychological health damage and claims that are grounded solely in disagreement with a democratically adopted policy.  Until Congress provides a more explicit statutory instruction than NEPA now contains, we do not think agencies are obliged to undertake the inquiry.”  Metropolitan Edison Co. v. People Against Nuclear Energy, 460 U.S. 766, 778 (1983).

The governing law only authorizes the Forest Service to analyze and minimize conflicts between uses, not the subjective preferences of users.  The Draft ROD reflects an improper emphasis on the latter, which should be addressed through instructions/remand.

2. The Agency Lacks Meaningful Analysis of Conflict.

Even if the Forest can properly rely on “user conflict” as a basis for selectively closing trails to a specified form(s) of use, the Draft ROD is independently flawed by reaching that outcome entirely bereft of data or fact.  Again, the agency must utilize “high quality” data and cannot rely on undocumented narrative summary.  Objectors understand that the “science” behind recreation planning may be social science, but even so the Forest Service is capable of conducting real analysis of real visitors on actual sites in the project area.  See, Hells Canyon Alliance v. U.S. Forest Service, 227 F.3d 1170, 1182 (9th Cir. 2000) (upholding decision based on recreation use study); Riverhawks v. Zepeda, 228 F.Supp.2d 1173, 1184 (discussing “user study” conducted on site noting motorized use was “cited as a source of concern” but finding “the majority of non-motorized users nevertheless indicated a high degree of satisfaction”).  The agency did not attempt any such analysis and does not purport to offer site-specific analysis of “conflict” here.  Rather, the discussion is framed in a purely narrative and generalized fashion.  See, e.g., FEIS at 200-203. In fact, the agency candidly admits it lacks data on conflict, or even on types of use that is specific to the project area.  FEIS at 67-68.  The agency admits reliance on “[g]eneral qualitative descriptions of the impact of motor vehicle use on recreation experience…based on Forest Service information that relates to recreation management agency-wide.”  Id. (emphasis added).

While the Draft ROD closes some routes to supposedly address conflict, it leaves others open in the face of indistinguishable conflict.  For example, the Subarea 4 discussion discussing the rationale for continuing single track motorized travel on Priest Gulch and South Calico Trails states: “No major resource issues were identified for these trails and regular maintenance will minimize impacts.  There are examples of conflict described in public comments for all the trails with single track motorized use and these two trails were no exception.”  Draft ROD at 18.  This seems to epitomize arbitrariness.  There is no quantification of “conflict” on any route, yet “examples” of conflict supposedly exist “for all the trails.”  How is a reader, reviewing court, or conscientious visitor to the public lands expected to make a meaningful distinction between the choice to leave one route open and to close another?

The Rico West Dolores attempt at analyzing conflict is uniquely deficient.  The complete absence of data or any rational, site-specific analysis taints the conflict based route closures.  These conclusions must be vacated and addressed in any further planning.

3. There is Not Even a Finding of “Conflict.”

The Draft ROD is further flawed because even the actions purportedly based on “conflict” lack a predicate finding that any conflict exists.  Rather, the agency has curiously framed these choices as addressing unspecified “preferences” or “opinions” from individual commenters.  See, FEIS at 204-207 (Table 3-43).  Throughout this discussion the phrase that “some commenters preferred nonmotorized settings” appears ubiquitous.  However, the agency says “[t]hese statements were an overall conflict with preferred recreation experiences and not instances of direct conflict.”  Id.  The agency seems to be declining to provide instances of “direct conflict” and is denying that such conflict exists.  The stated “overall conflict” with motorized access cannot form a defensible basis to restrict motorized travel on specific trails

D. The Forest Improperly Eliminated Trail Access to Rico.

The Draft ROD would eliminate trail-based motorized access to the Town of Rico.  The purported rationale for these closures (along both Horse Creek and Burnett Creek Trails) is to maintain a “mountain town” atmosphere and “meet[ ] the desires of the Town of Rico and some of its residents….”  Draft ROD at 20.  This conclusion is unsupported by the record and defies common sense.

1. Elimination of Motorized Access to Rico is Arbitrary and Capricious.

The “Town of Rico” did not “desire” to “remove single track motorized use designations from the Burnett Creek and Horse Creek Trails.”  Draft ROD at 20.  The Draft ROD’s conclusion not only lacks even rational support but is flatly contradicted by the record.  Objectors did not attempt an exhaustive review of comments on this issue.  However, the Town of Rico has plainly stated its position, which was most recently to allow continuing motorized access along the Horse Creek Trail and to close the Burnett Creek Trail to motorized use.  See, Town of Rico comments dated July 25, 2017 (signed by Town Manager Kari Distefano) (attached hereto as Exhibit A).  The Town of Rico has commented on multiple occasions during the planning process.  See, comments dated June 9, 2016 (on DEIS) (attached hereto as Exhibit B); comments dated January 26, 2015 (scoping) (attached hereto as Exhibit C).  The comments have evolved, with the initial comments embracing non-motorized designations for Burnett, “Upper Horse Creek” and Wildcat Trails, the DEIS comments continuing a preference that Burnett/Horse Creek Trails be non-motorized but indicating support for motorized travel on Wildcat Trail to provide motorized access to Rico.  The most recent comments state the intention of the current Board of Trustees to withdraw the January 26, 2015 scoping comments.  Of the formal Town of Rico comments submitted, the Draft ROD only complies with those withdrawn scoping comments.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Town of Rico meets a variety of needs for a diverse spectrum of humans.  A few have chosen to live in or near Rico, on a full or part time basis.  These “residents” in any backcountry setting will tend to favor less development, less access, and fewer human co-habitants.  The Town of Rico is just large enough, particularly in the context of this sparsely populated project area, to provide a certain level of public goods and services.  These are desired by a significant portion of the recreating public and provide a means of revenue and support for certain businesses in the community.  The Draft ROD makes no effort at a reasoned discussion of these factors, and provides no meaningful insight at its eventual choice to favor the “desires” of “some residents” over the socioeconomic interests of other residents or the recreating public.  See, 16 U.S.C. § 1604(e) (directing management of the National Forest System to provide for “multiple use and sustained yield”); 16 U.S.C. § 531(a) (defining “multiple use” to include “management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people…”).

The agency cannot properly invoke the unspecified desire of “some residents” to defend its choice, but to the extent common themes developed in the “Rico” comments they parallel the Town of Rico approach and contradict the Draft ROD.  For example, “a group of outdoor enthusiasts and representatives from the Town of Rico” formed the Rico Trails Alliance, and submitted comments dated August 7, 2017 (attached hereto as Exhibit D).  This group “focuses on non-motorized use” but “recognize[s] that both motorized and non-motorized uses and users must co-exist.”  Id.  The Alliance comments track the Town of Rico comments and support closure to motorized access along Burnett Creek Trail while allowing “motorized use of Horse Creek or Wildcat instead.”  The Alliance comments were specifically noted and the quoted language presented in the Telluride Mountain Club comments.  See, comments dated August 15, 2017 (attached hereto as Exhibit E).  The Forest Service has seemingly been offered a collaborative solution by a spontaneous collection of often divergent groups.  It is questionable and frustrating that the agency is rejecting their suggested approach.

It may be that the agency perceived itself to be in a conundrum based on the emerging consensus in “Rico” that Horse Creek Trail be authorized for continuing motorized access.  This solution was not included in any of the action alternatives.  See, FEIS at 27 (Table 2-2) (showing Horse Creek Trail as “single track motorized” in Alternative A and “nonmotorized” in every other alternative).  However, the Forest Service regularly (and often successfully) defends itself against range of alternatives arguments by pointing to the “no-action” alternative.  Particularly here, where a strong and diverse consensus emerged against some unspecified group of residents, the agency would be well justified in modifying the Draft ROD to allow at least one method of motorized trail access to Rico.

2. Elimination of Motorized Routes to Rico Creates Public Safety Risks.

An independent flaw in the Rico aspect of the decision is that elimination of single track motorized trails to Rico will create significant public safety risks.  The general criteria that must be considered include public safety, provision of recreational opportunities, and access needs.  36 C.F.R. § 212.55(a).  The specific criteria for designating trails further include “[c]onflicts among different classes of motor vehicle uses” and “[c]ompatibility of motor vehicle use with existing conditions in populated areas, taking into account sound, emissions, and other factors”  Id. at (b)(4) and (5).  Specific criteria for designating roads require consideration of “[s]peed, volume, composition, and distribution of traffic on roads” and “[c]ompatibility of vehicle class with road geometry and road surfacing.”  Id. at (c).

The Draft ROD discusses cutting off motorcycle access to the Town of Rico, characterizing “single track riders’ concerns” as “not hav[ing] a quick way to exit the ridgeline in case of bad weather or mechanical trouble.”  Draft ROD at 20.  The Draft ROD responds by identifying East and West Fall Creek, Johnny Bull, and Eagle Peak Trails as providing alternate means of exit.  For starters, Johnny Bull Trail is not designated for motorized travel by the Draft ROD, so that option is of little comfort.  More importantly, this discussion fails to recognize the broader significance of maintaining access to Rico.  The “need to exit the ridgeline” is not a need to simply get to lower ground.  It is in most instances a need, or even a legitimate desire, to obtain shelter (e.g. from a storm), human assistance (e.g. to address injury or mechanical difficulty), or to obtain services (e.g. buy a meal or fuel).  The suggestion to ride down the Eagle Peak Trail makes no sense in meeting most of these needs, and only reveals the contorted logic permeating the Draft ROD.

The Draft ROD does acknowledge the value of Rico as “a town” including “as a gas stop.”  Here, the agency’s solution is to access the Town “via Hwy 145.”  Id.  This is not only unsatisfying but troubling.  It is one thing for a Forest Service decisionmaker to “look the other way” and resolve an access conundrum by realizing riders might traverse disconnected route segments by hopping onto to short section of paved highway.  For the agency here to encourage people to ride on this Highway on dirt bikes intended for technical single track riding is poor policy and flies in the face of the applicable designation criteria.

The failure to allow some form of continuing motorized trail access to Rico is illogical and indefensible.  We urge you to restore some form of access, consistent with the above-cited comments.

E. Physical Resource Impacts Cannot Justify Motor Vehicle Restrictions.

Aside from the effervescent “user conflict” rationale, the Forest suggests that certain “resource impacts” justify some Draft ROD closures.  See, e.g., Draft ROD at 6; FEIS at 4.  Here again the agency’s analysis is fundamentally illogical or contradicts the agency’s own record.  Again, the agency must meet technical presentation requirements that derive from NEPA and are specified in the CEQ regulations, and must meet the APA’s general requirements that a decision be supported by substantial evidence or reflect a rational connection to the facts found.

1. Elk Habitat and Hunter Experience.

Some closures are at least partly based on a generalized attempt to “enhance habitat conditions” for elk.  FEIS at 9.  Elk populations in the project area “are currently meeting objectives.”  FEIS at 51.  The Forest Service metrics for ungulate management and elk habitat are similarly being met.  All alternatives (including Alt. A “no action”) meet motorized route density standards.  FEIS at 139.  Security area size, cover, forage and connectivity “is maintained across all alternatives.”  FEIS at 141.  Yet the agency proposes to restrict motorcycle travel on certain trails to “further enhance habitat conditions.”  FEIS at 9.  This rationale is offered despite Forest Plan direction to “maintain” or “continue” activities and conditions relating to elk and ungulate populations and habitat.  See, Forest Plan Guidelines 2.3.62 and 2.3.63.

Related to the impermissible goal of “enhancing” elk habitat, the agency proclaims its intent to respond to “requests from hunters” for areas with reduced motorized access.  FEIS at 10.  Yet at the same time the agency acknowledges other hunters want to maintain or expand vehicle access.  Id.  The agency offers no explanation why any alteration of the status quo is necessary, or even permissible.  The area complies with all applicable guidance, and hunting experiences of every conceivable type exist, as primarily regulated by state wildlife managers and the associated complex system of general and controlled hunt seasons.  Hunter “experience” or satisfaction is a complex and highly subjective construct, related to numerous factors including number of target species, trophy quality, ease/difficulty of harvest/extrication, number of competing hunters, ease/difficulty/type of access, hunter experience/skill and sheer luck.  A hunter who claims his “experience” carefully stalking alongside a road was ruined when the elk was spooked by a passing vehicle is perhaps offset by a luckier or better adapted hunter who killed a nice bull in a timbered draw that was escaping the opening day onslaught of road travel.  The Dolores District is poorly equipped to address these concerns and embarks on a fool’s errand in any claimed effort to improve “hunter experience.”


To the extent there is analysis of elk habitat/hunting considerations, the agency utterly fails to explain how closing certain trails to recreational motorcycle riding will “enhance” anything.  We do not dispute that “[t]he magnitude of disturbance to elk…increases dramatically during the big-game hunting seasons.”  FEIS at 136.  This is probably because elk become disturbed by humans trying to kill them.  Virtually all hunters utilize some form of vehicular access, and for some “hunting” is unfortunately synonymous with “vehicle access.”  Perhaps we should note that a trail motorcycle is a disfavored means of access in the road hunting community, as a likely consequence of the fact that the need/desire to hunt from a vehicle, ability to ride technical single track, and do so while carrying hundred pound elk quarter(s) are rarely correlated.  It is hardly remarkable, then, that “[e]lk avoid areas adjacent to roads with vehicular traffic, especially during the hunting season.”  Id. (emphasis added).  So an effort to “enhance” elk production, survival, or reduce stress levels should focus on hunting disturbance, or prioritize limits on “higher disturbance/conflict” vehicle-based hunting strategies, e.g. driving on roads.  In Idaho, the state wildlife management agency imposes “motorized access restrictions” in specified units which prohibit use of OHV’s on trails as an “aid to hunting” but allow “pure” recreational access.  But the Draft ROD does none of this.  Rather, it only restricts recreational motorcycle use on some trails.  The Draft ROD may reflect the least rational management response to any purported effort at improving a perceived plight of elk in the Rico West Dolores area.

Wildlife issues can indeed be primary factors necessitating travel management changes.  Such is particularly the case when motor vehicle access uniquely facilitates human presence or causes unique adverse impacts to threatened or endangered species.  Elk management is a popular topic and big business in the State of Colorado, but should properly be recognized as a tertiary factor in managing recreational travel in the Rico West Dolores area.  A simultaneous desire to “enhance” elk habitat alongside the “experience” of certain humans seeking to kill elk cannot rationally justify the selective closure of motorcycle trails in the Rico West Dolores area.

2. Watersheds.

The most notable statement that can be made about watershed issues in this travel management process is that they are not a serious issue.  The watershed factor “most likely to be affected by roads and motorized trails is sediment.”  FEIS at 88.  “Currently, the waters within the Rico-West Dolores Landscape meet water quality standards for sediment.”  FEIS at 91.  “At the watershed scale, there would not be a measureable difference between action alternatives for sediment delivery to the stream network.”  Id.  In fact, all of the action alternatives would “lead to some decrease in road miles, which would benefit watershed health to some degree.”  FEIS at 88.

Watershed considerations cannot form a basis for making choices between the alternatives.

3. Fisheries.

The FEIS discussion of fisheries focuses on “greenback lineage cutthroat trout” and the purported benefit of closing motorized use along Spring Creek to the greenbacks’ benefit.  Draft ROD at 16; FEIS at 107-111.  There are several flaws in this analysis.

For starters, it is debatable what fish constitute the listed Oncorrhynchus clarki stomias and where they are located.  The same special interests that likely have the District’s ear in this process previously characterized the existence of perhaps only four “pure” populations “that collectively inhabit about a dozen kilometers of stream habitat.”  Complaint (Dkt. 1) in No. 1:12-cv-2460 (D. Colo.) (filed September 17, 2012) at ¶¶ 2-3.  Having relied on the precarious state of handful of fish to close trails in Bear Creek on the Pike and San Isabel Forests, preservationists appear to be opportunistically broadening their view of how to identify (and locate) this species.  The FEIS hints at the ongoing phylogenetic debate, and the possibility that “greenback lineage cutthroat” may not even be a listed species.  FEIS at 108 (pending a decision on the “meristic study” projects that may affect “GB lineage fish is advised”).  Assuming these “lineage” fish warrant the special treatment they are accorded here, there is unfortunately no information presented in the FEIS to detail or even document their existence in Spring Creek.  Again, the District presents technical conclusions on faith alone.

Through a similar analysis as for watersheds, the discussion of fisheries concludes that impacts to GBCT are minimal.  See, FEIS at 110 (“effects to GBCT habitat from increased sedimentation would be discountable, non-quantifiable, short-lived, and not to a level that would adversely affect habitat for GBCT, prey base, or reproductive success.”).  At most, the rationalization in favor of Alternative B (modified) is that it might have “benefits” to improving habitat conditions that are already meeting or exceeding standards.  This is not a defensible rationale for closing trails to motorized use.

4. Wetlands and Fens.

Fens are topic of unique concern in the project area.  Again, fens, like other water-influenced features, can be impacted by “the presence of certain roads and trails (regardless of use).”  FEIS at 19.  The effects of motorized trails that are within 100 feet of mapped fens was analyzed.  “These sites were field checked and it was determined that there currently are no impact from trails on fens.”  FEIS at 95.  Fen protection cannot form any part of a rationale to eliminate motorcycle travel on trails.

F. The Agency has Not Adequately Responded to Comments.

The Forest has chosen an unusual method of responding to comments here, which does not comply with NEPA and its implementing regulations.  In particular, “[a]n agency preparing a final [EIS] shall assess and consider comments…and shall respond by one or more of the means listed below, stating its response in the final statement.”  40 CFR § 1503.4(a).  There are five “possible responses” described, all of which necessitate identification of both the particular comment, as well as the specified response.  Id. at (1)-(5).  The regulations further provide “[a]ll substantive comments received on the draft statement (or summaries thereof where the response has been exceptionally voluminous), should be attached to the final statement whether or not the comment is thought to merit individual discussion by the agency in the text of the statement.”  Id. at (b).

The response to comments here is contained in Appendix K to the FEIS.  The comments are summarized and sorted.  There is no way to track the issues raised or the response to an individual comment.  In other words, the approach chosen fails to identify individual comments and the response to them.  At best, the latter portion of Appendix K presents a tabular summary of comment text and includes a “Ltr #” for each comment, but there is no list or other information indicating the “Ltr #” assigned to a specific comment/commenter.  The agency’s method of responding to comments here does not comply with governing regulations or other applicable law.

G. The Draft ROD Impermissibly Juxtaposes Decision Elements.

The Draft ROD contains a complex and unpredictable mixture of route network components from across, and beyond, the range of alternatives.  Courts generally look to see if the agency took a sufficiently “hard look” and generally examine whether “the EIS process fostered informed decision-making and public participation.”  National Parks & Conservation Ass’n v. U.S. Dept. of Transp., 222 F.3d 677, 680 (9th Cir. 2000).  If the Court determines the agency took a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of the project in question then “review is at an end.”  Id.  However, mere “pro forma compliance with NEPA procedures, nor post hoc rationalizations as to why and how the agency complied with NEPA” will not suffice.   Int’l Snowmobile Mfrs. Ass’n v. Norton, 340 F.Supp.2d 1249, 1263 (D.Wyo. 2004) (italics in original); see also, Davis v. Mineta, 302 F.3d 1104, 1112-1113 (10th Cir. 2002).

Judicial scrutiny regularly considers the range of alternatives.  NEPA imposes a mandatory procedural duty on federal agencies to consider a reasonable range of alternatives.  40 C.F.R. § 1502.14 (“agencies shall rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives.”)  The alternatives section is considered the “heart” of the EIS and a NEPA analysis must “explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives.”  40 C.F.R. § 1502.14.  A NEPA analysis is invalidated by “[t]he existence of a viable but unexamined alternative.”  Resources, Ltd. v. Robertson, 35 F.3d 1300, 1307 (9th Cir. 1993).  The fact the Forest trotted out what was effectively a new alternative in the Draft ROD demonstrates the failure to identify and receive public input on a legally-sufficient range of alternatives.

The Draft ROD presents an unpredictable juxtaposition of route network components from multiple alternatives.  The Draft ROD purports to adopt a “modified Alternative B.”  Draft ROD at 9.  In reality, the Draft ROD mixes and matches from across the alternatives.  These changes can be evaluated in Table 2.2 of the FEIS, and appear to include: (1) Bear Creek (Trail 607) selection of Alt. C designating only 1.72 miles motorized; (2) Black Mesa OHV Loops adoption of Alt. C designations; (3) Johnny Bull (Trail 639) supposedly includes single track motorized designation but the Draft ROD (at 19) says it is closed for an estimated 2 years; (4) Little Bear (Trail 609) change from motorized in Alt. B to nonmotorized as presented in Alts. C-E; (5) Loading Pen (Trail 738) was nonmotorized in Alts. A and B, but under B (modified) will be motorized as presented in Alts. C-E; (6) Seasonal restrictions changed to those presented in Alt. C (FEIS at 31, Table 2-6).  There are probably other changes we have failed to note, which is understandable and further demonstrates the confusing and unpredictable direction of the Draft ROD.

This outcome, and the apparent process creating it, fundamentally violate the “twin aims” of NEPA, to allow reasoned public input and thus informed agency decision-making.  These flaws are amplified by the nature of the discussion in the Draft ROD/FEIS and unspecified reliance on “desires” and “preferences” of some commenters on numerous issues.  While NEPA is certainly not a voting process, a commenter must generally identify which action alternative best reflects the commenter’s desired outcome.  To meet both logic and the law the agency should specify decision components and outline a clear choice between alternatives that will facilitate informed public input.  The confusing mixture of decision elements in the Draft ROD Alternative B (modified) violate these important principles.

H. The Decision Fails to Properly Analyze Cumulative Impacts.

The Rico West Dolores area is only one part of a larger integrated transportation network.  The Forest must properly evaluate the interconnected travel management decisions on a broader scale, and the consequences of decisions in the Draft ROD must be properly disclosed.  A cumulative impact “is the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions….”  40 C.F.R. § 1508.7.  Cumulative impacts must be discussed in an EIS in a manner that allows for “meaningful analysis.”  City of Carmel-by-the-Sea v. U.S. Dept. of Transp., 123 F.3d 1142, 1160 (9th Cir. 1997).  It is not enough to describe related projects “with generalities insufficient to permit adequate review of the cumulative impact.”  Id.; see also, Humane Soc’y v. Dept. of Commerce, 432 F.Supp.2d 4, 22 (D.D.C. 2006) (discussion must go beyond “conclusory remarks and statements”).

The discussion of cumulative impacts is deficient throughout the FEIS.  In particular, the Objectors are concerned about the impact of the Rico West Dolores decision in concert with decision-making that is underway or reasonably anticipated in adjacent riding areas.  The FEIS reflects a general awareness of the interconnectedness of these areas.  FEIS at 221-223.  However, these discussions are conclusory narrative, and provide only generalized or, in some instances inaccurate, conclusions about the riding experience.  The challenge is particularly acute given the overlap between the Rico West Dolores and Hermosa travel management decisions.  It is preferable, if not essential, that the Forest Service analyze these issues in a single process, so that the consequences of route designations in each area can be properly disclosed and analyzed.  It is notable that the majority of Subpart B travel planning efforts occur on a forest-wide basis, which reduces the likelihood of problems associated with segmenting the analysis as is occurring on the San Juan National Forest.

I. The Service Failed to Consider Potential Adverse Impacts of the Decision.

The Draft ROD adopts a mix of options from different alternatives that will disrupt long-existing use patterns in complex and unpredictable ways.  As previously described, roughly 30 percent of route miles have been eliminated from the single track motorized route network, with significant practical implications stretching beyond the arithmetic scope of the sheer mileage reductions.  The on-the-ground effect of these changes is uncertain, but it is certain that the existing population of motorized riders will be forced into a much smaller and disjointed route network.  The decision recognizes the possibility that these changes and concentration of existing use upon a smaller route network could have adverse environmental impacts.  Draft ROD at 35.

There are multiple problems with this scenario.  The Draft ROD admits that very few, if any, unacceptable physical resource impacts are associated with existing motorized travel.  The rationales behind this decision largely involve an effort to “enhance” existing resource conditions, or social engineering concerns focused on conflict.  The Draft ROD represents an unjustified risk of creating physical resource impacts and safety risks as tangible offsets to amorphous goals like enhancing hunter experience and placating the preferences of some for nonmotorized recreation opportunities.  Additionally, this situation creates, or may be designed to trigger, the risk of a perpetuating cycle of closure.  A sustainable level of motorized travel could be concentrated into an insufficiently small and dysfunctional combination of routes, which will result in greater impacts leading certain special interests to call for further restrictions on motorized use.  All of these risks are intensified by the Draft ROD’s overblown effort to change too many components of the existing network at once.  A far more logical, and less risky, approach would be to proceed with caution and implement changes more cautiously or in a phased approach so that environmental consequences could be monitored and addressed.

There is no reasoned consideration of the potential for environmental impacts that will be caused by the Draft ROD.  These risks outweigh the purported benefits that Alternative B (modified) would have on a system that was largely working.

J. The Forest Ignores Disclosure Requirements for Route Decommissioning.

The Draft ROD contemplates a meaningful, but unspecified, system of route decommissioning.  This approach violates NEPA.

The decision documents appear to be intended to create “an implementation program that is progressive in nature, ranging from signing to recontouring, ripping, seeding, and placing physical barriers.”  FEIS at 15, 53.  There are individual routes that are identified for decommissioning.  Draft ROD, Attachment 2; FEIS at 41-46.  However, the particular methods or timetable for decommissioning efforts are not provided.

The Forest Service has previously determined that travel planning decisions can be implemented by publishing orders/maps and installing signs/gates, but not by ground disturbing methods until suitable site-specific analysis has occurred.  See, Targhee Travel Plan Appeal Decision dated January 27, 2000 (attached hereto as Exhibit F).  In that decision from the agency’s Intermountain Region, the Appeal Deciding Officer reversed “that part of the decision that implements the decision through initiating further ground disturbing actions, such as earthen berms and barriers, ripping the roadbed, or other actions which have potential effects on soil and water resources, other beneficial uses and public safety, until further site specific analysis is completed.  Id. at 4.  In particular, the decision lacked “the necessary documentation of the site-specific effects of various closure methods and their potential effects on soil, water, and human safety….”  Id. at 4-5.

The Draft ROD does not provide for the aforementioned analysis of alternative methods of road decommissioning, or the site-specific effects associated with any of those methods.  This shortcoming must be addressed prior to conducting any ground-disturbing road decommissioning action(s) in the Rico West Dolores area.

K. The Decision is Inconsistent with the Forest Plan.

Forest Service actions must be consistent with a forest plan.  Native Ecosystems Council v. U.S. Forest Service, 418 F.3d 953, 961 (9th Cir. 2005).  The Draft ROD is not consistent with several provisions of the San Juan Forest Plan.

The Forest Plan contemplates shared use of recreational trails “based on mutual courtesy and on a strong stewardship ethic that is primarily self-enforced and maintained by individuals and user groups.”  FEIS at 183 (quoting Forest Plan desired condition).  This directive “points toward collaboration between motorized, mechanized and nonmotorized user groups….”  Id.  There is no further discussion of this desired condition, let alone any explanation of how eliminating one group of users in response to a generalized “desire” or “preference” of some users is consistent with this “stewardship ethic.”

The Forest Plan also contains specific direction for elk habitat and management.  In general, a desired condition for all terrestrial wildlife states “[e]cosystems and habitat conditions for terrestrial wildlife species sensitive to human disturbance are maintained.”  Forest Plan Desired Condition 2.3.9.  Similarly, guidelines for ungulates state that “to provide for healthy ungulate populations capable of meeting state populations objectives, anthropomorphic activity and improvements across the planning area should be designed to maintain and continue to provide effective habitat components that support critical life functions.”  Forest Plan Guideline 2.3.63 (emphasis added); see also, Guideline 2.3.62 (projects or activities “should be designed and conducted in a manner that preserves and does not reduce habitat effectiveness”).  There is a fundamental difference between “maintain,” “continue” or “does not reduce” versus “enhance.”

L. The Decision Unlawfully Benefits Special Uses.

Whether inadvertently or by design, the Draft ROD provides a boon to certain special uses.  These include the “world class” luxury ecotourism commercial enterprise at the Dunton Hot Springs Resort, the livestock grazing permittee on the Tenderfoot allotment, and certain outfitter/guides hoping to uniquely benefit through creation of new, exclusive “nonmotorized” areas.

Again, the Forest Service is tasked with “management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people….”  16 U.S.C. § 531(a).  So in a theoretical “conflict” between the needs of hundreds of members of the public versus the preference of a single permittee, it is conceivable that the agency might conclude the needs of the one might need to adapt to the needs of the many.  At a minimum, there should be a reasoned discussion of these considerations, and some discernible rationale for the outcome selected.  However, this did not occur.  Rather, the analysis disclaims any need or ability to consider special uses.  FEIS at 73.

Any interaction or overlap between motorized trail designations and special use permit management should occur in an integrated process.  Some amorphous yet unanalyzed need to benefit particular special uses reflects poor policy, and may be illegal.  The Forest Service should not be restricting public rights to advance the private, economic interests of a handful of permittees.

M. Livestock Operations Cannot Form a Rational Basis to Restrict Access.

Closure of the Wildcat Trail to motorized access is irrationally based on a “specific type of livestock grazing system” and a “critical” need to “minimize conflicts with livestock herding efforts in the Wildcat Creek drainage.”  Draft ROD at 18.  As we have noted in previous comments, closure of a public access along Forest Service system trail to benefit one permittee’s herding effort is virtually unprecedented.  To support this conclusion and further illuminate the issue we include the Declaration of Brenda Richards (attached hereto as Exhibit G).

There are further problems with using livestock grazing management as the sole justification for closing Wildcat Trail.  The entire discussion about livestock/recreation management is again undocumented narrative, lacking any fact, data, or meaningful connection to any site anywhere, let alone in the project area.  FEIS at 161-162.  Livestock management is raised as a potential concern for other areas/routes within this project, yet there is no effort to explain why “shared use” will occur on other sites but there is a “critical” need to close Wildcat.  See, FEIS at 19, 163 (Table 3-30 showing list of allotments).  The FEIS indicates that the permitted dates for grazing on the entire Tenderfoot allotment are June 20 to October 15.  So there cannot (lawfully) be any need for “critical” herding near Wildcat Trail outside those dates.  FEIS at 163.  Digging deeper, the allotment is apparently managed through a four pasture rotation system.  Id.  Admittedly not knowing the specific locations/prescriptions, this is presumably (or will be when next scrutinized) some form of rest-rotation system, in which the season of use for the pasture(s) containing Wildcat Trail will be less than the season of use for the entire allotment, and will change in different years of the rotation cycle.  The Draft ROD makes no effort to acknowledge or explain these “holes” in the calendar, and thus the agency’s logic in relying on livestock management to close Wildcat to motorcycles.

The closure of Wildcat is further complicated by its role as a possible connector to the Town of Rico.  Again, when accurately depicted, the “Town of Rico” supports maintaining a motorized trail connection, and suggests Wildcat Trail as an appropriate option.  See, Exhibits A, D and E hereto.  Unfortunately, it appears that the unwavering desire to create a nonmotorized bubble around Rico may be what is really driving the Wildcat closure.  If so, this is the type of behavior that the Forest Service should not tolerate and can rectify in the objection process.

N. The Agency Has Improperly Interpreted Easement Issues to Justify Closure.

Several key closures are predicated on a contrived dilemma about how to traverse private property or the Forest’s irrational failure to exercise its statutory right to defend continuing public access.  These include the Subarea 5 closures of Johnny Bull, East/West Fall Creek Trails (Draft ROD at 19) and the failure to consider continuing access along the Morrison Trail.  FEIS at 57.  The agency’s conclusions here are arbitrary, capricious, and/or short of statutory right.

As noted above, Forest Service subunits regularly navigate similar concerns in ways that do not result in a volitional choice to prohibit existing public access.  Contrary to the implication of the Draft ROD, it is not incumbent on the Forest Service to possess a “documented public right of way” for those portions of a trail that cross some form of private property.  Draft ROD at 19.  These questions can be complex, often turn on unique facts, and many times do not involve Forest Service jurisdiction or even involve the Forest Service as a party. See, e.g., Gold Hill Dev. Co., LP v. TSG Ski & Golf, LLC, 378 P.3d 816 (Colo. App. 2015) (addressing public rights of access under R.S. 2477 and state law prescriptive easement theories, and denying claims that Forest Service was a necessary party).

The Morrison easement interpretation is even more troubling.  Here, the United States possesses an express, recorded easement(s) initially granted in 1948 including “to construct, repair and maintain a stock driveway, road and bridge” as well as “the rights and privileges thereunto belonging or in anywise appertaining in and to said easements and rights-of-way.”  Based on the cryptic statement in the FEIS, the agency apparently reads this as being solely limited to a “stock driveway.”  Such an interpretation is questionable at best.  Does a “stock driveway” necessitate “maintenance” or “repair” or construction of a “road” and “bridge?”  In other words, the language can be reasonably read to contemplate permissible uses of the easement as a stock drive, road and bridge.  This language and the resulting scope of the easement is also subject to reasonable evolution and interpretation, particularly in light of the fact that the easement was being granted to the United States.  Regardless of the ultimate interpretation of this language in any hypothetical future proceedings, it is troubling that the Forest Service, after allowing public travel along this easement for decades, has now reversed course upon itself and refuses to defend continuing public rights of access.

The Reviewing Officer should provide instructions directing the agency to revisit or modify its closures of trails based on easement issues.

O. The Draft ROD Illegally Addresses Route Relocation Options.

The Draft ROD largely brushes aside potential re-routes of motorized routes yet proudly identifies multiple re-routes for nonmotorized recreation.  This is another example of arbitrariness in conducting this process.

Objectors (and others) brought numerous examples of re-routes or alternate connections.  These were offered in good faith and in an effort to address stated resource concerns and even “desires” of certain nonmotorized recreationists.  These included a re-route along previously-mapped Forest Service trails such as at Spring Creek and Little Bear Pack Trail, or along existing routes such as Salt Creek Trail.  These proposals were brushed aside and not even considered for meaningful analysis.  Draft ROD at 23; FEIS at 57-58.  Yet other trails were “designated” for nonmotorized use with similar, if not greater, concerns and an uncertain source or manner of presentation to the agency.  See, e.g., Draft ROD at 19 (adding a “hikers only” trail that would “[t]ake advantage of an old trail alignment around Sockrider Peak”); Draft ROD at 23 and Map A (designating nonmotorized access along Salt Creek and Lower Ryman Creek); Draft ROD at 24 (“officially adding” Little Bear Pack Loop and Pack Connector as nonmotorized trails).

We remain hopeful that these connections might present an opportunity to restore functionality to the trail network and resolve our objections.  Where they were not properly considered in the process, we realize that future analysis is likely necessary.  Given that they are existing routes, we believe that a resolution could focus on a sufficiently detailed and expedited process to prioritize their evaluation for motorized designation.  This approach might allow the Dolores District to sidestep the apparent differential treatment provided to motorized versus nonmotorized re-routes in this process.

P. Seasonal Closures are Arbitrary and Capricious.

The Draft ROD imposes a blanket closure on motorcycle use from November 1 to May 31.  This is supposedly to facilitate enhanced hunter experience in a handful of “late fall” seasons.  Draft ROD at 28.  However, the action chosen, a selective closure of motorcycle travel, is not reasonably connected to that goal.

We recognize that this provision in Alternative B (modified) reduces the seasonal limitation on use, as in Alternative B the prohibition would have been from September 9 to June 30.  FEIS at 31.  We appreciate that this change is less discriminatory against motorcycle riders that was originally proposed, but it does not make things right.  Rather, it will likely be perceived as creating a “lose-lose” scenario and could well form the basis for objections from “quiet use” interests.

There is no rational basis to impose seasonal restrictions that solely affect motorcycle travel on a handful of remaining trails.  The seasonal restriction issue should be eliminated or refined through instructions/remand.

Q. The Objection Process is Illegal.

The part 218 objection process has now sufficiently developed to reveal several flaws.  We wish to note our concerns here, should these flaws develop within this application of the process.  To call this a “predecisional” review process is misleading, if not oxymoronic.  The fact is that by the time an objection can be submitted, the Forest Service is heavily invested in every sense in the outcome presented in a Draft ROD.  In our experience, a Draft ROD almost never goes “back to the drawing” board, except in unusual circumstances such as catastrophic wildfire altering the fundamental landscape within the project areas.  Instead, the objection review either rubber-stamps the Draft ROD, or presents a series of instructions that seem designed to strike a balance between placating objectors yet allowing the deciding officer to salvage and rationalize the decision already made.

The part 218 procedures reflect or invite error in multiple ways.  There is no impartial review.  Indeed, a “reviewing officer” and “deciding officer” are directly adjacent to one another in the same organization chart.  They presumably have, and are heavily incentivized to maintain, a solid working relationship.  There is a reasonable chance they have some level of personal relationship that is at least cordial.  In various instances we have seen the deciding officer and staff have direct input into the objection resolution process, to the point of being provided an opportunity to edit the text of the final reviewing officer’s report.  This is hardly the nature of review that comports with the jurisdictional significance of the process or underlying notions of due process.

Another key conundrum created by part 218 is the manner in which objections can be “resolved,” whether by agreement amongst objectors or through the reviewing officer’s report.  Can the Draft ROD be altered in some meaningful way?  If so, is it permissible to make changes that were reflected within the range of alternatives?  We have seen the agency dramatically reverse course in the part 218 process, even to the point of incorporating decision components that were never previously disclosed for public comment in any alternative.

There are finally a number of procedural fine points that experience has shown to be potentially problematic.  There are numerous procedural requirements that are apparently intended to “raise the bar” for objectors or create potentially relief for the agency.  See, e.g., 36 C.F.R. §§ 218.4 through 218.8.  It is unclear to what extent these requirements can be stringently interpreted or enforced.  The timelines are detailed and constraining.  Indeed, this reflects the genesis of the approach in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act and an underlying intent to make critical or time sensitive project more impervious to pesky “environmental” appeals.  There is no provision in part 218 for a stay of project implementation.  As a practical matter, we observe the primary goal to implementation is the need to address any “concerns and instructions identified by the reviewing officer….”  36 C.F.R. § 218.12(b).  This is an imprecise and unpredictable method, which probably does little beyond frustrating engaged publics and agency officials alike.

Our concerns about the 218 process can hopefully be rendered moot here.  But we raise them nonetheless in anticipation of a possible occasion when it makes sense to bring the process under greater scrutiny.

IV. Elements of a Successful Resolution

The Draft ROD sadly reflects meaningful restriction of historical access, and particularly motorcycle access, in virtually every component of the Rico West Dolores trail network.  Objectors are very concerned that the agency and/or key decisionmakers alongside who they have partnered so willingly and effectively would have diverged so dramatically in the Draft ROD.  Dogmatic adherence to this dramatic alteration of this long-existing status quo will allow objectors little option but vigorous opposition in every venue and manner available.  However, adoption of even a few common sense modifications to the Draft ROD could restore functionality to at least some components of the route system, could create “win-win” solutions for diverse recreationists, and avert the “no holds barred” fight the Draft ROD would force upon objectors.

It is possible that we can resolve our objections and attain at least an acceptable level of functional access through adoption of some combination of the following elements:

-Resolution/restoration of access along “easements” including Subarea 5 trails, Morrison
-Designation of some form of motorized, trail access to Rico
-Designation of some form of motorized access along Wildcat Trail
-Designation of motorized access in the vicinity of Ryman Creek, such as along Salt Creek
-Connection of motorized routes in Subarea 9, such as along Little Bear Pack Trail
-Designation of the identified re-route in the vicinity of Spring Creek

Again, we recognize that some of these were presented as possible decision elements within one or more alternatives, while others were not because they were not considered in detail.  Some of these elements could be resolved without further analysis or a new decision, e.g. restoration of access along Johnny Bull Trail upon acquisition of an easement.  We ask that conditional approval of any such routes be clarified and strengthened through instructions.  For other routes, we hope to explore in the objection process the manner in which further analysis could be performed that would present the opportunity to restore or improve upon historical opportunity and functionality in Rico West Dolores motorized trail system.

V. Conclusion

The Draft ROD outlines unjustified and dramatic elimination of long-existing motorized recreation in the Rico West Dolores area.  The analysis is virtually unprecedented in its narrative style and capricious selection of decision elements.  One would be hard pressed to create a more surgically precise method of destroying existing quality motorcycle riding opportunities than the Draft ROD.  These changes are particularly frustrating to Objectors given the collective time and energy we expended alongside the Forest Service defending against the same issues in the CBHA litigation.  We appreciate the opportunity to address these concerns in the objection process and urge you to utilize the objection process to restore a functional and sustainable balance to recreation management in the Rico West Dolores area.


Paul A. Turcke


Enclosure/Exhibit List:

A- Town of Rico comments dated July 25, 2017
B- Town of Rico comments dated June 9, 2016
C- Town of Rico comments dated January 26, 2015
D- Rico Trails Alliance comments dated August 7, 2017
E- Telluride Mountain Club comments dated August 15, 2017
F- Targhee Travel Plan Appeal Decision dated January 27, 2000
G- Declaration of Brenda Richards



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Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) 2017 End of Year Report

TPA 2017 End of Year Report

This report provides an overview of the TPA’s 2017 activities, accomplishments and events. For a more detailed review, please visit our “News” tab on the TPA website (  2017 has been another very busy and productive year for the TPA and a year that we believe has seen positive progress in working to keep our access to public lands open and available for multiple-use recreation.

2017 Success Stories

Bear Creek/Jones Park motorcycle trails reopened – The TPA and its partners, primarily CMTRA, is proud to announce that the new single-track trail developed to replace lost opportunities in the Colorado Springs area is now open. The old trail network was lost because of concerns regarding cutthroat trout habitat in the Pikes Peak Ranger District. This project highlights the value of the state OHV grant program and of diverse groups coming together on the issue and overcoming a range of various challenges.

COOP/Collaborative Efforts – The TPA has been one of several active participants in new efforts including the COOP group that was convened by the Governor to try and unite recreational and conservational interests in the state. Preserving multiple use opportunities is our major concern along with addressing challenges like poor forest health, declining budgets and increasing demands.

Bears Ears Monument Designation Review – The TPA was encouraged when Interior Secretary Zinke announced significant reductions in the size of the Bears Ears National Monument that was designated in the waning days of the Obama administration. The TPA believes that the 4.3 million-acre Bear Ears area and some selected other national monument designations may have overstepped the federal law’s provisions by including more than just the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” These reductions ensure opportunities for responsible off-highway recreation are continued. For additional information and a more in-depth discussion on the Bear Ears Designation, below is a web link to the “Year In Review” from our partners in Utah, Ride With Respect/Clif Koontz:

The Colorado 600 is featured in Dirt Rider magazine – Dirt Rider magazine featured a daily report from the TPA’s annual Colorado 600 – Trails Symposium Workshop.  To read the daily reports:

Legislative Issues

Colorado State legislation providing increased protections to clubs performing land stewardship activity on public lands – SB17-100 provides an increased level of liability protection and removes several contracting requirements related to state grants for clubs performing land stewardship activities on public lands. Many clubs were unable to afford or obtain insurance required for OHV grants. This legislation makes it easier for clubs to get insurance at reasonable rates.

BLM Planning 2.0 is withdrawn – The BLM recently developed a new planning process that governed how much of their local planning process (Field Office Resource Plans and similar) would proceed. The TPA along with our partner organizations expressed serious concerns regarding the lack of public input and about the imbalance of resource protection in the planning process. Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton championed a resolution of non-support for the BLM Planning Rule in the US House and this resolution subsequently was passed into law.

HB-1030 allows expanded OHV usage on county roads – COHVCO efforts (with support from the TPA) at the Capitol resulted in passage of legislation (HB 1030) in Colorado expanding usage of OHVs on county roads. County roads often provide important connectivity for trail networks and allow riders to come into cities and towns for fuel, supplies and lodging.

Local communities expand access under HB 1030 – The groundswell of local community support for HB 1030 has been overwhelming as more than two dozen municipalities or counties have opened some or all public roads to OHV usage. Several communities have even chosen to reject proposals that would have closed public roads to OHV traffic.

Endangered Species Act reform – The TPA remains involved in a wide range of efforts to revise and improve the effectiveness of the federal Endangered Species Act. While we all support the goals of the Act, the Act has become a cottage industry for certain anti-access groups to sue land managers. Our efforts/comments have included: 

  1. The TPA was invited to participate in efforts being undertaken by the Western Governors Association (WGA) regarding species conservation and reform of the Endangered Species Act. We were pleased when our comments were adopted into the WGA resolution on ESA reform.
  2. The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently increased the threshold to be achieved in order to petition the Service to list a species as threatened or endangered.
  3. The US Fish and Wildlife service has been revising their internal handling of the ESA petitioning process, which should make it easier to protect species and avoid listing species where the scientific basis is questionable. Your TPA and COHVCO both vigorously supported these efforts.

Federal economic legislation – The TPA, COHVCO and many of our other partners were pleased with the passage of federal legislation (Sponsored by Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner) requiring development of a report to Congress regarding the national economic contribution of outdoor recreation. This report should result in a more accurate calculation of positive economic impact and avoid the undervaluation of recreation on federal lands.

Legal Issues

Pike & San Isabel (PSI) National Forest MVUM Challenge – The first lawsuit was filed on Jan. 31, 2011 by anti-access plaintiffs including the Wilderness Society, the Quiet Use Coalition, Wildlands CPR, the Center for Native Ecosystems and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness regarding the Pike and San Isabel National Forests’ existing Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs). The TPA led the effort to intervene with the USFS to defend this lawsuit as it could impact every MVUM route. These defense expenses are being borne solely by motorcycle advocacy groups/TPA up to this point. This case seeks to remove any trails and/or roads (possibly 30-50 percent of the existing routes) that predated NEPA and were grandfathered in during the development of the MVUMs on ALL six Ranger Districts of the PSI! Per the settlement, an EIS is now being completed that reviews the MVUM routes. (additional info below).

Rico West Delores (RWD) Travel Plan – The TPA and San Juan Trail Riders (SJTR) are challenging the Draft Record of Decision document issued regarding the West Delores/Rico area on the San Juan National Forest. This document simply fails to account for multiple-use recreation and closes some of the best single-track riding in Colorado, despite these trails being in use for almost a century. The TPA and SJTR are once again leading the effort to fight for multiple-use recreation, especially motorcycle single-track trail riding. Currently our appeal is in the administrative review stages. For the most up to date information on this issue can be found at:

The TPA stays actively involved in all ongoing legal issues.

Other Activities

New Colorado Off-Road Motorcycle Clubs – The TPA continues to assist with the establishment of new or reenergized clubs to help advocate for multiple-use recreation and single-track motorcycle trails.  In Salida the Central Colorado Mountain Riders (CCMR, has done an outstanding job getting established and recruiting new members and supporters.  This new club has set a high standard of building relationships and consensus with other trail users in this very popular area and has partnered with their local land mangers.  In Sargents, the Tomichi Trail Riders launched their new club and promises to work closely with the Gunnison Ranger District along with their adjacent motorcycle clubs namely the G.O.A.T.S. and CCMR.  In Western Colorado, the TPA assisted the Westcore Club (Western Colorado Riders & Enthusiasts) to get started and establish itself as a 501(c)3 in the Montrose area.

Pike & San Isabel (PSI) National Forest planning efforts – The TPA remains involved in efforts to develop an alternative to satisfy the lawsuit settlement around existing road designations in the PSI. These efforts would include identifying that the OHV community has contributed almost $1 million in grants for the maintenance of OHV infrastructure in the PSI in the past year. Additionally, the TPA remains steadfast in asserting that re-designating a USFS road to a multiple-use “trail” would satisfy terms of the settlement. Given the fact that roads and the interpretation of the minimum road system (“MRS”) are clearly going to be major challenges in planning efforts on the PSI (and other forests) the TPA is very concerned that any recommended closures would disproportionately impact larger size vehicles and user groups such as full size 4×4, UTVs and side by side users.

Gunnison Public Lands Proposal – The TPA and our local partners are involved in the discussions concerning this Proposal. We are troubled with the direction of the Proposal, even though legislative support appears to be minimal. While several important recreational areas have been removed from possible Wilderness designation, there has been no discussion regarding the designation of these areas in the legislation to protect and preserve these areas for multiple-use recreation, which is a protection that must exist for any area found unsuitable for Wilderness designations. Many areas with motorized use and recreation remain at risk. This Proposal needs significant improvement, with a better balance of uses and diversity of support similar to what was achieved in the Hermosa Watershed legislation.

Rio Grande National (RGNF) Forest Plan Revision – The TPA has been very involved in all phases and aspects of the Rio Grande Forest Plan Revision efforts.  These efforts have resulted in a preferred alternative in the plan that proposes no reductions to motorized access moving forward and recognizes poor forest health is a larger challenge on the forest than multiple-use recreation ever could be. One alternative actually expands access by more than 20 percent in the Forest. The TPA is optimistic about this Forest Plan Revision and has submitted extensive comments supporting the expanded opportunities and opposing development of corridors around the Continental Divide Trail.

The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest Plan Revision – Similar to the RGNF Forest Plan Revision above, the TPA has been very involved in the public meetings regarding the development of the GMUG Forest Plan Revision and have submitted extensive comments on the initial Assessment Reports. Our comments have centered around: 1.) The illegal nature of proposed exclusionary corridors around the Continental Divide Scenic Trail of up to 1/2 mile; 2.) The need to address the exceptionally poor forest health on the GMUG, which is a major challenge to all recreational usage; 3.) Addressing recreational opportunities in the forest to provide high quality experiences for a growing visitor base; 4.) The importance of the CPW OHV grant program in providing these opportunities; 5.) The lack of need for any new Wilderness areas; and 6.) The significant economic contribution of motorized recreation to the communities in and around the GMUG.  The TPA anticipates a draft GMUG Forest Plan Revision in the near future.

Uncompahgre Field Office BLM Resource Plan – The BLM Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO) is developing a new Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Field Office. While the UFO has been providing balanced recreational opportunities in the past, the TPA prepared extensive comments regarding proposed major expansions of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and Wilderness Characteristics areas within the proposal. The TPA remains hopeful these concerns will be resolved and the UFO will continue to provide the high quality multiple-use recreational opportunities it has provided in the past.

White River BLM Resource/Travel Plan – The TPA submitted detailed comments opposing much of the proposed closures and restrictions in this plan, which resulted from major expansions of Wilderness Characteristics Areas (WCA) and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). This Proposal was moving forward under the BLM Planning 2.0 process, which was recently withdrawn. This Proposal was a very good example of our concerns under the new Planning 2.0 process. In 2004, a citizen inventory of ACEC and WCA was submitted, but the BLM never moved on this document. The BLM then chose to adopt the inventory as “objections” to a 2012 Oil and Gas Amendment to a 1990s Plan. Similarly these ACEC and WCA proposals were again included in the travel plan being developed for the local BLM Field Office without required notice to the public.

Efforts to ensure that grant funding is timely and easier for OHV clubs to use – In conjunction with SB17-100 legislation, the TPA and COHVCO worked with CPW to streamline the OHV grant process. This has resulted in grants funds being available to clubs months sooner than before.  CPW OHV grant funds remain a major funding source for multiple-use trail and route construction and maintenance on public lands within Colorado.

Wilderness Proposals – The TPA continues to be heavily involved in the numerous Wilderness proposals that threaten continued recreational access to large portions of the state, including Hidden Gem (and its variations), the San Juan Wilderness proposals and others. The TPA has developed a draft proposal opposing many of the site specific Wilderness Proposals and is seeking to affirmatively protect multiple-use recreation on several of these areas.

Site-specific fees – The TPA along with our other partner organizations has been committed to the future process that will be used to review site-specific fee increases for users of developed recreational sites in Colorado. This has included a significant public review and process being required before any fee increase could be implemented. The TPA has vigorously asserted that the imposition of any “fee for use” of facilities constructed, developed or maintained with OHV grant funding was completely unacceptable to the motorized community, as these programs are already providing approximately $1.25 to federal land managers for every resident of the state. It is unfair to ask the motorized community to increase support further when other recreation groups provide absolutely no funding at all.

Silver Thread Trail – As we reported last year, the BLM Gunnison Field Office has now taken over responsibility of the “Silver Thread” area around Silverton, Eureka and Animas Forks along with the associated high elevation passes.  The TPA continues our discussions with the Field Office to explore re-opening access of two historic single-track trails that were closed to motorized recreation during the late 1980s.  The two routes are Minnie and Maggie Gulches, which are both 4WD roads that turn into single-track trails and could provide access into the Rio Grande National Forest’s Pole Creek area. The proposed plan being discussed is to reopen these trails for a single-track route out of the Animas Forks area back into the Pole Creek area.

NOHVCC Trails handbook – NOHVCC (A national partner of the TPA) has developed an exceptional reference for land managers, which is a 300-page color manual directed at the development and maintenance of motorized routes and trails. The TPA secured 100 copies of this handbook and is donating them to land managers throughout Colorado. This document is available for download free of charge at:

Taylor Pass closure to camping – The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest’s leaders are proposing to close the Irwin area, north of Crested Butte, and the Tincup area, southeast of Taylor Reservoir to dispersed camping from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Camping will still be allowed at the Lake Irwin and Mirror Lake campgrounds. The closures result from an increasing number of dispersed campers, expansion of user-created roads and spurs and successional occupation during the summer months. Additionally, increased use of motor vehicles off the designated roads, trailers and motorhomes with associated group camping are causing impacts. The TPA and others were vigorously opposed to this Proposal and recommend that alternatives to be developed to avoid closure.  In this same area, the TPA is also working diligently to mitigate closure of the road to the Alpine Tunnel and restore motorized access to this popular and historic landmark.

Travel Management should be properly balanced with other issues facing land managers – The TPA was alarmed when several national groups, including some motorized user groups, took the position that completing travel management plans should remain a priority for land managers. The TPA opposed travel management being arbitrarily elevated above other management concerns, which have more significant impact than travel management could ever be. Land managers must be able to prioritize threats based on the scale of the threats rather than to conform to an arbitrary national objective.

An example of why elevating travel management above other concerns would be detrimental is the recent research showing the extremely poor forest health in Colorado (which found 9 percent of all trees in Colorado are dead!). The poor forest health greatly increases the risk of loss to recreational usage of these lands due to catastrophic wildfire. Managers should be allowed to look at threats to public lands in relation to the priority of threats and not illogically react to concerns of a particular user group(s).

Federal Legislation on permits GO ACT (HR 289) and RNR (HR3400) – The TPA along with other organizations has provided extensive comments on both the GO Act and the Recreation Not Red Tape Act (RNR). The TPA supported the GO act, which would greatly streamline the permitting process for events on federal lands and provide these permits in a more efficient and effective manner but had concerns on the RNR.  Concerns were reduced when the GO Act was merged into the RNR.

Milk Creek Trail Access Closure, Gunnison National Forest – A new landowner has closed a historic access (across private property) to the Milk Creek Trail on the Gunnison National Forest.  Lost access has shut out the public from some very popular and historic OHV trails. The three local motorcycle clubs in Salida, Sargents and Gunnison along with leadership by the TPA are all working in concert with the USFS to reestablish access to these important recreational (e.g., single-track) opportunities.

The TPA also continues to work with the Rio Grande National Forest in the ongoing effort to protect the Vietnam War Memorial on the top of Sargents Mesa.

Grand Junction Area Coordinator – The TPA has established an onsite representative for the TPA to work with the BLM Field Office and local clubs on a strategic multiple-use single-track and motorcycle recreational plan to help avoid development of other myopic master plans that benefit only single user groups.  This effort to develop a strategic plan was specifically requested from the TPA by the BLM Field Office.  This will be a unique partnership for the TPA and our local associates to provide our collective expertise to improve riding opportunities in the Grand Junction area.

Representing Motorcycle Trail Riding and OHV Recreation During 2017, TPA representatives have traveled to and attended hundreds of separate meetings to represent the interests of off-road motorcyclists and OHV recreation.  These meetings have included the USFS Federal, Regional, Forest and District Ranger offices, BLM State and Field Offices, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) staff, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Regional Outdoor Recreational Organizations (e.g., PPORA), local and state elected officials, City/Town staffs, County staffs, Regional Roundtables, Manufacturers, OHV clubs and local organizations, and we attended numerous Outdoor Recreation Conferences and Symposia.

Additionally, TPA representatives traveled to Washington, DC twice this year to discuss a wide range of topics with the new administration and elected officials including the illegality of corridors around national trails, Wilderness study area releases and many other topics outlined in this document.

Governor’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation Council – The TPA continued to serve as a representative for OHV recreation on Governor Hickenlooper’s Outdoor Recreation Council.  This working group seeks to leverage the value of the entire outdoor recreational community within the state of Colorado.

  • The TPA is the primary OHV rep for the entire state on this council.
  • The TPA is working directly with CPW and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to promote OHV recreation and increase opportunities and access for motorized recreation.
  • The TPA is shouldering the responsibility to represent all motorized and OHV recreational interests in campaigning for equal access, recognition and resources in response to the Statewide Trails Strategic Plan. The TPA fought diligently, but unsuccessfully, to include at least one OHV trail in the Governor’s 16 Highest Trail Projects.  Be assured the TPA will not give up and continues to fight for, and be your advocate for motorized recreation.

Various Other Activities and Projects:

  • The TPA actively supported many OHV organizations in their requests for $4.2 million in Colorado Parks & Wildlife OHV grants and other funding.
  • The TPA advised and worked with the Mile-Hi Jeep Club as a consultant to the club’s project to reopen the Rollins Pass/Wagon Route to OHV recreation.
  • The TPA remains committed to efforts addressing routes in the Wildcat Canyon/Hayman fire area. Reopening of routes in this area has been deferred by the Pike San Isabel National Forest Travel Management Plan EIS. Completion of the EIS may allow the reopening of these important routes to move forward.
  • The TPA supported the San Juan Trail Riders (SJTR) throughout the development of the Rico/West Dolores Ranger District’s Draft Record of Decision and Environmental Assessment.

Major Projects for 2018

The following list of projects will be the emphasis and focus for the TPA in 2018.  Projects marked with the “*” are projects that the TPA considers to be critical to the future and sport of off-road motorcycle riding and OHV recreation is Colorado:

  • Welcome three new members to the TPA’s Board of Directors (BoD) and amend the individual responsibilities of the BoD. In 2018 each BoD member will have specific duties and responsibilities for helping to improve TPA operations and increase our fund reserves for ongoing and anticipated future legal actions.
  • Expand specilized consultant services to better achieve TPA’s mission and improve our collective expertise in saving the sport.
  • *Support to the San Juan Trail Riders (SJTR) for the Rico/West Dolores Ranger District’s Travel Management Draft Record of Decision (ROD)*
  • *Pike & San Isabel National Forest*
    • Implementation plan for the Pike San Isabel National Forest Travel Management Plan Environmental Impact Study (EIS)
    • Development of the subsequent Travel Management Plan (TMP)
  • *Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF), Forest Plan Revision*
    • Forest Plan Revision
    • Development of the subsequent Travel Management Plan (TMP)
  • *Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest, Forest Plan Revision*
    • Forest Plan Revision
    • Development of the subsequent Travel Management Plan (TMP)
  • Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium (9-14 September, 2018See the TPA website for additional information)
  • Increase TPA’s interaction and coordination with the BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office to promote and increase opportunities for motorized recreation.
  • Continue to pursue opportunities to establish local clubs that build and foster relationships between local riders with each and every USFS District and BLM Field Office throughout Colorado.
  • Participation in Governor’s Office, Outdoor Recreation Council
  • Support for the South Fork Enduro


The TPA has continued to make donations to organizations and clubs working in tandem with the TPA. These organizations include:

  • Outdoor Recreation Business Association (ORBA) membership
  • Blue Ribbon Coalition Legal Fund
  • Chain saw purchases for local motorcycle clubs
  • Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO)
  • Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association (CMTRA)
  • Tomichi Trail Riders (TTR)
  • Rio Grande National Forest
  • Motorcycle Trail Riders Association
  • Ride With Respect (Moab, UT)
  • The Central Colorado Mountain Riders (CCMR), Salida


2017 was another successful and productive year for the TPA and our efforts to lead and represent off-road motorcycle recreation, multiple-use and OHV recreation. 2017 was our 13th year as an organization and our 11th year as an IRS-approved 501c3 organization. The TPA could not have done this on our own and we certainly owe our accomplishments in 2017 to our many sponsors and volunteers! The importance of the TPA’s effort cannot be overstated, as the results of our work will effect motorized access to our public lands for decades to come.  The TPA is especially grateful to all of the volunteer efforts provided by the Sidewinders Motorcycle Club of Texas in their support of the Colorado 600, to the local motorcycle club officers that lead and manage the collection of OHV clubs across the state, to the many local volunteers that advocate so passionately with their land managers, and to all of you who provide the increasingly necessary funding that keeps the TPA functioning.

The Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium ( has been our most significant fundraising activity over the years and will continue in a similar format and program for 2018 (2018 event dates: 9-14 September).

The TPA appreciates our ongoing multi-year support agreement with KLIM ( Having the support of the #1 Off-Road apparel manufacturer has been a major endorsement of the TPA mission!

The TPA is also very grateful for the sustained generous support provided by Rocky Mountain ATV/MC    ( who continue to be a major financial supporter of our work.

We are also extremely thankful to our corporate sponsors, KTM USA, Motion Pro, Dunlop Motorcycle Tires and Slavens Racing, along with all of the TPA donations provided by individuals, riders and other off-road businesses that have supported the TPA for years!

The TPA continues to be a volunteer-led organization, putting the vast majority of our annual donations to direct use in saving our sport and recreational activities. The TPA Board of Directors thanks all of our supporters: individual, corporate and the clubs. Without their support and your donations we could not enjoy all of the accomplishments that we have achieved thus far. The future will undoubtedly continue to demand our collective teamwork, vigilance, resolve and dedication, and donations.

Please contact us for suggestions concerning how you can help with the ongoing work TPA is pursuing on your behalf to save our sport in the Rocky Mountain Region.

The TPA Board of Directors

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2017 Ride With Respect Year in Review

Reprinted with permission 
Ride with Respect Year in Review 2017

Another year, another handful of trails improved. In 2017, Ride with Respect (RwR) contributed three-and-a-half-thousand hours of quality work to public lands. Also, when land-management lawsuits came to Moab and administrative actions came to Monticello, RwR tried to promote moderation and cooperation.

With so much activity in 2017, we’ll need to raise several-thousand dollars just to start 2018 in the black. You can make tax-deductible contributions by sending a check to Ride with Respect, 395 McGill Avenue, Moab, Utah 84532.

Already we’ve had over thirty donors and a hundred volunteers. A Polaris TRAILS grant entirely funded our construction of the new Tri Tip ATV loop south of White Wash. New support also came from the Off-Road Business Association, plus long-standing support from Utah State Parks, Grand County, and the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) based in Colorado.

Below are seven highlights of what trail riders can accomplish when we work together.

Tri Tip ATV loop at Dubinky

Tenmile Point is a bit of a sand box, and the Five Miles of Whoops were severely braided. Fortunately, north of there lies a slickrock expanse where RwR constructed seven miles of 52″-wide trail that forms a loop with three prongs to connect Red Wash Road with Dead Cow Loop and the Midway access of Tenmile Canyon. For vehicles wider than 52″ to make the same connection, we marked some primitive roads as Tenmile Point 4WD route. Finally we blocked off three miles of the Five Miles Of Whoops for a net gain of four miles. We should credit the wilderness-expansion groups for not appealing the project because, even though it’s located a few miles away from Labyrinth Canyon, this proximity does require a degree of accommodation. Most of the project involved installing a couple-hundred metal signs across the slickrock so that Tri Tip doesn’t need to be painted in perpetuity. In addition to supplying these signs, the BLM provided a compressor to drill the holes. This project was also made possible by Polaris Industries.

Campsites near Sovereign Trail

Although trails remain the focus of RwR, their immediate surroundings sometimes have issues where we can help. Particularly along Willow Spring Road, camping has become extremely popular. To start managing this use more closely, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration contracted RwR to fence the boundary of a dozen campsites that needed delineation. We also fenced off areas to prevent the proliferation of new sites. Finally we closed a dozen campsites that were either in the flood zone of Courthouse Wash, in a tributary wash, or in a drainage structure of the graded road. While there are still dozens of established sites available to camp in along Willow Spring Road, and dozens more along Dalton Wells and Klondike Bluffs roads, they are full during peak weeks in spring and fall. So be prepared to camp even further from Moab by following the BLM rules and minimum-impact practices: As an alternative to remote camping, you could also pay for a place nearby, like Green River to the north or our friends at 3 Step Hideaway to the south.

La Sal and Abajo cattle guards

In the past decade, RwR has installed a dozen cattle guards, mostly in the La Sal and Abajo Mountains. They offer convenience for trail users and a piece of mind for ranchers that their cattle won’t be lost due to an open gate. However, cattle learned how to cross these guards, so we modified them by adding side rails, a sheet-metal base, and narrower gaps between cross rails. The 5″ gaps are narrow enough to discourage cattle but still wide enough that any cattle attempting to pass can free themselves and back out. Finally we relayed these fun lessons in physiology and psyCOWlogy to the cattle-guard manufacturer who is refining his design so that no one else has to work on these products in such remote spots.

Mel’s Loop reroutes SW of Rabbit Valley

Mel’s loop is somewhat isolated from the trail system of Utah Rims along the Colorado border. Across the Westwater boat-ramp road, riders had been connecting from Utah Rims to Mel’s Loop via Westwater Wash, which is a riparian corridor for wildlife. RwR routed riders away from the wash to the new South Link singletrack along a rim to reach Mel’s Loop. Further southwest, where Mel’s Loop crossed private property, the owner generously assisted RwR in rerouting closer to the railroad tracks. Although the new route is loose, it will compact somewhat over the seasons, and will make Mel’s loop a couple miles longer. In fact, the BLM graciously permitted RwR to construct singletrack parallel to Kokopelli’s Trail rather than simply following the doubletrack. In this way, the new part of Mel’s Loop and South Link could be used by motorcyclists and bicyclists who seek a more challenging version of Kokopelli’s Trail. Special thanks to the Buzzards MC, the Bookcliff Rattlers MC, and especially to the MTRA of Grand Junction for recruiting a total of 52 volunteer days!

Tread Lightly’s “Respect and Protect” campaign

To include OHV riders in its campaign about preserving cultural resources, Tread Lightly invited RwR to its video shoot in Sego Canyon:

RwR suggested the locations and provided riders for Tread Lightly to film. We think the video turned out well, conveying the valuable and irreplaceable nature of archaeological and paleontological sites. We commend Tread Lightly for incorporating local OHV groups into its educational products. Over the last few years, Tread Lightly has strengthened its staff to start reaching an OHV audience more effectively. It’s our job as riders to help distribute responsible-riding materials consistently, whether it’s coming from Tread Lightly, NOHVCC, or Stay The Trail Colorado. Remember that education is a little cheaper than trail work and a lot cheaper than law enforcement, although all of these tools are key ingredients. The surge in side-by-sides brings more people and, in particular, more people who are new to the backcountry. Let’s spread the riding ethic to conserve access, not mention conserving the land, itself!

Settlement of BLM resource management plans

RwR proudly assisted BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) to create a path forward for the resource management plans (RMP’s) that govern BLM land across the southeast half of Utah. Along with the TPA and COHVCO, BRC intervened in the case, and thoroughly consulted a few key OHV advocates statewide. Together we ensured a fighting chance to maintain equitable access of public lands. BRC’s press release includes links to the settlement:

A decade ago, most BLM land was completely open to motorized travel anywhere. RMP revisions limited OHV riding to designated routes, and their new travel plans closed half of the existing 4WD, ATV, and motorcycle trails. Although this loss of access was a tough pill to swallow, RwR has spent several-thousand hours helping BLM implement and refine its travel plans. Meanwhile, wilderness-expansion groups sued the BLM for not restricting OHV’s and other uses even further. Although the court ruled in favor of the BLM on most counts, it ruled adversely on a few others, primarily because BLM didn’t sufficiently document the evidence and rationale for its otherwise-reasonable decisions.

This ruling forced BLM to hemorrhage millions of dollars (e.g. paying archaeologists to survey every designated route by foot, even old mining roads) in order to keep its routes open. With the appeal process stalled, and the settlement process open to intervenors like OHV groups along with the state and counties, we tried turning lemons into lemonade. Draft after draft, BRC et al. proposed changes not only to benefit public access, but also to allow for effective management. The wilderness-expansion groups wisely accepted a couple dozen meaningful revisions, earning our support of the final agreement.

Although the final agreement was unsuccessfully challenged by the state and counties, it doesn’t diminish their role during the implementation of this settlement. In fact, recently BRC et al. consulted the affected counties when commenting on areas that BLM must reconsider for ACEC evaluation as part of the settlement. The settlement requires BLM to do more analysis, but it doesn’t dictate a decision. The settlement makes BLM’s procedures more cumbersome for the six affected RMP’s, but it doesn’t set precedent for subsequent RMP’s or other field offices. These procedures may not be a model of pragmatic management, but under the circumstances, they are a prudent compromise. Most of all, the settlement fully vacates the court’s previous ruling against BLM, so the agency is no longer forced to choose between immediate closure or immediate archaeological survey for every mile of route on its travel plans.

What does all of this mean for OHV riders? Basically the BLM must redo half of its travel plans, and it’s the “good” half, which includes Labyrinth Rims (i.e. all the trail between Moab and Green River), the San Rafael Swell, Factory Butte, and Hog Canyon (see PDF pages 37-43 of agreement). These areas have different deadlines, ranging from two years to eight years (see PDF pages 7-8 of agreement). We stand to lose hundreds of trails, but if we step up to the plate, we could keep the vast majority of trails and even add news ones (whether previously-closed trails or better-yet brand new ones with proper design). The wilderness-expansion groups are banking on the redo resulting in many trail closures, but most of the trail access can be defended again, and we should think outside the box for new trails (especially to improve the connectivity of current trail systems).

As you can imagine, the next few years will take all hands on deck, from local clubs to state and national organizations. Primarily we can help BLM with this larger workload by inventorying the routes and monitoring the conditions. We need to obtain inventory data from the BLM and counties, then GPS any routes that they missed. An incomplete inventory is the kiss of death for a travel plan, and BLM may refuse to accept route data later on in the process, so the time to GPS routes is now. Keep in mind that the current travel rules are still in effect, so obtain BLM travel maps (available from BLM and some county-tourism websites), and stay on designated routes when traveling by vehicle.

Signing a settlement with traditional adversaries is no one’s idea of a good time, but we appreciate BRC et al. for soliciting RwR’s input. This experience gave us confidence that they made the right call.

Bears Ears National Monument

Across the nation, politics seems to be getting more melodramatic, and the two million acres from Moab down to Mexican Hat was no exception. RwR has done a couple-thousand hours of trail work there, mainly on the northeast side of the Abajo Mountains, where there are few significant archaeological sites, and where motorcycle and non-motorized trail users seem to appreciate our contribution.

The area is already “protected” to varying degrees, and after three years of developing a comprehensive land-use bill, in 2016 the Utah Public Lands Initiative (UPLI) was poised to “protect” the area even further, along with a stronger Native American influence on management of the area, and modest assurances to secure recreational access and other land uses where appropriate. Despite offering a quadruple “win,” wilderness-expansion groups rejected any compromise in favor of unilateral action. Unfortunately most mainstream conservation groups went along, which convinced the majority of Congress to discard the PLI rather than refining it. For details, please see RwR’s 2016 year in review:

As promised, after election season had passed, the Obama administration proclaimed a 1.35 million-acres of BLM and USFS land as Bears Ears National Monument (BENM). The boundary generally followed a couple NCA’s proposed by the UPLI, but the proclamation included none of the measures to conserve OHV access, let alone any of the other OHV assurances that the UPLI had offered beyond its NCA’s. The monument offered no substantial increase for Native American influence, and it reduced the influence of local residents and elected officials who are most affected. Most of all, the monument went beyond the Antiquities Act authority to proclaim monuments, “the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” The 1.35 million-acre BENM covered many areas without significant cultural sites and many areas with significant OHV trails, including some of the motorized singletrack and ATV trails that RwR has cared for. This proclamation was an enormous setback for the resolution of many issues on public lands.

Fortunately the new Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, reviewed all of the really-large national monuments proclaimed within the last two decades. Having spent twenty-million dollars campaigning for BENM, wilderness-expansion groups then campaigned to misinform the public about this review process. To clear things up, RwR’s executive director wrote his personal perspective for the American Motorcyclist Association:

Unlike our previous Interior secretary, the new one provided a formal public-input period to give every American the opportunity to submit comments that would be documented, and RwR participated. Predictably, the vast majority of comments opposed scaling back the most controversial monuments, but the vast majority of them were based upon several false premises. Secretary Zinke listened to reason over volume when recommending that BENM be scaled back while urging Congress to actually increase Native American influence and actually increase archaeological preservation through budgetary support.

On December 4th, the Trump administration shrunk BENM to 200,000 acres, comprised of two main units called Indian Creek and Shash Jaa, which is Navajo for Bears Ears. The majority of excluded acreage is already “protected” through other designations. These other protections include several wilderness study areas, as shown on this map: The map does not show additional designations, such as Valley Of The Gods, which is currently “protected” as an Area Of Critical Environmental Concern. Beyond all of these designations, what little acreage is left simply doesn’t warrant the sort of emergency action that monument proclamations were intended to be.

Since the 200,000-acre BENM focuses on areas that weren’t already “protected,” it certainly encompasses valuable OHV trails that are in jeopardy of closure when management plans are approved for the monument within about five years. In the Shash Jaa unit are 4WD trails like Texas Flat and Hotel Rock. In the Indian Creek Unit are motorized singletracks like Shay Mountain and Indian Creek leading up to the USFS trail system. These routes provide outstanding OHV opportunities and key connectivity, but RwR is willing to resolve any new management issues by doing trail work or even rerouting as needed. Unlike the overwhelming nature of a 1.35 million-acre BENM, the current Shash Jaa and Indian Creek units are concentrated enough that we can adapt. They still might constrain OHV riding, but not constrict it completely, RwR is willing to work in good faith to help protect the monument’s resources for all visitors.

More myths about the 200,000-acre BENM are dispelled in the infamous Zephyr, which advocates expanding wilderness designations yet critiques the tactics of wilderness-expansion groups that have emerged over the last couple decades:
Most members of the public haven’t even heard these myth busters, so they don’t even question claims that scaling back BENM would harm antiquities, harm natural resources, and “get this“ harm recreational access. While it is theoretically possible for a monument proclamation to bolster recreational access, the 1.35 million-acre BENM didn’t do so. On public lands, there’s an inherent tension between preservation versus access, and we can certainly debate the right balance point. But we can’t debate the fact that “protected” areas have traditionally reduced access. To claim otherwise is to one-up George Orwell on doublespeak.

Another Zephyr article highlights the need for more law enforcement to protect archaeological resources:

We agree, and point out that actively managing recreation is another key ingredient, which is often relatively inexpensive and effective. After all, in the Twenty-first Century, deliberate looting is far less common while inadvertent impacts are far more common, as recreation use grows. As RwR has proven in partnership with federal and state agencies, most activities can be managed well with thoughtful planning and thorough implementation. Plus, putting recreation technicians out there in the field provides a management presence. This realization is shared by most people who spend time on the land, yet it gets lost when polarization escalates into a turf war. Reestablishing a middle ground may help to identify common solutions on the ground.

U.S. Representative John Curtis has taken a stab at resolution by introducing a bill covering the 200,000-acre BENM to increase (a) law enforcement, (b) funding that could cover recreation management, and (c) Native American influence actual decision-making rather than mere consultation. It would also effectively ban mining over the 1.35 million-acre area previously proclaimed as BENM. He’ll have an uphill battle, as some on both sides prefer to let litigation play out. However it could take years for the courts to truly settle whether either of the administrative actions “proclaiming a 1.35 million-acre BENM or subsequently scaling it back“ were legal in the first place. Regardless of the outcome, the scaling back gives mega-monument advocates a taste of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of sweeping administrative action:

It’s only a taste because scaling back BENM leaves only a small chance that the 1.35 million-acre area would be developed imprudently, whereas implementing a 1.35 million-acre BENM leaves a large chance that the best OHV trails would be closed, not to mention all the other BLM and USFS land at risk of monument proclamation every four to eight years. That risk has risen exponentially since passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906, as monument proclamations have proliferated despite that there’s less and less land not already “protected,” not to mention that all federal lands have become more restricted with each passing decade.

Even if the judicial branch rejects the executive scaling back of BENM, it’s in everyone’s interest to reform the Antiquities Act legislatively. Only through this reform will multiple-use and access advocates take interest in compromise because they would know that such an agreement couldn’t be trumped by another mega-monument. In the absence of our modern laws and agencies, the Antiquities Act was designed for emergency action to protect archaeological sites. Now it’s being used overtly to protect “cultural landscapes” and covertly to break the promises of FLPMA, the organic act of the modern BLM. When the federal government reversed its policy of selling BLM land to a policy of “retention” in 1976, it promised to ensure local input and an inclusive form of conservation through several measures:

These pillars have steadily eroded and are on the brink of crumbling if the mega-monument trend is not reigned in. Inclusive conservation matters because it allows people to use and connect with the land in their own way without encroaching on another’s right to do the same. Local input matters because nearby residents have a greater stake and are more familiar with their surroundings than the average person living a thousand miles away.

For example, a million-acre monument campaign sounds great from a distance because it is viewed in the abstract, so “the more land, the better.” In fact, though, it wouldn’t create more land. The proposed boundaries encompass existing places with existing uses that would be displaced or, without alternative locations, simply extinguished. Applying the name Bears Ears to everything that’s west of U.S. 191 and southeast of Canyonlands / Glen Canyon NRA down to the edge of the Navajo reservation would make sense to anyone looking at the area from a map of U.S. highways. It makes less sense to people looking at the area from their backyards. That’s why the Bears Ears campaign was less effective in San Juan County despite saturating social media, traditional outlets, and outdoor-clothing catalogs. Yet the campaign succeeded in persuading the only person needed, and that is the person who signed the proclamation. So you can understand the local impulse to transfer federal lands into state hands. However, the land-transfer movement would be rendered moot by simply honoring the intent of the Antiquities Act, FLPMA, and the balance between state and federal government.

At first blush, this allusion to federalism might sound like geographic tribalism, which former president Bill Clinton recently warned against: Read the New York Times Article: Bill Clinton: Americans Must Decide Who We Really Are 

He writes “All too often, tribalism based on race, religion, sexual identity and place of birth has replaced inclusive nationalism in which you can be proud of your tribe and still embrace the larger American community.” Indeed, combining this tribal diversity with a common thread of national identity creates a sort of Venn diagram of links that strengthen our society. He continues “Twenty-five years ago, when I was elected president, I said that every American should follow our Constitutional framers’ command to form a more perfect union, to constantly expand the definition of ‘us’ and shrink the definition of ‘them.’ I still believe that. Because I do, I favor policies that promote cooperation over conflict and build an economy, a society and a politics of addition not subtraction, multiplication not division.”

Let’s apply this ideal to President Clinton’s proclamation of a 1.88 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in 1996. Most states have very little federal land within their borders, and they hold a majority in Washington, D.C. In contrast, Utah is comprised primarily of federal lands, and this kind of state is the minority. In effect, not only is Utah’s influence diminished in its own state, but also in D.C. In other words, non-federally dominated states have the most influence within their own borders AND within the borders of federally dominated states. If the non-federally dominated states were exposed to an overreach of the Antiquities Act, the law would be reformed in a New York minute. This disparity between states was only furthered by President Clinton’s proclamation of GSENM. In theory it benefited the nation, but in practice, it benefited the non-federally dominated states. It had a guise of nationalism, but an effect of tribalism. Over twenty years later, perhaps President Clinton will realize that ensuring a more equal footing for states like Utah would be the way to form a more perfect union.

These days, self-reflection is more scarce than antiquities, which makes it refreshing to see another Zephyr article about “standing in the other man’s shoes”:

While this level of candor has alienated the editor from wilderness-expansion groups, it’s courageous, and desperately needed among the shrinking field of journalism (which compels us to pay for content from the Zephyr and High Country News to Range Magazine or something in between). While his first 500 words poignantly summarize how we wound up with a BENM, the subsequent 5,000 words explore his own role in the current dysfunction, and therein lies the recipe for resolution. If politicians, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens followed this trail, where would it lead?

Meanwhile, on the literal trails, RwR will continue to focus on maintenance and education with great appreciation for our supporters, partners, and the public lands.


Clif Koontz
Executive Director
Ride with Respect
435-259-8334 land
201-741-0361 cell

Ride with Respect - 2017 Year in Review


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Rio Grande National Forest Plan Revision

  Rio Grande National Forest Plan Revision

Rio Grande National Forest
Attn: Forest Plan Revision Team
1803 W. Highway 160
Monte Vista, Co 81144

LivRE: Rio Grande National Forest Plan Revision 

Dear Supervisor Dallas:

Please accept these comments on the Rio Grande National Forest Plan Revision Project (“the Proposal”) on behalf of the Trails Preservation Alliance (“TPA”), Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) and the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”).   TPA, CSA and COHVCO vigorously support Alternative C of the Proposal due to this Alternative having the fewest categories for area management in the RMP, which we believe will greatly expand public understanding of the Proposal and provide significant long-term flexibility for the Rio Grande planning area moving forward. The flexibility of Alternative C of the Proposal is expanded by the fact that this Alternative provides the most flexibility for management moving forward as this provides the most multiple use opportunities.  This expanded opportunity will allow for more site specific planning in the future, and the Organizations are aware that in site specific planning restricting access can be easily accomplished but amended a forest plan to expand opportunities has been almost impossible.  Organizations are vigorously opposed to Alternative D due to its complexity and the fact that it functionally ties the hands of land managers dealing with the poor forest health that has become far too common in Colorado.

Prior to addressing our specific concerns on the Proposal, the Organizations believe a brief summary of each Organization is necessary to provide context to the comments. The TPA is a volunteer organization created to be a viable partner to public lands managers, working with the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of trail riding and multi-use recreation.  The TPA acts as an advocate for the sport and takes the necessary action to insure that the USFS and BLM allocate a fair and equitable percentage of public lands access to diverse multi-use recreational opportunities. COHVCO is a grassroots advocacy organization representing approximately 230,000 registered off-highway vehicle (“OHV”) users in Colorado seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of multi-use and 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.  Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) was founded in 1970 to unite winter motorized recreationists across the state to enjoy their passion as reflected by the more than 30,000 registered users in the State.  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.  TPA, CSA and COHVCO are referred to collectively in this correspondence as “The Organizations.”

Prior to addressing the specific concerns regarding the development of the Rio Grande National Forest’s new Resource Management Plan (RMP), the Organizations would like to thank the Rio Grande National Forest staff for their efforts to date in the planning process.  The Organizations are aware that the Rio Grande National Forest is one of the first forests to move forward under the new United States Forest Service (USFS) planning rule and at this time USFS guidance regarding the application of the new planning rule to local forests or planning units remains under development.  This lack of planning rule clarity compounds the inherent conflict that exists between current forest planning timeline and the rate at which species management and research are progressing.  This lack of clarity has made any efforts on the Rio Grande difficult at best as there are many new concepts and principals developed under the planning rule that will heavily impact plan development.  The Organizations believe that the efforts to date have done a commendable job in satisfying these new requirements and standards and the Organizations remain willing to assist in resolution of any issues that might arise on this front in any way that we can.

1a. The reduced size of the Plan will build public support and result in a Plan that remains relevant and guides subsequent planning efforts.

The Organizations are supportive of the significant reduction in the overall size of the Proposal and reduction in the number of management categories in the Proposal, when compared to the current management Plan.  This is an important step towards building public support and understanding for both the Plan and management efforts in the future.  When any site specific has been undertaken under the current RMP, too often the public has simply been overwhelmed by the number of categories that are applied in the current RMP. The large number of planning categories is a barrier to public understanding of any planning efforts as most of the public do not have the time and resources to undertake even a basic review of the categories and how they are related to various aspects of any site specific plan or concern they may have. If the public is able to understand a plan they can support it.   If an RMP is too large or complex, the public will oppose the plan, regardless of how effective the Plan may be or how the Plan supports or addresses any concern of that member of the public.

Often simple projects being undertaken in site specific planning, involve a large number of management categories in the planning area and each of these planning categories must be addressed in any site specific efforts to insure that the project conforms to each of these management standards.  This is simply time consuming and expensive. A significant reduction in the number of management categories will streamline future site specific planning efforts and allow managers to address issues with what has consistently become a growingly smaller amount of resources.

1b. Overly specific plans result in significant additional costs over the life of the RMP and often result in standards that are a barrier to the forest addressing challenges on the ground.

The Organizations have also experienced the unintended consequences of an aging and overly specific forest plan when undertaking site specific planning.   Any subsequent site specific planning ends up being very long and complex in order to address the numerous standards in the plan.  This challenge is further compounded by the fact that often the basis and understanding for a particular standard are lost with the passage of time.  As a result those undertaking site specific planning with an aging RMP are forced to develop overly specific analysis in their document as they are unable to understand the basis or concerns that a standard was to address.  As a result, planners often end up analyzing every possible alternative or theory for a standard rather than being able to address relevant standards and avoid addressing standards that are unrelated to a particular project or issue.

As Rio Grande planners are now painfully aware of as a result of the La Garita Timber sale efforts, overly specific analysis in a forest plan can become a serious barrier to addressing significant challenges on the Forest such as the Mountain Pine Beetle and Spruce Beetle outbreak. Too often areas were found to be unsuitable for timber harvest or managed for uses often unrelated to forest health and have included standards such as 15% treatment limitations in certain management areas. [1] After a review of the RMP, absolutely no basis is provided for how the 15% treatment ceiling was developed or what management issue the 15% standard was thought to be addressing.   The Organizations submit that these are exactly the types of standards that should be addressed in site specific planning and represent standards that should be removed, if possible, from the new RMP.  The insertion of standards that can’t be explained does not streamline planning and more efficiently use resources, but rather ties the hands of managers and provide a significant barrier to public understanding.

In addition to merely requiring more paperwork, any overly specific standards on issues that really are not suitable for inclusion in landscape level planning have placed a significant strain on the budgets of land managers, which have significantly constricted since the 1990’s.  The Organizations do not anticipate a significant change in this long term funding trend and as a result future managers will be forced to undertake similar levels of management with lower levels of funding that ever before.  While this is unfortunate, there is simply no basis to believe this will alter over the life of the next RMP.  A streamlined and efficient planning document would ease this burden and allow limited resources to be directed to on the ground issues.

1c. Landscape level planning should address landscape level issues to insure the RMP remains relevant over its life.

Again the Organizations are thrilled that the Rio Grande NF is moving forward with the development of landscape level standards that are related to landscape level challenges in their planning efforts.  This will significantly impact both the total number of categories and specificity of each category, and this will have an important long term benefit, mainly the RMP will simply remain more relevant to the management of the forest over the plans life and will result in site specific efforts undertaken in the future that are more streamlined as well.

The Organizations have been involved in numerous site specific efforts with the Rio Grande staff and it has been our experience that the RMP being replaced was more of a barrier to projects towards the end of its life than a document that really provided relevant guidance for site specific efforts. This was problematic at best and resolving these issues in site specific planning was often complicated by the fact that the reasoning for many of the specific standards in the outgoing RMP were simply unclear or had been entirely forgotten.  This simply generated more paperwork and efforts in site specific efforts, as planners felt the need to address every variable that could have contributed to the standard being in the plan in order to make the site specific plan defensible if it was challenged.  With a reduced number of categories, site specific planning should be able to become more streamlined and efficient in the future.

The negative impacts of a landscape level plan that is simply too complex and too specific has  had significant impacts on management of major challenges on the Forest, such as the forest ability to deal with Mountain Pine beetle and Spruce Beetle that have decimated the Rio Grande and most other public lands in the Western United State.  For reasons that have been long ago forgotten and are simply no longer relevant, the current RMP has numerous provisions that significantly limited manager’s ability to respond to the outbreak of these pests.  While the impacts from species certainly could not have been stopped, a streamlined and general forest plan would have allowed managers to respond in a more rapid and timely manner to these challenges and mitigate the impacts to forest health from these species outbreaks.  Clearly there will be challenges to forest management being faced later in the Proposals life that managers simply cannot envision at this time.  The impacts from these challenges could be minimized with a Proposal that is as simple and streamlined as possible.

1d. Recent Dept. of Interior national guidance on significant reductions in the size of EIS is highly timely relative to Rio Grande efforts.

The Bureau of Land Management has been vigorously addressing the unnecessary scope and burden of planning documents on the limited resources of land managers, and this new guidance from the BLM is highly relevant to USFS efforts on the Rio Grande.  While many were shocked at the exceptionally small size of the Proposal and associated documents, under new BLM guidance the Rio Grande effort has resulted documents that are unacceptably long.  On August 31, 2017, Secretarial Order 3355[2] was issued by the DOI mandating that all EIS are limited to 150 pages and that a variance from this standard would only be granted in exceptional circumstances.  While the Rio Grande planners are not bound by this Order, the factual importance and basic relevance simply cannot be overstated, and clearly the current Proposal would have to be reduced even further from its current streamlined form to become compliant with this guidance.

2a. Three Challenges should be identified in the Proposal and then any standards in the Proposal reviewed to insure they are not impeding management of these issues.

An important component of landscape level planning is the fact that the RMP should provide general guidance on goals for the forest and challenges in achieving these goals in order to streamline subsequent site specific planning on the forest in the most efficient manner possible. The Organizations submit that DOI Secretarial Order 3355 provides a good basis to review the current Proposal in order to obtain further clarity and streamlining in RMP provisions, as the document clearly identifies that the DOI seeks to have any EIS limited to 150 pages in length.

The Organizations commend the RGNF for identifying three major goals for the Forest moving forward, as this is an important first step in the planning process.  While public presentations regarding the Rio Grande Plan did identify three major goals for the forest moving forward[3], these goals are not clearly identified in the RMP.  The Organizations are concerned that if the goals and objectives of the forest plan are not clearly identified, these concerns will be lost over time which could lead to planning that may seek to address other goals in the future.  As these are landscape level goals for the Forest, the Organizations do not see this landscape level guidance as a barrier to future planning but rather as providing an important tool for the guidance of these plans.  The Organizations would encourage planners to insert these goals into the RMP with some specificity in order to provide some context and understanding of these goals for future managers on the Rio Grande.

The Organizations would encourage planners to take an additional step and identify three major challenges the forest sees in obtaining these goals and then reviewing any specific standards or guidance in the RMP to insure that the particular standard is working towards minimizing the challenges. The Organizations submit that identifying a limited number of landscape level challenges facing the Forest will serve as an important guide for the development of the RMP and any subsequent localized projects. Identifying these challenges will provide clear and easily reviewable guidance for subsequent projects on the Forest and avoid creation of site specific projects that would contradict the forest level guidance on issues. This will also insure that all actions being undertaken in site specific planning are working towards these forest level objectives and avoids the artificial elevation of issues in local planning. By insuring these challenges are addressed in all planning efforts subsequently, the limited resources that are available to land managers will be directed in the most effective manner in addressing these challenges and actually achieving the goals of the plan.

The Organizations believe that the following challenges reflect the major challenges the forest is facing, and are already reflecting in the supporting documents that have been provided to the public:

  1. Poor Forest health/large number of dead trees on the Rio Grande NF overall;
  2. Declining federal budgets will continue to decline and result in the need for stronger partners; and
  3. Increasing demands being placed on forest resources due to a rapidly increasing State population.

2b. The primary challenge to be addressed on the Rio Grande NF over the life of the next revision of the RMP has to be the poor forest health overall and the large number of dead trees.

The Rio Grande NF has been heavily impacted by the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic and is on the boundary areas of being heavily impacted by several other invasive species such as the Spruce Beetle. This challenge has to be the first priority to be addressed in the RMP development and the Organizations would note that the Rio Grande NF has already identified poor forest health as the single largest challenge to be faced in their RMP development. These are factors and issues that can be addressed in forest planning to stimulate and streamline timber sales and timber management in conjunction with managed fire to remediate impacts. The Organizations are aware that there is significant pressure on managers to reduce public access to public lands through route closures, but addressing any route specific impacts without addressing the poor forest health simply makes little sense.

Planners must avoid the artificial elevation of issues simply as a result of political pressures or concerns that are not based on issues seen on the Rio Grande.  The Organizations vigorously submit that theoretical concerns, such as a groups desire to bring balance and diverse recognition of landscapes into the National Wilderness System are political issues that have been artificially elevated by that Group and simply are not realistic goals in the current funding environment and with the major challenges facing land managers on the Rio Grande. The Organizations are deeply concerned regarding the poor forest health in the Rio Grande as a healthy forest translates into a quality recreational experience for ALL USERS.  While any short term recovery of the Rio Grande planning area to a healthy forest status is probably not realistic, major steps can be taken to remediate impacts and return a healthy forest to the public in subsequent generations.  Clearly identifying this concern in the Plan will help avoid conflicts in the future.

At the landscape level, the Rio Grande NF has the dubious distinction of being the 3rd hardest hit forest in Region 2 in terms of overall forest health, and as poor as current forest health is, USFS estimates project that Forest Health is expected to get significantly worse before getting better. USFS estimates project a total mortality rate of more than 36% for forests on the Rio Grande.[4] This is an issue that simply will take more than the RMP life to resolve and has altered the landscape of the Rio Grande for the foreseeable future.

The Colorado State Forest Service recently issued their annual Forest Health report for the state and the conclusions of these impacts are staggering, especially on water quality.[5]  The Highlights of the 2016 report are as follows:

-8% of ALL trees in the state are dead and the rate of mortality is increasing;[6]

– The total number of dead trees has increased 30% in the last 8 years;[7]

– Research has shown that in mid-elevation forests on Colorado’s Front Range, hill slope sediment production rates after recent, high-severity wildfire can be up to 200 times greater than for areas burned at moderate to low severity.[8]

– A 2011 study involved monthly monitoring of stream chemistry and sediment in South Platte River tributaries before and after fire, and showed that basins that burned at high severity on more than 45 percent of their area had streams containing four times the amount of suspended sediments as basins burned less severely. This effect also remained for at least five years post-fire.[9]

  High-severity wildfires responsible for negative outcomes are more common in unmanaged forests with heavy fuel loads than in forests that have experienced naturally recurrent, low-intensity wildfires or prior forest treatments, such as thinning. It is far easier to keep water in a basin clean, from the source headwaters and through each usage by recipients downstream, than to try and restore water quality once it is degraded.[10]

 During 2016’s Beaver Creek Fire, which burned 38,380 acres northwest of Walden, foresters and firefighters were given a glimpse into likely future challenges facing wildfire suppression and forest management efforts. These include longer duration wildfires due to the amount and arrangement of heavy fuels. Observations from fire managers indicated that instead of small branches on live trees, the larger, dead fuels in jackstraw stands were the primary driver of fire spread…. “The hazards and fire behavior associated with this fuel type greatly reduce where firefighters can safely engage in suppression operations”[11]

 The Colorado State Forest System has prepared an annual report on the declining forest health in the State for more than a decade and copies of these reports are available on their website. Clearly, even the worst site specific issues with any trail or road will never result in impacts comparable to those impacts addressed above and managers should remain most focused on addressing these challenges.  These are landscape level challenges that must be addressed with landscape level management. 

USFS research indicates there is a huge correlation between Congressionally designated Wilderness and areas hardest hit by invasive species. A copy of this research conclusions are below. Research from the Colorado State Forest Service confirms that the minimal management allowed for forest health in Congressionally designated Wilderness areas has dramatically impacted forest health in the Rio Grande planning area.



Given the fact that 1 in 12 trees in the entire state of Colorado is dead, and based on the Organizations experience the Rio Grande rates of forest mortality is significantly higher than the state average and that amount is increasing rather than even stabilizing, the Organizations must be opposed to any new management standards that would make timber management more difficult or impossible. Management standards simply must remain focused on the major challenges on the Rio Grande in order to address these issues.  The need to meaningfully address this challenge is compounded by projections from the USFS that Forest health with degrade even more significantly before ever improving.  The Organizations vigorously assert that a healthy and sustainable forest is a critical component to ALL recreational activities in and around the Rio Grande and to the high quality of life that is associated with the communities in the planning area. The Organizations would also urge land managers to resist assertions that other smaller challenges are posing a similar scale threat to the Rio Grande planning area.

The relationship of poor forest health and heightened restrictions on management of public lands has also been repeatedly addressed by the USFS researchers.   In a Rocky Mountain Research Station report reviewing the USFS response to the bark beetle outbreak, management restrictions were clearly and repeatedly identified as a major contributing factor to the outbreak and a major limitation on the response.  This report clearly stated:

  • Limited accessibility of terrain (only 25% of the outbreak area was accessible due to steep slopes, lack of existing roads, and land use designations such as Wilderness that precluded treatments needed to reduce susceptibility to insects and disease).[13]
  • In general, mechanized treatments are prohibited in designated wilderness areas. The Arapaho Roosevelt, White River, and Routt National Forests in Colorado have a combined total of over one million acres of wilderness; the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming has more than 78 thou­sand acres. A large portion of these wilderness acres have been impacted by the current bark beetle outbreak.[14]
  • Owing to terrain, and to budgetary, economic and regulatory limitations—such as prohibitions on entering Roadless areas and designated wilderness—active management will be applied to a small fraction (probably less than 15%) of the forest area killed by mountain pine beetles. Research studies conducted on the Sulphur Ranger District of the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest help us understand the implica­tions of this situation.[15]

With clear management concern regarding the impacts of restrictive management on the pine beetle response, the Organizations must question any restrictions on active management of Rio Grande resources moving forward.

Many other researchers are now recognizing the negative impacts of Congressionally designated Wilderness on Forest Health and the ability to manage these areas in response to the challenges presented by the changing climate of the planet. In a review of pine blister impacts to forests in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, researchers again concluded that the

Forest Insect and Disease Progression in Colorado map


Again these areas were much more heavily impacted than adjacent areas where management had been more active in nature.   While this portion of the comments is addressing Congressionally Designated Wilderness, the challenges are the same as much that can be addressed in the RMP, such as Recommended Wilderness Designations. Rio Grande managers have already had to deal with RMP standards that complicated the response to challenges, such as limitations on treatments of invasive species in certain management areas, the Organizations submit that imposing this type of management on future managers simply makes little sense and should be avoided.  Given the clearly negative relationship between heightened management restrictions in any area and more rapid and severe impacts to forest health, the Organizations must express serious concerns regarding any management in the new RMP that made addressing forest health issues more difficult.

The Organizations concerns regarding the elevation of abstract concepts to  sufficient level as to interfere with major challenges on the Rio Grande is exemplified by the fact that Timber management activities are prohibited within ½ mile of the CDT as follows:

“National Scenic and Historic Trails – Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and Old Spanish Trail including a ½ mile buffer on each side”[17]

No mention of the fact that the Rio Grande is one of the hardest hit forest in Region for both Mountain Pine Beetle and Spruce Beetle is addressed in this portion of the RMP.

Impacts of these management decisions to all other activities are more clearly identified in the DEIS for the Rio Grande NF, where exclusionary corridors are clearly identified as a minimum of ½ mile and expanding to 1 mile in certain management areas.[18] The Organizations vigorously submit that management standards such as this make absolutely not sense and have clearly been inserted without meaningful analysis.  Not only will this complicate future management of major challenges, such as undertaken a removal of hazard trees on the CDT, this type of standard is also a direct violation of the National Trails System act, which requires a maximization of values of lands along the trail and meaningful analysis of all economic activity in and around the trail.   Clearly trees have value and their removal has a long history of being an economic driver in Colorado.

2c. Forest Service budgets will continue to decline over time.

The Organizations are intimately aware of the ongoing budgetary challenges that are facing federal land managers and the fact that the budgetary declines are not anticipated to rebound.  The changing budgetary situation facing federal land managers presents a major challenge for land managers moving forward, as the Organizations are aware that often partner support is high when new facilities or routes are being constructed but also tends to wane when basic operational expenses are addressed.  Land managers consistently inform us that basic operational activity, such as maintaining routes, cleaning toilet facilities and trash removal have consistently become more expensive and now pose major challenges for managers moving forward due to ever declining funding for operations.  The Organizations believe that the RMP revision provides a great opportunity to highlight this challenge and guide site specific projects in a manner that maximizes not only the short term partner funding relied on for construction but also the long term programmatic type funding that is becoming a more important factor in providing all recreational opportunities.

2d. USFS partnerships reports could provide high quality information on partner resources.

With the passage of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act in 2016, Congress mandated the creation of a volunteer strategy report to improve partnerships between land managers and user groups for the benefit of trails on federal public lands.  While this report is not to be published until 2018, this report should be highly relevant in addressing budgetary shortfalls and identifying partners where resources are more limited and partners where resources are more available as the report requires:

“(b) REQUIRED ELEMENTS.—The strategy required by subsection (a) shall—

(1) augment and support the capabilities of Federal employees to carry out or contribute to trail maintenance;

(2) provide meaningful opportunities for volunteers and partners to carry out trail maintenance in each region of the Forest Service;

(3) address the barriers to increased volunteerism and partnerships in trail maintenance identified by volunteers, partners, and others;

(4) prioritize increased volunteerism and partnerships in trail maintenance in those regions with the most severe trail maintenance needs, and where trail maintenance backlogs are jeopardizing access to National Forest lands; and” [19]

The largest single partner with both the BLM and USFS in Colorado is the motorized trail user community, both in terms of direct funding to land managers through the CPW Trails Program and with direct funding and resources from clubs in the Rio Grande planning area.  The partnerships impact is further expanded by the fact that all motorized routes on the Rio Grande are available for all other recreational activities.  A major barrier to partnerships is closures of routes due to resource concerns when resources are available to address the resource concerns that are the basis of the route closure and the failure to treat all recreational user groups in a similar manner.

The identification of partner resources available to Rio Grande managers must be a major priority in the development of the RMP as well.  While there are many partner groups who volunteer time and resources in partnership with Rio Grande managers, the OHV community is the only partner that provides direct and consistent funds to Rio Grande managers through the CPW OHV grant program to assist in achieving sustainable recreational opportunities. The USFS Regional office has clearly identified that just the OHV program in Colorado more than doubles the amount of agency funding that is available for recreational activity on USFS public lands. After a review of the CPW Statewide Good Management Crew program based in the Sulphur Ranger District of the Arapahoe/Roosevelt NF managers clearly identified that CPW OHV good management crews were provided money in a more consistent and timely manner than the funding that was provided through USFS budgeting and over time the CPW program funding had significantly increased while USFS budgets had significantly declined.  There is simply no basis for a decision that this long term reduction in funding will change and this should be factored into planning for projects on the ground for all user groups.

In 2017, Rio Grande managers asked for almost $200,000 in direct funding for annual maintenance crews and for site specific projects from the CPW OHV program alone. This funding provides three trained seasonal crews who perform on the ground trail maintenance, provide basic maintenance services for more developed sites and expand the law enforcement presence on the Rio Grande.  Additionally, these crews are able to leverage a significant amount of mechanized equipment in the Rio Grande planning area, such as the several Sutter trail dozers, mini-excavators and tractors owned by local clubs to address larger maintenance challenges in a very cost effective manner.

In addition to the OHV grant funding and exceptional partnerships available through summer use clubs, CPW funding through the Snowmobile Registration Program provides an additional $500,000 in funding to local clubs for operation of the grooming programs, who maintain almost 400 miles of multiple use winter trails on the Rio Grande. The CPW snowmobile registration program further partners with the local clubs to purchase grooming equipment used on these routes, which now is consistently exceeding $200,000 to purchase used.  This CPW funding is again leveraged with exceptional amounts of volunteer and community support for these grooming programs from local clubs and often times the CPW funding is less than half the operational budget for the clubs maintaining these routes.  These winter trails are the major access network for all users of Rio Grande winter backcountry for recreation and all these opportunities are provided to the general public free of charge.

While there has been a significant decline in direct funding through the agency budget process, motorized partners on the Rio Grande have been able to marshal resources at levels that are unheard of other forests for the benefit of all recreational users.  The Organizations would ask that if budget constraints are identified as a challenge for recreational usage of the forest moving forward, that these constraints are applied to all recreational usages and that the fact that the Rio Grande has been the beneficiary of some of the strongest partnerships with the motorized community in the country for literally decades be properly balanced in addressing any budget shortfalls.

3a. Growing state populations will continue to seek recreational opportunities on public lands.

The Organizations believe that the third major challenge that will be faced by managers on the Rio Grande will be significant increases in the population of communities in the Rio Grande planning area and the expansion of utilization of Rio Grande opportunities by those living on the Front Range of Colorado.  These new visitors to the Rio Grande area will continue to expect the high quality recreational opportunities that have become synonymous with the Rio Grande.  Compounding this challenge will be the fact that USFS resources are declining slowly in terms of absolute dollars and declining far more rapidly in terms of that funding ability to address challenges on the Forest.  This relationship results in a critical need for the RMP to facilitate the management and maintenance of Rio Grande lands in the lost cost effective manner possible and avoid placing unnecessary restrictions or prohibitions on the management of areas on the Rio Grande.

The Colorado State Demographer estimates that the Colorado population is expanding at a rate of more than 100,000 citizens per year and will almost double by the year 2050. The Demographer breaks down this forecast as follows:

Preliminary population forecasts by region and county 2010-2050 for Colorado


The Organizations would be remiss if the relationship of the time needed to double the state population and the anticipated life span of the Rio Grande RMP was not raised as a significant basis for our support of Alternative C.  While Projections estimate that a large portion of the population will settle along the Colorado Front Range and not be living directly within the Rio Grande planning area, the Organizations submit that these residents will still seek out the high quality recreational opportunities that have become synonymous with Colorado.  The Organizations believe that the RMP should strive to maintain current levels of access and meaningfully address areas where recreational access can be expanded in order to address this expanded usage in a thoughtful manner that protects resources and provides opportunities.  Failing to address this expanding demand will not stop the population from visiting public lands but rather will result in low quality opportunities being provided, unnecessarily  planning being required and resources being impacted as a result of the lack of planning. Again this must be avoided as much as possible in the RMP.

3b. Planning flexibility must be provided to expand recreational facilities and opportunities.

The Organizations believe that addressing the three major challenges in addressing the goals of the forest plan is an important component of the revision of the forest plan.  Given population projections, current facilities and opportunities will become insufficient in providing opportunities.  The RMP standards should be reviewed in insure that future managers will be able to address this situation in a meaningful and effect way.

Currently there are standards throughout the RMP where future managers would be limited by such a response.   This limitation in planning exemplified by standard MA-Rec-10 of the Proposal, which provides as follows:

MA-REC-10: If use exceeds the area capacity for a given recreational opportunity spectrum class, the following management actions should be employed to address the impacts or effect on the recreation setting:

  1. Inform the public and restore the site.
  2. Regulate the use.
  3. Restrict the number of visitors.
  4. Close the area or site (Forestwide).”[21]

The Organizations vigorously assert that this exemplifies the type of standards that must be reviewed in the plan to insure that the RMP does not become a management barrier moving forward.  Under this management standard, there are no provisions that allow for new facilities and opportunities to be brought on line to address capacity issues being exceeded.  This standard could be amended to allow expansion with inclusion of subsequent site specific planning.  This type of landscape flexibility has been an important component of any discussion around recreational opportunities, and given the explosive population growth in the State the assumption that current recreational facilities will be able to accommodate expanded demand is probably on a questionable factual basis.

The current version of MA-REC-10 also represents the type of standard that has been put in place in the RMP without meaningful analysis or discussion in the Proposal. The Organizations hope that the failure to include any expansion of opportunities to other areas as a tool for addressing overuse of existing facilities was not intentionally included in the Proposal, as this would be very concerning to the Organizations.

How did planners determine this limitation was relevant?  The RMP simply does not address this.    This lack of factual basis will complicate any subsequent site specific planning that might be seeking to expand opportunities into new areas of the forest as the result of the capacity being exceeded at an existing facility. In twenty years this type of standard could be seen as a frustrating barrier to management in a manner similar to the frustrations that current managers have experienced with current management provisions addressing limited authority to treat and manage the impacts of invasive species on the forest. These types of issues simply must be avoided.

4. Why the Organizations are supporting Alternative C of the Proposal.

The Organizations are supporting Alternative C of the Proposal due to the limited number of management standards that are provided for in this Alternative, which is a significant benefit for the reasons previously addressed in these comments.  The Organizations also support the significant expansion of opportunity areas for motorized recreation that are provided in the Alternative, but this is not unexpected and our reasoning behind such a position should be apparent.    The Organizations believe the flexibility provided under the expanded multiple use opportunity areas is an important factor to be addressed in the RMP as  increasing populations in Colorado will continue to demand high quality opportunities synonymous with Rio Grande.  Site specific planners should have the most flexibility possible in their planning, and authority to allow multiple use should be provided in the RMP as this can be more meaningfully addressed in local planning.

The Organizations also support Alternative C due to the inherent simplicity of the Plan that results from the reduced number of management categories in the RMP.  The Organizations are well versed in site specific planning that occurs subsequent to the implementation of an RMP, and while planners attempt to streamline the subsequent site specific planning efforts by identifying a large number of issues and factors in the landscape level RMP, often times these efforts become outdated quickly and result in significant barriers resulting in site specific planning rather than streamlining local site specific plans.

The significant reduction in the number of categories of the RMP Alternative C will also result in increased simplicity for the public and allow for a much greater level of understanding of the Plan. This alternative is the easiest for the public to understand for comments and for the public to understand how the Plan will guide management of particular areas to achieve particular goals in the future.   The most common frustration we have experienced in dealing with the public in working on site specific projects on forest is the high levels of complexity of forest plans, the numerous overlapping categories for the management of areas that often provide contradictory and confusing guidance for areas and rely on boundaries that make little sense on the ground or rely on boundary lines in the forest plan that are of such poor definition due to mapping scales that conflict results. These benefits should not be overlooked.

Our reasoning for support of Alternative C is not just limited to recreational concerns.  Alternative B misses the boat when it comes to actively managing the Forest, protecting local jobs, and ensuring there is a forest in the future.  The proposed action (Alternative B) proposes to:

  • Only cut 40,000 CCF of salvage per year for the first decade, and only 15,600 CCF of green treatment per year in the second decade.  This is not enough wood to supply the current industry.
  • Recommends an additional 59,000 acres of wilderness, thus making management even more difficult.
  • Recommends two different fire management zones, including “resource restoration” where wildfires may be allowed to burn to achieve “resource objectives,” which is very concerning for the suitable timber acres.  How many times has the Forest Service burned up valuable areas?
  • Rather than making the plan easier to read and understand, Alternative B proposes to have almost the same exact number of management zones as currently exists, as well as the new fire management zones.

Overall, Alternative C is the best choice for managing the Rio Grande National Forest as a multiple-use forest while still achieving the desired ecological, social, and economical goals.  Here is what Alternative C proposes to accomplish for timber management:

  • Salvage up to 70,000 CCF of timber per year for the first decade, followed by 22,000 CCF of green treatment during the second decade.
  • Proposes zero acres of new wilderness.  Currently, only 17% of the entire 1.83 million acres is considered suitable for timber production.  Adding more wilderness acres will simply reduce the number of suitable timber acres.
  • Simplifies the plan by reducing the overall number of management areas.

Given these stark differences in the ability of managers to address what the Organizations see as the single largest management challenge on the Rio Grande over the life of the next plan, these differences are critically important to why the Organizations are supporting Alternative C of the Proposal.   It simply does a better job of addressing challenges, and the Organizations would support any efforts to further streamline even Alternative C of the Proposal to address challenges or shorten the Proposal.

5. The Organizations are vigorously opposed to Alternative D.

The Organizations are VIGOROUSLY opposed to Alternative D of the Proposal due to the significant restrictions it places on multiple use access to the forest and the complications to the removal and mitigation of poor forest health on the forest that would result from expanded management restrictions in Alternative D. Alternative D would also  remove motorized trails from Colorado Roadless areas, which the Organizations submit is in direct conflict with the Colorado Roadless Rule statements that clearly identifies dispersed motorized opportunities as a characteristic of a Colorado Roadless Area. Alternative D also provides for an additional 285,000 acres of recommended Wilderness on the Rio Grande.  The Organizations are opposed to this decision as this would be 285,000 of the forest where addressing poor forest health would be made more difficult in the future because of the RMP.  This simply makes no sense.

6. The Colorado Roadless Rule must be accurately applied in the Rio Grande RMP, which directly applies to Area 3.5 and 3.6 management prescriptions.

The Organizations submit that the development of the Colorado Roadless Rule (“CRR”) is generally poorly understood by many of the groups submitting comments in favor of expansion of Wilderness and Recommended Wilderness in the Planning Process.   The Organizations submit the CRR development was an extensive site specific analysis of many of the same areas that have been the basis for possible Wilderness designations in the past and the CRR provided clear guidance for development of non-Wilderness management of these areas.  Part of the intent of the CRR was that as management of these areas moved into the future, the never ending discussion of possible designation of these areas could be avoided.  The CRR clearly states that no further protections of these areas is warranted and that the characteristics inventoried should be protected and preserved.

The Organizations were actively and extensively involved in the development of the CRR with the USFS, and can assert without hesitation that the CRR sought to provide a dispersed recreational experience for all users, which is a significant difference from the position asserted by the Wilderness Society in their comments on this issue. The Organizations submit that any interpretation of the CRR in the manner asserted in the Wilderness Society comments twists both the direct language of the CRR and the spirit and intent in developing the CRR as large portions of the Rio Grande were reviewed as possible Upper Tier areas and then specifically found unsuitable for such designation.  Application of this twisted version of the CRR must be avoided in the development of the Rio Grande  RMP as this alternative management of many areas on the Rio Grande as Upper Tier areas was specifically reviewed in the development of the CRR and was declined to be implemented.

While the Roadless Rule never altered the multiple use mandates for any areas, the development of the Colorado Roadless Rule went a step further on multiple uses and specifically identifies motorized usage as a characteristic of a Colorado Roadless Area.   The CRR specifically states this as follows:

“Roadless areas are, among other things, sources of drinking water, important fish and wildlife habitat, semi-primitive or primitive recreation areas, including motorized and nonmotorized recreation opportunities, and natural-appearing landscapes. There is a need to provide for the conservation and management of

Roadless area characteristics.”[22]

Documents developed around the CRR further clearly state this relationship as follows:

“The final rule does not prohibit use of existing authorized motorized trails nor does it prohibit the future development of motorized trails in CRAs (see 36 CFR 294.46(f)). The final rule allows continued motorized trail use of CRAs if determined appropriate through local travel management planning.”[23]

The utilization of CRR and Upper tier Roadless areas was further specifically addressed in the EIS issued with the 2012 Roadless Rule. The EIS provides additional clarity regarding the importance of motorized usage of both types of Roadless areas, providing as follows:[24]

Recreational use: motorized Value focuses on maintaining current motorized use of Roadless areas for recreational opportunities, as well as, where appropriate, increasing backcountry motorized opportunities in the future, which may be trails/single-track rather than roads.

The FEIS additionally clearly identified the significant differences between a Roadless areas and other management areas as follows:

“These Roadless areas provide settings for dispersed recreational activities that are prohibited in designated wilderness areas and not readily available in developed or modified settings with system roads. For example, wilderness areas prohibit, with few exceptions, mechanized and motorized uses, such as OHVs, mountain bikes, and snowmobiles. Within Roadless boundaries, these activities are permitted on designated trails, including current and new trail construction. Wheelchair or handicapped access is allowed within wilderness areas, but is expected to be very challenging. Depending on the travel management direction for an individual Roadless area, many trails within Roadless areas are open to OHV use for those who are not able to access remote areas without motorized assistance.”[25]

The Organizations believe that proper application of the CRR review and analysis process provides significant information regarding areas that should not be managed in a manner similar to Wilderness.  Under this review, a significant portion of the Rio Grande planning area was specifically reviewed for possible Upper Tier Roadless designation and found to be unsuitable.

Rio Grande National Forest - Colorado Roadless Areas


Given that a large portion of the Non-Wilderness areas in the Rio Grande planning area where recently inventoried for possible increases in management to levels that remained below Congressionally designated Wilderness, the Organizations must question what situation or condition has changed in these areas that would allow these areas to become suitable for Wilderness recommendations in the RMP within such a short period of time.

In addition to the CRR providing clear guidance regarding the desire for these areas to be managed for expanded low intensity motorized usage, the CRR also clearly stated that trail development was to be allowed in both areas. While the RMP does provide a reasonable summary of usages of CRR in the management provisions, such as 3.5 and 3.6, trail construction is not addressed in the RMP and as a result this lack of clarity will result in questions on site specific planning for these areas in the future.   Mainly the Organizations are concerned that in the future there will be questions involving if these standards intended to omit trail construction from these areas or should the CRR be directly applied? The Organizations request that if some uses are going to be identified in the RMP, multiple use trail construction must be specifically and clearly identified as well, or all discussion of uses should be removed.  Under the current version of the RMP, ambiguity is created on this issue rather than clarity for future management.  This again must be avoided.

7a. Continental Divide Trail management and corridor usage must be governed by multiple use principals.

The Organizations are aware of extensive discussions and pressure from certain interest groups  surrounding the management of National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails on numerous other forests, as exemplified by discussions around the Pacific Crest Trail as it travels through the Lassen, Tahoe, Stanislaus and Plumas National Forests in California as these  are  moving through winter travel planning Unfortunately these discussions have now been raised in public meetings involving the Rio Grande RMP revision. While these discussions are often passionate and filled with an artificial urgency to save the world from a falling sky, this position simply lacks any basis as it conflicts with the direct language of the National Trails System Act, the intent of Congress in passing the NTSA, the specific language of the Trail related NEPA plans and numerous other Executive Orders regarding recreation and cost benefits analysis.

Numerous standards are proposed in the Rio Grande NF RMP that could result in exclusionary corridors being developed in subsequent site specific planning around the CDT. Often pressure and efforts of groups asserted that national trails system routes must be non-motorized under the National Trails Act are based on incomplete or inaccurate reviews of the National Trails System Act, which can be easily achieved due to the poor drafting of the NTSA and the following provisions are included in the hope of bringing balance to these discussions. Unfortunately these incomplete and conflicting summaries have now been included in USFS Guidance on NTSA designated routes. The Organizations must briefly address the management history of the Continental Divide Scenic Trail and the specific statutory provisions addressing both the CDT and the usage of public lands in areas adjacent to the CDT.  Prior to addressing the clarity of the current NTSA, a review of the intent of Congress and competing interests at the time of passage of the NTSA is relevant.  Corridors excluding usages violates the NTSA directly, minimizes values and will lead to unprecedented conflicts between users that simply does not exist at this time.

The Organizations concerns regarding exclusionary corridors  are not abstract as many facilities of other users  and management activities are proposed to be excluded prohibited within ½ mile of the CDT .  An example of this type of standard in the RMP is as follows:

“National Scenic and Historic Trails – Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and Old Spanish Trail including a ½ mile buffer on each side”[27]

Such a standard simply makes no sense when the public safety risk that results from the large number of hazard trees along the CDT is reviewed.  No mention of the fact that the Rio Grande is one of the hardest hit forest in Region for both Mountain Pine Beetle and Spruce Beetle is addressed in this portion of the RMP.

Impacts of these management decisions to all other activities are more clearly identified in the DEIS for the Rio Grande NF, where exclusionary corridors are clearly identified as a minimum of ½ mile and expanding to 1 mile in certain management areas.[28] Under certain management alternatives, exclusionary corridors would prohibit significant recreational opportunities which may be visible in the viewshed such as level 1 roads, trails, 2 scenic byways, and some campgrounds and recreation areas. [29]  Again the Organizations vigorously oppose the complete lack of analysis around this type of a corridor as clearly these impacts have not been reviewed in any manner in the EIS and represent a direct violation of the NTSA, as more completely outlined below.  The Organizations also submit these type of arbitrary management standards in an RMP are exactly the type of standards that make any future site specific planning more expensive and difficult as planners are simply unable to address the management concern that resulted in these management standards.

7b. Mandatory exclusionary corridors directly conflict with the Congressional intent when NTSA was passed.

The management of NTSA corridors and routes has a long and sometime conflicting management history when only legislation is reviewed but significant clarity in Congressional intent for management of routes and corridors is provided with the review of Congressional reports provided around passage of the NTSA. Additionally every time Congress has spoken regarding these alleged conflicts the NTAS has been amended to include stronger language in favor of multiple use and opposing corridors.

Extensive background regarding multiple uses of corridors and trails designated under the NTSA was originally addressed in House Report 1631 (“HRep 1631”) issued in conjunction with the passage of the NTSA in 1968.   A complete copy of this report is submitted with these comments for your convenience.   While there are numerous Congressional reports referenced in the 2016 USFS CDT guidance, many of which have not been provided to the Congressional offices for release to the public, HRep 1631 is simply never mentioned despite it being a foundational document in the discussion. Such conflicts should be problematic for managers seeking to implement recommendations of USFS Guidance on the NTSA as Congress has repeatedly had the opportunity to require exclusionary corridors around NTSA routes, but has consistently moved towards more clarity in addressing multiple usage of these areas.

HRep 1631 provides detailed guidance regarding the intent of the Legislation, and options that Congress declined to implement in the Legislation when it was passed.  It is deeply troubling to the Organizations that USFS guidance relies on numerous legislative documents, many of which are unavailable to the public,[30] but this highly relevant legislative document is never addressed in the USFS Guidance. HRep 1631 provides a clear statement of the intent of Congress regarding multiple usages with passage of NTSA, which is as follows:

“The aim of recreation trails is to satisfy a variety of recreation interests primarily at locations readily accessible to the population centers of the Nation.”[31]

The Organizations note that satisfaction of a variety of recreation interests on public lands simply is not achieved with the implementation of any width corridor around a usage or trail.  Rather than providing satisfaction for all uses, implementation of mandatory corridors will result in unprecedented conflict between users. This simply must be avoided.

While HRep 1631 is not addressed in 2016 USFS CDT guidance, the direct conflict of the agency guidance and this report simply cannot be overlooked.  Much of the information and analysis provided in HRep 1631 is highly relevant to the authority of USFS guidance assertions that 1-mile corridors is mandatory or even recommended. HRep 1631 clearly and unequivocally states Congress declined to apply mandatory management corridors of any width in the Legislation.  HRep 1631 states:

“Finally, where a narrow corridor can provide the necessary continuity without seriously jeopardizing the overall character of the trail, the Secretary should give the economics of the situation due consideration, along with the aesthetic values, in order to reduce the acquisition costs involved.”[32]

Congress also clearly identified that exclusionary corridors would significantly impair the ability of the agencies to implement the goals and objectives of the NTSA as follows:

“By prohibiting the Secretary from denying them the right to use motorized vehicles across lands which they agree to allow to be used for trail purposes, it is hoped that many privately owned, primitive roadways can be converted to trail use for the benefit of the general public.”[33]

HRep 1631 clearly addresses the intent of Congress, and the internal Congressional discussions regarding implementation of the NTSA provisions for the benefit of all recreational activities as follows:

“However, they both attempted to deal with the problems arising from other needs along the trails. Rather than limiting such use of the scenic trails to “reasonable crossings”, as provided by the Senate language, the conference committee adopted the House amendment which authorizes the appropriate Secretaries to promulgate reasonable regulations to govern the use of motorized vehicles on or across the national scenic trails under specified conditions.”[34]

Rather than conveying the clear intent of Congress to avoid corridors as a part of management of an NTSA route, on page one of the 2016 CDT guidance clearly states that such a corridor is the preferred management tool, stating as follows:

“The CDT corridor/MA should be wide enough to encompass the resources, qualities, values, associated settings and primary uses of the Trail. The 0.5 mile foreground viewed from either side of the CDT must be a primary consideration in delineating the CDT corridor/MA boundary (FSM 2353.44b (7)).”[35]

The Organizations are simply unable to theorize any situation where the intent of Congress in passing the NTSA and the 2016 CDT guidance can be reconciled as Congress specifically stated that corridors should not be applied and managers retain authority to address site specific issues and challenges. This is deeply concerning given the fact that if Congress has specifically looked at a management tool and specifically declined its application, any implementation of such a tool in management is problematic.  This type of direct material conflict is not mitigated with the passage of time especially when the clearly stated intent of Congress was to satisfy a variety of recreational interests with the passage of the NTSA. The Organizations vigorously assert that only those interests protected by the corridor would be satisfied with a corridor, and this must be avoided.

7c. Congress has consistently declined to require minimum exclusionary corridors around NTSA trails.

Management of the CDT is specifically governed by the National Trail System Act (NTSA) which specifically addresses multiple usage of areas adjacent to trails and how these multiple use mandates will relate to management of the trail.  The NTSA provides as follows:

“In selecting the rights-of-way full consideration shall be given to minimizing the adverse effects upon the adjacent landowner or user and his operation. Development and management of each segment of the National Trails System shall be designed to harmonize with and complement any established multiple use plans for that specific area in order to insure continued maximum benefits from the land.[36]

The Organizations believe that Congress was very clear in these provisions, as they clearly stated maximum benefits from the land and harmony with multiple use planning was the objective.  The Organizations submit that maximum benefits from the land as a management standard is a FAR more encompassing standard of management than maximizing benefit of the trail or an area to the users of the trail.

While the NTSA does provide that multiple uses are not allowed on an NTSA route in Wilderness Areas, National Wildlife Areas, and National Parks among other areas where such usage would be prohibited in 1968, the NTSA makes no mention of prohibitions for usage outside these areas.  The Organizations submit that any buffer corridor expanding these prohibitions outside these areas would be a violation of this specific management standard and the Organizations are not able to understand how designating a corridor in the Resource management plan would not be a violation of these standards as the conflict would directly involve the multiple uses in the RMP rather than being implemented in subsequent planning. Congress has prohibited exclusionary corridors at any time around an NTSA route.

The NTSA also provides guidance on the large scale relocation of any Congressionally designated scenic trail from its original location as the NTSA continues as follows:

“Relocation of a segment of national, scenic or historic trail….A substantial relocation of the rights of way for such a trail shall be by Act of Congress.” [37]

While Congress was clear on the desire to retain authority over the alteration of any National Trail, the failure to define “significant” places any changes in a national scenic trail from its original location, in the case of the CDT the 1977 report to Congress outlining its location, on questionable legal basis.

In several locations in the NTSA, proper recognition of multiple usage of a National Trail is specifically and clearly identified in areas outside Wilderness, Parks and National Wildlife Refuges.   The NTSA explicitly provides allowed usages as follows:

j) TYPES of trail use allowed. Potential trail uses allowed on designated components of the national trails system may include, but are not limited to, the following: bicycling, cross-country skiing, day hiking, equestrian activities, jogging or similar fitness activities, trail biking, overnight and long-distance backpacking, snowmobiling, and surface water and underwater activities. Vehicles which may be permitted on certain trails may include, but need not be limited to, motorcycles, bicycles, four-wheel drive or all-terrain off-road vehicles. In addition, trail access for handicapped individuals may be provided. The provisions of this subsection shall not supersede any other provisions of this chapter or other Federal laws, or any State or local laws.”[38]

The Organizations would note that given the specific recognition of snowmobiling, four wheel drive and all-terrain vehicles as allowed trail usages, any attempt to exclude such usages from the CDT would be on questionable legal ground. In addition to the above general provisions regarding multiple usage in areas around a National Scenic Trail, multiple usage of the Continental Divide Scenic Trail is also specifically and repeatedly addressed and protected in the NTSA.  The CDT guidance starts as follows:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of section 1246(c) of this title, the use of motorized vehicles on roads which will be designated segments of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail shall be permitted in accordance with regulations prescribed by the appropriate Secretary.”[39]

The NTSA further addresses and protects multiple usage of the CDT is further addressed as follows:

“Where a national historic trail follows existing public roads, developed rights-of-way or waterways, and similar features of man’s non historically related development, approximating the original location of a historic route, such segments may be marked to facilitate retracement of the historic route, and where a national historic trail parallels an existing public road, such road may be marked to commemorate the historic route. Other uses along the historic trails and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the trail, and which, at the time of designation, are allowed by administrative regulations, including the use of motorized vehicles, shall be permitted by the Secretary charged with the administration of the trail.[40]

In addition to the specific provisions of the NTSA addressing the CDT, the CDT management plan further addresses multiple usage including the high levels of multiple use on the CDT in 2009. The CDT plans specifically states:

“(2) At the time the Study Report was completed (1976), it was estimated that approximately 424 miles (14 percent) of existing primitive roads would be included in the proposed CDNST alignment.”[41]

While the CDT plan does recognize levels of roads utilization, the CDT plan does not specifically address the miles of multiple use trail that are aligned along the CDT. Motorized Trail usages of the CDT and corridor are critically important to winter motorized usage on the San Juan and many other locations as significant portions of the CDT are groomed by the motorized community for the benefit of all users.  Rather than providing specific analysis of this usage the CDT plan provides that trails adopted through the travel management process are an allowed usage of the CDT, providing as follows:

“Motor vehicle use by the general public is prohibited on the CDNST, unless that use is consistent with the applicable land management plan and:

(1) Is necessary to meet emergencies;
(2) Is necessary to enable adjacent landowners or those with valid outstanding rights to have reasonable access to their lands or rights;
(3) Is for the purpose of allowing private landowners who have agreed to include their lands in the CDNST by cooperative agreement to use or cross those lands or adjacent lands from time to time in accordance with Federal regulations;
(4) Is on a motor vehicle route that crosses the CDNST, as long as that use will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the CDNST;
(5) Is designated in accordance with 36 CFR Part 212, Subpart B, on National Forest System lands or is allowed on public lands and:
(a) The vehicle class and width were allowed on that segment of the CDNST prior to November 10, 1978, and the use will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the CDNST or
(b) That segment of the CDNST was constructed as a road prior to November 10, 1978; or
(6) In the case of over-snow vehicles, is allowed in accordance with 36 CFR Part 212, Subpart C, on National Forest System lands or is allowed on public lands and the use will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the CDNST.”[42]

The CDT plan further adopts multiple use principals by clearly adopting management standards for motorized categories of the recreational opportunity spectrum and as a result the concept of an exclusively non-motorized corridor would directly conflict with the CDT plan.  While the NTSA fails to specifically address multiple use trails along the CTD, the Management Plan does specifically provide that multiple use routes adopted under relevant travel management decisions shall be allowed and consistent with applicable planning.   At no point in the CDT plan is the concept of an exclusionary corridor even mentioned.

The Organizations submit that while specific portions of the NTSA are less than clear when read in isolation or in an attempt to apply Wilderness or National Park type restrictions outside these areas, the NTSA is very clear in conveying the position that the CTD is truly a multiple use trail and that the CTD should not serve as a barrier to multiple usage of adjacent areas. The Organizations submit that creation of a landscape level buffer around the CDT, where multiple usage was prohibited or restricted would be a violation of both the NTSA and the CDT management plan. This should be avoided as there are significant challenges on the Rio Grande that are on a more sound legal basis and of significantly more important level to most forest users.

7d. NTSA management specifically requires a maximizing of economic benefits with is supplemented by relevant US Supreme Court rulings and Executive Orders mandate agencies balance management priorities based on the cost benefit analysis of the standard.

The implementation of a non-motorized Wilderness corridor around the CDT also gives rise to a wide range of issues when looked at from a cost-benefit perspective, which is made even more complex by the fact that the CDT runs through a wide range of lands, including public and private lands. The Organizations are also concerned that any heightening of the CDT management and a possible corridor around the trail as a management objective in the forest plan would be a difficult proposition when reviewed from a cost benefit analysis and against the maximization of multiple use benefits requirements of the NTSA.

The NTSA guidance is clear on issues involving equity and usage of NTSA routes and the need to balance multiple usage based on these factors based on economic returns associated with the management of the route.   The NTSA explicitly provides as follows:

“(9) the relative uses of the lands involved, including: the number of anticipated visitor-days for the entire length of, as well as for segments of, such trail; the number of months which such trail, or segments thereof, will be open for recreation purposes; the economic and social benefits which might accrue from alternate land uses; and the estimated man-years of civilian employment and expenditures expected for the purposes of maintenance, supervision, and regulation of such trail;”[43]

While the Rio Grande has significant challenges facing all usage of the forest by the public, such as poor forest health, the CDT is a resource that is simply not used at a large enough scale by those seeking to exclude multiple uses to warrant directing extensive resources to revision of management efforts. A review of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition website reveals that approximately 2 dozen people traverse the entire CDT on an annual basis. [44] Unfortunately, this information is not broken down to more specific levels, such as usage of the CDT at state or forest levels. The Organizations can vigorously assert excluding multiple uses across a corridor for the benefit of as few as two dozen people is not maximizing economic and social benefits of these lands. Such as position simply lacks any factual basis.

As land managers are specifically required to compare the economic benefits of alternative uses of the trail and any possible corridor under both multiple use principals of planning and as more  specifically directed by the NTSA, accurate economic analysis information is critically important to the decision making process.   Given the fact that significant portions of the CDT are primarily used for recreational purposes, the comparative spending profiles of recreational usage is highly important information.  It has been the Organizations experience that often comparative data across user groups is very difficult to obtain.  The USFS provided such data as part of Round 2 of the National Visitor Use Monitoring process and those conclusions are as follows:

Table 3. Visitor spending for high, average, and low spending areas by activity.


While the above agency summary data has become somewhat old, the Organizations simply don’t see any change in the comparative spending profiles of these users groups. The Organizations are aware of detailed research addressing certain portions of this analysis above.   A copy of the most recent study of the Economic Contribution of the use of Off-Highway Vehicles in Colorado is attached to these comments.  This analysis identifies a strong increase in the per person spending profiles of all user groups in the OHV/OSV community based on increased unit prices and new types of OHVs, such as side by side vehicles, being present in the marketplace.

The differences in comparative spending between the user groups allowed in a CDT corridor and those excluded from the corridor are stark and again simply do not favor designation of a landscape level corridor.  When comparing the spending profiles of usages allowed in a proposed corridor such as hiking, primitive camping and cross country skiing to the usages that are excluded from the corridor, such as OHV use and snowmobile the disparity of spending profiles is stark.  The users excluded from a corridor spend anywhere from 1.5x to more than 2x the amount of the user groups that would be allowed in the corridor.

As a result of the stark differences in spending profiles of the users, visitation of those allowed in any corridor would have to essentially double throughout the year in order to offset lost economic benefits from the users that would be excluded. This position and expectation is factually unsupportable as visitation to certain portions of the CDT by permitted users is limited to as few as dozens of visitors per year, while visitation levels from users possibly excluded is significantly higher than the visitation levels that are allowed within a corridor.  As a result not only would corridor visitation have to double to offset lost users simply to break even on a per visitor days spending level but also the levels of visitation would have to massively expand as the levels of permitted corridor use is exceptionally low.

The Organizations do not contest that there are areas or attractions where the CDT sees very high levels of visitation but the Organizations are aware the areas of higher visitation are areas and issues that can be resolved at the site specific level in an effective manner and should not be relied on for the basis of a forest wide corridor. Additionally hikers of the trail are encouraged to visit local communities to the trail, which include South Fork, Pagosa Springs, Keystone and Breckenridge.  The Organizations are unsure how a Wilderness like corridor can be reconciled with developed resources such as these large communities.  Any attempt to resolve these issues would be exceptionally expensive from a management perspective and would result in user conflict.  The Organizations must question if these areas and CDT issues more generally could not be more effectively managed through site specific planning subsequent to the RMP finalization. The Organizations submit that there are numerous diverse challenges facing the CDT, many of which are highly site specific, which should be dealt with at the local level rather than trying to craft a landscape level fix to these issues. There is simply insufficient levels of utilization of the CDT at the landscape level to warrant inclusion of such issues in the RMP.

7e. A Cost/Benefit analysis of corridor management must also be addressed.

In addition to having to balance economic interests in management of NTSA areas, both President Trump (EO 13771 in 2017) and President Obama (EO 13563 in 2011) have issued Executive Orders requiring all federal agencies to undertake a cost benefit analysis of management decisions.   The US Supreme Court recently specifically addressed the need for cost benefit analysis as an issue and stated as follows:

“And it is particularly so in an age of limited resources available to deal with grave environmental problems, where too much wasteful expenditure devoted to one problem may well mean considerably fewer resources available to deal effectively with other (perhaps more serious) problems.”[46]

Given this clear statement of concern over the wasteful expenditure of resources for certain activities or management decisions, the Organizations are very concerned regarding what could easily be the wasteful expenditure of resources for the benefit of what is a very small portion of the recreational community.

The Organizations submit that there can be no factually based arguments made that closures of large areas of the Rio Grande NF to historical travel will not result in significant massive additional costs to land managers that really cannot be justified given the huge challenges managers are facing such as poor forest health and large increases in wildfire severity and frequency. Simply educating the public regarding the new closure would be exceptionally costly as new signage and other educational materials would have to be developed and then signage would have to be maintained.  This would have to include signage that probably makes little sense on the ground as natural landmarks are not relied on for boundaries, and these signs would have to be placed in areas where they could be found and also maintained to insure signage is not buried in snow.  The Organizations submit that proper balancing of enforcement costs with the benefit to small user group is exactly the type balance that the Supreme Court and both President Obama and President Trump has expected the agencies to undertake as part of any planning process. The Organizations submit that a non-motorized corridor around the CDT fails from a cost benefit perspective even if Congressional action and relevant plans allowed such as management decision.

8. ROS opportunities are not accurately reflected in the Proposal

The Organizations are very concerned that the ROS route mileage is not accurately reflected in the RMP, and this is a concern for future management of areas. The Organizations are aware that the USFS has always employed a trails management hierarchy, and as a result any trail that is managed for a certain usage will also be open for lower intensity usages in the hierarchy.  As a result, every mile of multiple usage trail and road is available for those seeking to hike, bike, horseback, snowshoe, cross country ski, and any other usage. There is simply no routes on the Rio Grande that are open only to motorized usages.

While this hierarchy has been standard operating procedure for the USFS and Rio Grande this hierarchy is not accurately reflected in the RMP.   The DEIS provides the following breakdown:

Table 73. Trail miles by primary manage use type


The Organizations are not aware of a single trail in the region that is only open to motorized usage, rather the Organizations are aware that all motorized trails are open to all uses lower on the hierarchy. With proper application of the hierarchy to the above chart, the analysis would conclude there are 1,990 miles of routes open to hike and pack/saddle usage.  An accurate analysis of this relationship is critical to understanding the funding that is available from partner groups for the management of these areas.  While the motorized community has a strong partnership with the Rio Grande, grants from the State OHV program may only be used on lands that are open to motorize.  While there are strong partnerships with other users groups, these partnerships are significantly smaller than the scope of funding provided by the motorized community.  As a result, the higher a route is on the management hierarchy the more money is available to support the route. This type of accurate analysis and understanding will be critical in addressing impacts of poor forest health on recreation, mainly the removal of dead trees that are obstructing these routes.

When addressing winter travel a similar imbalance is reflected as there are actually 632 miles of routes open to cross country skiing on the Rio Grande.   The importance of accurately reflecting the hierarchy is highlighted when discussing winter travel as the groomed route system on the Rio Grande NF is the preferred method of all winter travels to access the backcountry. The Organizations are aware that it is very difficult to find winter recreation occurring on the Rio Grande that is not directly relying on this groomed route system provided through the local snowmobile clubs.

The Organizations would ask that any information relying on the trails hierarchy be accurately portrayed in the RMP in order to provide an accurate analysis of the true opportunities available on the Rio Grande.

9. No new Wilderness type designations should be created in the RMP as these barriers restrict opportunities and the ability of managers to address challenges in a timely manner.

The Organizations believe that the Wilderness designation process provides a concrete example of why route mileage and opportunities for each user group must be accurately reflected in the RMP.  When Table 73 of the DEIS is reviewed the inaccurate information in this analysis creates the perception that there is a shortage of hiking routes and further basis for more Wilderness management.  This simply is incorrect and a situation where user groups are forced to correct the RMP in subsequent discussions.

Four large Wilderness areas on Rio Grande already provide exceptional recreational opportunity for those seeking to user experience (i.e., La Garita, Sangre de Cristo, Weminuche, and South San Juan).  Even with these exceptional resources, these areas only received 4% of visitor days to the Rio Grande.[48] Compounding this imbalance is the high levels of local frustration with the recent complex fires and impacts that lack of management had with these fires scope and intensity.  Requirements for Wilderness management have also greatly increased basic operation costs for land managers as even basic maintenance may only be done without mechanical assistance.

Together our Organizations do not support or endorse the expansion of Wilderness areas within the Rio Grande National Forest or management that seeks to provide expanded Wilderness like experiences. In Colorado alone, there are approximately 3.7 million acres of Congressionally designated Wilderness in our National Forests or approximately 15% of all USFS lands.  Another 210,984 acres of Wilderness are located within Colorado’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) boundaries and 306,081 acres are located in Colorado’s National Parks. In total, there are 4.2 million acres of designated Wilderness already in Colorado.  This is an area larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.  Many of the remaining lands within the State that might be considered for “Wilderness” designation have been specifically “released” by Congress from future consideration as Wilderness, or have been studied by the agency and deemed unsuitable for Wilderness designation.

Finally, visitor use statistics do not suggest that we need additional Wilderness areas.  Nationally, only about 5 percent of user visits to the Forest System are in Wilderness areas. The visitation figure for the Rocky Mountain region is even lower, about 4 %, despite over 15% of USFS lands in Colorado being Congressionally designated Wilderness[49].  Congress has amply addressed both the need and demand for Wilderness in Colorado.  Wilderness advocates frequently claim new Congressional designations of Wilderness areas will drive economic growth, which claims are supported by generalized assertions by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) research findings that outdoor recreation is $646 Billion dollar a year industry.  The relationship of this research and Congressionally designated Wilderness is unclear at best, as the OIA research specifically includes valuations of activities such as motorized recreation, Bicycling, RV camping, and Snowmobiling.  In reality, most Americans, for various reasons, are unable or unwilling to enlist in the physical and rigorous effort required of the adventures in Wilderness areas.

The Rio Grande National Forest and other forests face broad-scale ecological threats that require well designed management responses that do not stop at a Wilderness boundary.  In Colorado, we only need to look outside to see the devastation tied to catastrophic wildfires and the spruce beetle outbreaks.  An ecological imbalance has developed over time because widespread treatments in the Engelmann and Blue Spruce stands that would have created age class diversity, enhanced the vigor of remaining trees, and improved stand resiliency to drought or insect attack—such as timber harvest and thinning — lacked public acceptance in the past.     The Organizations vigorously support addressing poor forest health to the maximum extent possible as this is the single largest management challenge that will be seen on public lands in this generation. While this issue cannot be totally resolved, impacts can be mitigated and sustainability of forests on public lands can be improved.

The Organizations also would note that the expansions of recommended Wilderness in a manner similar to Alternative D would have significant impacts to multiple use access to huge portions of the forest.  While the USFS inventory is reasonably accurate in terms of usage of most areas possibly identified for recommended Wilderness, these inventory fail to convey the values of these routes to the multiple use community. While there may be limited mileages of routes in some areas, each of these opportunities is HUGELY valued by the multiple use community.  This is exemplified by the discussions around possible inclusion of the Bristol head area as recommended Wilderness on pages 486 and 487 of the DEIS.  This area is hugely valued by the snowmobile community and the Miners Creek trails is a rapidly becoming a regional destination for summer time recreational usage.  These concerns also highlight why an accurate inventory of all recreational opportunities  on the Rio Grande, unlike those provided in Table 73 of the DEIS, must be developed.   Again these are issues that simply must be addressed in the preferred alternative of the RMP.  

10. The intent and limited scope of the winter buffer areas around Yurts in Chama Basin must be clearly stated in the RMP.

In general, the Organizations do not support the segregation of users and the exclusive use of one user group at the exclusion of others.  We feel it is both socially beneficial and desirable for all users to learn to coexist and to show tolerance and respect for other users and groups of users.  Just as we all learn to live together in our daily lives away from the forest, we should also extend that willingness to coexist when in the forest.  Segregated user groups only fosters arrogance, elitism, intolerance and eventually leads to unjustified stereotyping and discrimination which results in greater user conflict.   The Organizations are intimately familiar with the situation where user conflict is used as a straw man for the desire to create exclusive use areas on the Rio Grande.  The Organizations are not aware of any major user conflict areas or issues currently existing on the Rio Grande and creating user conflict in an attempt to create exclusive use areas on the forest would be unfortunate.

The Organizations are cautiously supportive of the proposed closures around several yurts in the Chama Basin, only because the Organizations are aware of the extensive collaborative efforts that have been ongoing between users, USFS and yurt interests.  This decision is reflected in the following management standard:

“Specifically the long term closure order for a 543 acre area in the vicinity of Chama Basin is specifically in place to prevent winter recreation use conflicts.”[50]

The Organizations concerns on this issue are not directly related to the management standard proposed, but has more to do with our experiences with similar management standards on other forests involving closures of public access for the benefit of certain users.  The White River National Forest applied similar exclusionary boundaries of ½ mile for OSV travel around many of the 10th mtn. division’s huts on the forest.  When these boundaries were put in place, the understanding was that these closures would resolve conflict between these uses moving forward. Unfortunately, these exclusionary boundaries did not resolve the conflicts for certain users, and these closures have been relied on in attempts to open discussions regarding the need for additional restrictions for OSV travel. These attempts have badly fragmented relationships and resulted in high levels of conflicts between users.

Unfortunately the experiences of the Organizations regarding segmented usages has not been limited to the WRNF Travel plan and Vail Pass.  Similar experiences have occurred on Rabbit Ears Pass on the Medicine Bow/Rout NF were Rabbit Ears Pass was evenly split between motorized and non-motorized usage.  While this did reduce conflicts when Rabbit Ears was viewed in isolation, these conflicts were not removed as a certain portion of conflict was originated by those that are entirely intolerant of multiple use principals.  In a more troubling twist the designations on Rabbit Ears gave a foundation to discussions asserting a compelling need for similar designations in other areas of the forest, such as Steamboat Lake, where conflict was basically non-existent between usages. It has been our Organizations experience that such intolerance should not be rewarded in any manner, but rather dealt with by providing clear and direct statements of fact regarding why the intolerant position is not moving forward.

While the Chama Basin Yurt closures were collaboratively developed in the Rio Grande RMP process, the reasoning behind the closures was not well documented. The Organizations would ask that the current clarity of understanding between the groups be memorialized in the RMP to avoid future conflicts like those seen on the WRNF and other areas to allow for clear and direct statements of fact regarding the Chama Basin Yurt issue and why this management was NOT explored in other areas of the Rio Grande.  The Organizations are concerned this type of information will be lost with the passage of time on the forest.

These types of concerns and conflicts are not uncommon under the multiple use principals on public lands and the Organizations believe that analysis of how best available science supports the management decisions and direction any proposal constitutes a critical part of the planning process, especially when addressing perceived user conflicts.  This analysis will allow the public to understand the basis of alleged user conflicts and why travel management has been chosen to remedy the concern.   Relevant social science has clearly found this analysis to be a critical tool in determining the proper methodology for managing and truly resolving user conflicts.

When socially based user conflict is properly addressed in the Proposal, the need for future travel management closures and separation of users will be significantly reduced. Researchers have specifically identified that properly determining the basis for or type of user conflict is critical to determining the proper method for managing this conflict.  Scientific analysis defines the division of conflicts as follows:

“For interpersonal conflict to occur, the physical presence or behavior of an individual or a group of recreationists must interfere with the goals of another individual or group….Social values conflict, on the other hand, can occur between groups who do not share the same norms (Ruddell&Gramann, 1994) and/or values (Saremba& Gill, 1991), independent of the physical presence or actual contact between the groups……When the conflict stems from interpersonal conflict, zoning incompatible users into different locations of the resource is an effective strategy.  When the source of conflict is differences in values, however, zoning is not likely to be very effective. In the Mt. Evans study (Vaske et al., 1995), for example, physically separating hunters from nonhunters did not resolve the conflict in social values expressed by the nonhunting group. Just knowing that people hunt in the area resulted in the perception of conflict. For these types of situations, efforts designed to educate and inform the different visiting publics about the reasons underlying management actions may be more effective in reducing conflict.” [51]

Other researchers have distinguished types of user conflicts based on a goals interference distinction, described as follows:

“The travel management planning process did not directly assess the prevalence of on-site conflict between non-motorized groups accessing and using the yurts and adjacent motorized users…..The common definition of recreation conflict for an individual assumes that people recreate in order to achieve certain goals, and defines conflict as “goal interference attributed to another’s behavior” (Jacob & Schreyer, 1980, p. 369). Therefore, conflict as goal interference is not an objective state, but is an individual’s appraisal of past and future social contacts that influences either direct or indirect conflict. It is important to note that the absence of recreational goal attainment alone is insufficient to denote the presence of conflict. The perceived source of this goal interference must be identified as other individuals.”[52]

It is significant to note that Mr. Norling’s study, cited above, was specifically created to determine why winter travel management closures had not resolved user conflicts for winter users of a group of yurts on the Wasache-Cache National forest. As noted in Mr. Norling’s study, the travel management decisions addressing in the areas surrounding the yurts failed to distinguish why the conflict was occurring and this failure prevented the land managers from effectively resolving the conflict.

The Organizations believe that understanding why the travel management plan was unable to resolve socially based user conflicts on the Wasache-Cache National Forest is critical in the Rio Grande planning area.  Properly understanding the issue to be resolved will ensure that the same errors that occurred on the Wasache-Cache are not implemented again to address problems they simply cannot resolve.  The Organizations believe that the Rio Grande must learn from this failure and move forward with effective management rather than fall victim to the same mistakes again.

While the Organizations understand the basis for this management in the Chama Basin Yurt issue, the Organizations remain concerned regarding the long term impacts of the current agreements when other issues are sought to be resolved with implementation of isolation of users with exclusionary boundaries. The Organizations would ask that the current clarity of understanding between the groups be memorialized in the RMP to avoid future conflicts like those seen on the WRNF.

11. Flexibility moving forward should be provided for winter recreation management.

The Organizations are aware that there are numerous hybrid vehicles and uses being developed, such as fat tire bicycles that were simply unheard of in winter recreational management circles even several years ago. The Organizations believe that continued development of these types of vehicles will result in the merger of even more non-traditional winter usages of the backcountry, such as fat tire E-Bikes or tracked bicycles.  It has been the Organizations experience that while often these conversions are marketed as being able to easily convert from summer to winter usage, these conversions are often difficult and expensive and as a result once converted, vehicles often remain in their winter converted form.  The Organizations do not see these conversions/hybrid as replacing the more traditional snowmobiles, rather the Organizations believe these units do have a place in the spectrum of winter motorized recreation. For purposes, the Organizations will divide these new users into two general categories: 1. those who are adapting their vehicles to use a track or tracks to traverse snow; and 2. those that are seeking to traverse snow by merely relying on larger wheels and tires.  These two user groups pose different management challenges for OSV and recreational management.

While the Organizations welcomes new uses, winter recreational management decisions must remain science based.  The Organizations have ongoing concerns with impacts to trails and other resources that arise from use of wheeled vehicles on winter trails, however the Organizations’ experiences with tracked conversion summer vehicles has been significantly different and welcomes these conversion vehicles, after they have complied with State OHV registration regulations for use of motor vehicles on groomed winter trails. Our initial research indicates that these tracked conversion vehicles exert similar pressures on the snow  as traditional snowmobiles, making any risks of resource damage from usage of these conversions similar to that of snowmobiles.[53] These impacts have already been well documented as minimal to entirely non-existent.  These tracked conversion vehicles also allow entirely new classes of public users into the winter backcountry to experience the exceptional opportunities these areas provide, either by accessing their local lake for winter ice fishing opportunities or by making the more traditional winter backcountry motorized experience available.

These track conversion  vehicles include motorcycles where the front tire has been removed in favor of a snowmobile like skis and the rear wheel is exchanged in favor of a large track. The Organizations are aware of discussions around trying to manage these conversion vehicles based on the intent of the designers of the vehicles, and this position is problematic with the Organizations.  These summer based  conversions provide the winter backcountry experience at reduced cost to users as multiple vehicles are less needed or lower costs units can be converted. Under certain conditions, these conversions provide a more durable recreational experience than a traditional snowmobile on warmer days, or days when the snow has become very firm, as these conversions do not rely on loose snow contacting any portion of the vehicle for the reduction of operating temperatures. These vehicles are designed to cool without any external assistance from snow contacting the vehicle.

Photos of some of these types of  motorcycle track type conversion vehicles are below:

motorcycle track type conversion vehicle


The Organizations are aware that there have been similar vehicles, designed specifically for over the snow travel, to these motorcycle conversions in production for a long time under the Snow hawk brand. The following picture represents the Snow hawk vehicle:

Snow Hawk - motorcycle track type conversion vehicle


It has been the Organizations’ experience that while the Snowhawk may have struggled in the market place for reasons that are unclear, the conversion motorcycles have rapidly developed a strong customer base and are frequently seen in the backcountry.  Permitting a Snowhawk to be managed under winter travel management guidelines, while prohibiting the motorcycle conversions  as they are not designed for winter travel could easily appear arbitrary and lead to difficulties for local managers and partners.

Similar track conversion are not just limited to motorized vehicles and  are now available for bicycles.  The Organizations are not aware of the background or viability of   bicycle based conversions for winter use, such as that pictured below, but  the Organizations are aware these vehicles are growing in popularity and will probably be seen in increasing numbers in the winter backcountry areas in the near future.

motorcycle track type conversion vehicle


Given the expected life of the RMP, the usage of these human powered types of vehicles would become an issue for travel management as these types of designs would anticipated to be perfected within the lifespan of the RMP.

The Organizations are also aware that many traditional ATVs and side by side vehicles  exchange tires for track assemblies that allow these vehicles to easily travel over snow.  The following photos represent an ATV that has undergone this track conversion:

ATV motorcycle track type conversion vehicle


Clarity in management of these ATV conversions is further made necessary by recent industry actions regarding the sales and support of tracked conversions.   Both Polaris Industries and BRP  are now selling track kits for delivery on ATVs and Side by Side vehicles  with full warranties and OEM parts availability  for both the tracks and vehicle being provided from Polaris or BRP.[58]  In addition, the Organizations understand that several models include provisions for the operator to choose if the vehicle is using tracks or wheels in the vehicles operation system.   This provision allows accurate information on data, such as vehicle speed to be automatically compensated for the use of tracks or wheels.  With these provisions, data on vehicle speed could be off by as much as 30%.  The Organizations believe that these industry actions provide a credible argument that these traditional OHVs are also designed to be OSVs.

Enforcement of travel restrictions based on the source of these pieces of equipment would be problematic and could lead to management being based on if the manufacture of the track system was by the vehicle manufacturer or if the tracks came from a third party.  Clearly, precluding a Kawasaki ATV with a Camoplast track kit while allowing a Polaris ATV with Polaris tracks would lead to nothing but conflict with users and arbitrary standards that had no relationship to mitigation of damages to resources.   This should be avoided and a broad OSV definition would resolve this issue.

The Organizations are concerned that the overly narrow definition of an OSV could impact permitted grooming activities at some time in the future, as this type of vehicle certainly could become more suited for use in Colorado.  Farm tractor conversions are now frequently used for trail grooming activities in certain parts of the country, as the track conversion kits allow for use of the grooming equipment throughout the year by adding or removing tracks depending on the season.

Snow grooming equipment


While these grooming  conversions are not heavily used in Colorado due to exceptionally steep terrain and deep snow conditions, it is our understanding that clubs or state agencies in other areas of the Country that are  utilizing these conversions can significantly reduce overall costs incurred in grooming activities.  While most questions regarding the use of a conversion farm  tractor for grooming could be resolved in the permitting process, the inability of a grooming organization to use a tracked farm tractor based  groomer on federal lands could be a major barrier to a club or organizations that grooms large tracts of non-federal lands,  where the farm tractor on tracks would be a cost efficient and acceptable alternative to dedicated grooming equipment. These types of conflicts or questions should be avoided.

The second major category of winter vehicle conversions, mainly those users attempting to traverse the winter back country by merely adding larger tires to their chosen means of travel is more problematic. This is an issue where motorized management has clearly been established for a long time and this should not be altered at the landscape level.  At this time the most prominent of users of larger wheels and tires for winter travel is the bicycle community as the usage of motorized vehicles with the mere addition of larger wheels and tires has been declined. The Organizations have already experienced fat tire bicycle usage on winter trails, such as that pictured below:

fat tire bicycle


While larger tires is asserted to be a valid use of winter trails from the bicycle community, the idea of merely accepting larger wheels for traversing snow has already been declined for motorized usage.  While this usage is asserted to be valid by the manufacturer, the Organizations are concerned about the basis for this position.  The Organizations must question the basis for such a distinction as the only research on pressures from fat tire bicycles[61] yields the following results:

table 1. Ground Pressure Comparison

The Organizations concerns are far from abstract on this issue as the Stanislaus  NF is closing significant areas to OSV usage due to possible contact with Yellow legged Frog and Yosemite Toad from grooming until questions regarding pressures on the hibernating toad from grooming can be resolved.  Higher pressure of fat tire is major concern in these areas as the higher pressure bicycle tire would be more likely to strike and kill a toad than low pressure track assemblies on grooming equipment.  This list of issues is far from comprehensive but the Organizations believe it is important to recognize these issues and questions already exist and will probably not simply fade away over the life of the RMP.  These questions will simply expand with every new hybrid usage accepted into the winter backcountry.

Given this research and that all relevant travel determinations have excluded both wheeled ATV and UTV from winter trails due to the pressure that these vehicles exert on the ground, any attempt to permit fat tire bicycles due to a lack of pressure or impacts would be problematic at best. The basic lack of scientific evidence to support the position would be a major concern for the snowmobile community as this is the community that has directed hundreds of millions of dollars and peoples entire lives to establishing the scientific basis of the snow buffer.

The Organizations believe that laying the ground work for management of these wheel conversion vehicles in the RMP is sound policy and good management. The Organizations have significant experience in partnering with USFS to educate users of these conversions.  Often this educational partnership has been made more difficult as confusion in classifying these conversion vehicles makes it difficult to educate winter recreational users of these conversions as to when they can and when they cannot use particular vehicles and if they are legal at all, which leads to frustration to users. The Organizations have struggled with assisting the public in identifying if a particular vehicle is allowed in a particular Ranger District at a particular time of the year.

The Organizations are aware that in some areas of the country groomed routes and other facilities such as bridges may not be of sufficient size to accommodate some of the conversion vehicles. While these situations exist, they certainly are not the norm.  The Organizations believe  local managers are able to easily address any site specific issues either with weight or width restrictions for vehicles using trails in these areas.  Summer motor vehicle management has proven these types of local decisions addressing width or weight restrictions highly effective.  The public awareness of these types of standards will allow weight or width restrictions to translate easily to winter travel management process and decisions in areas where they might be necessary.

12a. The OHV community has a strong partnership with the Rio Grande and if funding is used to determine opportunities, this factor must be applied to all uses.

The motorized community has proudly partnered with land managers to help offset budget limitations, which has resulted in grant funding exceeding $200k per year now being provided to the Rio Grande National Forest, even in light of the most recent round of budget cuts to the USFS.   Lack of fiscal capacity by the USFS should not be a criteria for, or lead to closures and reductions in public recreational opportunities, closure of routes or elimination of public access to the Rio Grande National Forest.  We fully realize the stark realities of ever diminishing budgets, but it would be a travesty that the public citizenry should be locked out of any public lands and denied access because of a lack of funding. Maintenance and staffing may suffer, but the public must not be shut out.  Public access must be preserved and the ongoing grant funding that has been provided on a project and Good Management Crew basis for the Rio Grande National Forest the Organizations hope has played an integral part in efforts to maintain access to public lands for all user groups.  This grant program has become more important every year as federal budgets continue to decline at a somewhat alarming rate and creates a situation where leaving a trail open to motorized usage significantly expands funding available for the route to be maintained with.

The Organizations encourage the individual Ranger Districts within the Rio Grande National Forest to carry on their efforts and continue to make submissions for grants through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife OHV Grant program to support OHV trail related projects on the Forest. OHV project grants can address the full spectrum of OHV recreation support needs.  Examples of eligible OHV grant funded activities includes[62]:​

  • ​Construction, reconstruction or maintenance of OHV routes or multi-use trails that allow for motorized use​
  • Crossing structures, bridges, railings, ramps, and fencing
  • ​Bank stabilization and retaining structures
  • OHV trail corridor re-vegetation and erosion control​
  • ​Trailhead development and/or support facilities related to OHV or multi-use trails including parking areas, restrooms, and related facilities
  • Equipment needed to build or maintain OHV trails
  • Signs – directional, regulatory, and interpretive signage for OHV routes
  • Printing – maps/guides, safety and educational materials programs, publications and videos on safety and OHV recreation
  • OHV trail or system planning, engineering, or design
  • ​Land acquisition or easement projects. NEPA review and environmental compliance work required under NEPA or other statutes​
  • Restoration of closed trails or damaged areas where a nexus exists between OHV misuse and needed repairs
  • Salary, compensation and benefits for crew members or project employees​
  • OHV Education and safety programs
  • Wildlife habitat restoration

The Organizations submit that these projects have always benefitted the recreational opportunities for all users of the Rio Grande as the OHV grant program has embraced the motto of “the Rising Tide Floats all boats” for implementation of the grant program.  The Organizations also note that we are not aware of any “motorized only” routes or areas on the Rio Grande, further insuring that any partnership benefits all users of the Rio Grande.

12b. All recreational projects and opportunities must be reviewed for funding stability moving forward.

While the OHV community has the strongest and most direct funding streams available to the Rio Grande NF as outlined above, the Organizations are deeply troubled with the application of financing and funding to only motorized projects and routes. In the Draft Proposal, management standard MA-INFR-4 provides in relevant part:

“Designated travelways, as displayed on the Forest motor vehicle use map, and newly constructed travelways are open to motorized use, unless a documented decision shows that:

Financing is not available for maintenance as necessary to protect resources(Forestwide).” [63]

After a review of the rest of the Proposal, the Organizations are unable to identify this type of balancing requirement for any other recreational usage on the Rio Grande. The Organizations hope this is merely a drafting oversight and can be easily amended.

The Organizations believe that requiring the strongest partner of the Forest, whose partnership has benefitted all uses, to balance opportunities with funding while no other user group is required to undertake similar levels of balancing sends the wrong message to the motorized community. The Organizations submit that all recreational activity must start to be reviewed from a cost benefit basis to insure that ever lowering levels of funding are benefitting the largest portion of the community.

13a.  Best available science must be relied on in the development of the RMP for all species.

Often identifying best available science can be difficult as this is an issue that is now rapidly evolving for many species, such as the Gunnison Sage Grouse, Mexican Wolf, Wolverine and Canadian Lynx. The rapid evolution of best available science in comparison to RMPs has resulted in conflict between these two issues, and as recently exemplified by the Pike & San Isabel National Forest Plan Challenge can result in lawsuits being brought against land managers when forest plans conflict with best available science. Overreliance on outdated management principals and standards should be avoided in the development of the Rio Grande National Forest RMP as this will be an area which will be ripe for legal challenge in the future.  The Organizations submit that the new adaptive management and monitoring standards further support the requirement that best available science be relied on both in the development of forest plans and over the life of the forest plan.

The Organizations would also note that the on-going requirement to manage to best available science and avoid application of outdated management standards in the development of new forest or resource plans was specifically addressed in the new Lynx Conservation Assessment and Strategy (“LCAS”). While the LCAS is highlighted here similar provisions are found in almost all species specific management documents that have been created. The LCAS specifically provides as follows:

“This edition of the LCAS provides a full revision, incorporating all prior amendments and clarifications, substantial new scientific information that has emerged since 2000…… Guidance provided in the revised LCAS is no longer written in the framework of objectives, standards, and guide-lines as used in land management planning, but rather as conservation measures. This change was made to more clearly distinguish between the management direction that has been established through the public planning and decision-making process, versus conservation measures that are meant to synthesize and interpret evolving scientific information.”[64]

2013 LCAS continues by addressing the relationship of best available science, the Southern Rockies Lynx Amendments  and existing forest plans as follows:

“Forest plans are prepared and implemented in accordance with the National Forest Management Act of 1976…..The updated information and understandings in the revised LCAS may be useful for project planning and implementation, as well as helping to inform future amendments or revisions of forest plans.”[65]

Many wildlife or quiet use advocates are uncomfortable in reducing the strictness of management standards when best available science moves away from one low risk threat to a species to address newly discovered or understood threats.  Given the clarity of these various positions and the legal exposure that could result from failing to implement these requirements the Organizations vigorously assert that best available science must be applied in the Rio Grande National Forest RMP moving forward.

Many of the Rio Grande Lynx management standards are in stark conflict with the 2013 LCAS, which clearly addresses many of the issues addressed in conflicting management standards in the Rio Grande RMP proposal. This conflict is reflected in the extensive and detailed discussion of lynx and winter recreation provided on pages 209 to pages 219 of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The Organizations wanted to highlight some of the more significant changes in lynx management standards between the Rio Grande RMP and the 2013 LCAS including:

  • Recreational usage of lynx habitat is a second level threat and not likely to have substantial effects on the lynx or its habitat. Previous theory and management analysis had placed a much higher level of concern on recreational usage of lynx habitat; [66]
  • Lynx have been known to incorporate smaller ski resorts within their home ranges, but may not utilize the large resorts. Dispersed motorized recreational usage certainly does not create impacts that can be equated to even a small ski area; [67]
  • Road and trail density does not impact the quality of an area as lynx habitat;[68]
  • There is no information to suggest that trails have a negative impact on lynx; [69]
  • Snow compaction from winter recreational activity is not likely to change the competitive advantage of the lynx and other predators;[70]
  • Snow compaction in the Southern Rocky Mountain region is frequently a result of natural process and not recreational usage; [71]
  • Winter recreational usage of lynx habitat should only be “considered” in planning and should not be precluded given the minimal threat this usage poses to the lynx; and [72]
  • Failing to manage habitat areas to mitigate impacts of poor forest health issues, such as the spruce and mtn pine beetle, is a major concern in lynx habitat for a long duration.[73]

The Organizations are aware that the 2013 LCAS represents a significant change in management standards for a wide range of issues from the 2000 LCAS relied on for the development of the Rio Grande  RMP.

In addition to the 2103 LCAS, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has clearly stated their management position as a result of the more than successful reintroduction of the Canada Lynx, which provides as follows:

“Lynx have successfully been re-established in Colorado and a self-sustaining population is believed to persist in the region. The management actions taken to re-establish the population to Colorado were done considering the landscape of the time – there is no intention of attempting to change, alter or remove historic and current land uses from the landscape. Many of these industries can and have developed practices that have the potential to allow the long term persistence of the lynx within the context of existing land use.”[74]

Given these clear statements from both Federal and State species management experts that OSV/OHV usage is not impacting the Canadian Lynx and that there should not be any changes in land use as a result of lynx activity and position that closing any area to OSV/OHV would benefit the Canadian Lynx would be inaccurate and conflicting with best available science. This position should be included in management direction for the Rio Grande moving forward to avoid any confusion on standards for the forest moving forward.

13b. Failing to even address the 2013 LCAS in the DEIS is a sad ending to a long and strong partnership between CSA and management experts.

The development and circulation of best available science on species management is another area where the partnership between the Organizations and land managers has manifested itself. CSA was invited to participate in years of collaborative efforts around the development of the 2013 LCAS in order to insure that best available science in the 2013 LCAS was addressing issues on the ground as effectively as possible. The Organizations jumped at the opportunity to participate as the Organizations believe these types of collaboratives are the future of species management and develop more effective science in addressing on the ground challenges and also provide new resources for researchers.

These efforts included active participation of nationally recognized lynx experts, such as Dr. John Squires, Dr. Eric Copeland, CPW species experts such as Eric Odell; representatives of the USFWS and numerous representatives from a wide range of interest groups.  During the course of these meetings CSA was able to leverage relationships with the Idaho Snowmobile Association, who was directly funding research and experts on the species in Idaho. This partnership established an open channel of communication to insure that discussions on the LCAS were not conflicting with research that was yet to be published.

In addition to participating in years of collaborative efforts, CSA actively partnered with researchers when funding was an issue.  This partnership included providing fuel and oil for researchers snowmobiles, recovering stuck equipment in the back  country when researchers desires to obtain data exceeded skills on snowmobiles(often during heavy snowfall events) and exploring the donation of a snowmobile to researchers.  While the snowmobile donation was not able to be completed, as the snowmobile was sought to be returned to CSA after the project, this partnership continued throughout the project.

As the 2013 LCAS moved closer to completion, USFWS staff identified that funding was not available to publish or circulate the final product of these collaborative efforts.  After some frustration was expressed, the Organization were able to partner with the USFWS and get approximately 100 copies of the 2013 printed and circulated to every forest, ranger district and BLM Field Office in the state of Colorado and beyond.  The Organizations thought this was a situation  action where the Organizations actions would speak louder than words regarding best available science and partnerships.

The Organizations assert that the years of effort and significant funding  from partners throughout the Western United States that was directed towards developing the 2013 LCAS will simply be squandered by the decision not to even recognize this document in the Rio Grande Forest Planning efforts.  The Organizations submit this has never been the nature of the partnership between the Organizations and Rio Grande staff on many issue.  The Organizations would hope that  this situation could be easily remedied and insure that the proper message about partnerships be conveyed to partners to insure partnerships flourish and expand in the future.  Unfortunately, the proper message is not sent to potential partners by ignoring this summary of best available science.

14. Additional thoughts.

The Organizations offer the following comments, values and concerns regarding this plan update moving forward.

  1. The Organizations believe that continued multi-use access and motorized recreation within the National Forest is vitally important to the preservation and conservation of our public lands and the well-being of our citizens. The Organizations acknowledge that as America becomes more urbanized and populations rise, our younger citizens are becoming less connected to and are less likely to identify with the outdoors in their daily lives. Our Organizations have worked diligently and continuously to help Coloradans and visitors to our State to be able to access and enjoy our public lands in a safe and responsible manner.  We recognize that there is a bona fide correlation between an individual’s personal health and their participation in outdoor activities. We continually strive to get youth and families excited about visiting, seeing and experiencing all that our public lands have to offer.  We have a history of partnering with the USFS to protect our forest resources while reducing and eliminating barriers that are continuing to make it difficult for Americans to get outside and travel on a multi-use trail or share a road as part of their outdoor recreational experience.  The Organizations feel that this renewal of the Forest Plan must work diligently to ensure that a balanced spectrum of opportunities are provided in the Rio Grande National Forest to properly serve the diverse cross section of our population and meet their recreational needs.  We contend that both “Conservation philosophies” and “Recreation activities” are compatible and can work in harmony for the betterment of the Forest. We request that this revision of the Forest Plan fairly and adequately provide an Environmentally, Economically and Socially sustainable end state.
  2. It is well recognized that the average age of our country’s population is increasing and the number of persons aged 50 and older is steadily increasing. As the average age grows, so is the number of people still choosing to recreate outdoors but more and more will be less able to use non-motorized methods of travel or participate in high-energy, high-skill sports.  As this demographic group grows, so will their needs for access to the Forest by motorized or other assisted methods.  If we collectively fail to recognize and plan for this changing demographic, we will be deliberately excluding a significant and growing segment of the population from the opportunities to experience and enjoy the Rio Grande National Forest.  Many of us hope to retain our individual mobility into the “Golden Years,” but many will not, and they will need to rely upon some sort of motorized assistance to access the places we all enjoy and cherish.  The Rio Grande National Forest’s Assessment #9, Recreation even states that “For seniors, inaccessible infrastructure and lack of opportunities that enable senior adults to continue in outdoor recreation constrains recreation participation”.
  3. Our Organizations contend that the previous Forest Plan and subsequent Travel Management Plan (TMP) substantially reduced recreational opportunities, reduced access, eliminated multi-use/motorized recreational opportunities and was too restrictive. This new plan must seek a more balanced and fair allocation of resources to recreation and especially multi-use/motorized recreational opportunities.  Similarly, the restrictions of the former plan have contributed to the current poor health of the forest and unnecessarily hampered the efforts of the agency to be able to properly and effectively mitigate fuels and manage the density of the forest biomass.
  4. With few if any exceptions, the roads and trails within the Rio Grande National Forest have been in existence and providing public benefits for decades. History has shown that these routes provides a level of tangible recreational, economic and/or forest access value.   Continuing to have an adequate network of forest roads and trails will be truly beneficial and necessary in providing sufficient access for future timber management, continuing forest visits, recreation, emergency access/egress and wildland firefighting efforts.  This minimal threat is accurately reflected in the aquatic assessments on the Rio Grande National Forest which clearly conclude that these routes pose an exceptionally low level threat to water quality.
  5. We feel it is important to spotlight the following general principles regarding multi-use recreation and are important considerations when evaluating any modifications to the Forest Plan[75]:
    1. Generally forest visitors participating in multi-use activities will use routes that exist and adequately satisfy their needs and desires.
    2. Non-system trails and roads should be reviewed during this review process to determine if any of these non-system routes will fulfill a valid multi-use need and can be altered to meet recreation and resource management considerations.
    3. Route networks and multi-use trail systems should meet local needs, provide the desired recreational opportunities and offer a quality experience. We are not asking that this be done at the expense of other important concerns, but a system of routes that does not meet user needs will not be used properly and will not be supported by the users.  Occurrences of off-route use, other management issues and enforcement problems will likely increase when the routes and trails do not provide an appropriate and enjoyable opportunity.
    4. Recreational enthusiasts look for variety in their various pursuits. For multi-use, to include motorized/OHV users, this means looped routes.  An in-and-out route may be satisfactory if the destination is so desirable that it overshadows the fact that forest visitors must use the same route in both directions (e.g., access to dispersed camping sites, overlooks, historic sites, the Wheeler Geologic Area, etc.).  However, even in these cases, loop systems will always provide better experiences.
  6. An adequate network of forest roads and trails is necessary to provide access for proper forest management and especially in times of emergency.  The USFS is a world renowned expert on wildland firefighting and knows firsthand the importance of good access, redundant routes and routes in key places and the impact of those routes on the safety of the firefighters, the public and successful wildland firefighting.  The demands for reduced road inventory, for reduced route density and increased decommissioning of roads is not collectively and universally in the best interest of the forest nor the public.  The demand for more and more closure of multi-use and motorized access is often based upon self-serving desires and an unwillingness to share our natural resources with others, intolerance of mixed forest uses and an unwillingness to coexist in our individual pursuits of recreation.  Likewise the premise that decommissioning roads will reduce human caused fires is absolutely unfounded and unsubstantiated and should not be utilized as a criteria for any decisions regarding the elimination or closure of any multi-use or motorized route.
  7. Not all dead roads are necessarily of low value and in need of closure. Many dead end spurs and “low value” routes provide access to picnic areas, dispersed camping sites, overlooks, etc.  Although the values of these roads is less than that of main roads, connectors and loops, (i.e. “higher value” routes) their individual, overall benefit and value must be individually considered.  We acknowledge that these roads will likely not generate much positive public interest and comment, however these routes can still have substantial importance to the public.  We would encourage the Rio Grande National Forest to listen to your own recreational and field staff when assessing any low value or dead end spur roads.
  8. Duplicative roads and trails may on the surface appear redundant and not needed. This is often the cry from those unfamiliar with multi-use and motorized recreation or simply seeking to eliminate or reduce public use of these roads.  However, we would challenge that some duplicative routes may in fact offer unique benefits for distributing the use rather than concentrating use to a single route or may offer looping and other recreational opportunities. It is our position that every route has recreational value as each route provides a unique experience to those using the route for recreational activity.
  9. The Organizations in general oppose the conversion of routes to “Administrative Roads”. This designation in and of itself suggest an elitism attitude that Agency staff or other special designated personnel are the only ones capable of properly using a route.  If a route is important for USFS and agency staff to access a location, it is very probable that that same route is equally important or desirable for the public to access the same or similar location.  If the route is properly constructed and receives the requisite level of maintenance, there should be few reasons the public should not be allowed similar access and privileges.  The designation that only “special” personnel are allowed to use a route does little to foster any sense of community and partnership users and agency staff should have for each other.  Discrimination of the public users and the fostering of elitism should not be perpetuated, encouraged or allowed to proliferate.  The designation of routes for Administrative Use should only be utilized in the rarest of instances where the exclusion of the public can be justified for very site specific, meaningful and justifiable conditions (e.g. mandated security of critical infrastructure, etc.).
  10. In the past there have been unfounded concerns for American elk and mule deer as a reason to close and limit multi-use and motorized recreation on public lands. The premise that “large animals, especially deer and elk, are sensitive to traffic and activity along roads” is not supported by published scientific research.  Extensive studies completed as recently as 2005 by the National Park Service (NPS) in Yellowstone Park stated that “Effects of winter disturbances on ungulates from motorized and non-motorized uses more likely accrue at the individual animal level than at the population scale.” Even the biologist performing the research stated that the debate regarding effects on human recreation on wildlife is largely a “social issue” as opposed to a wildlife management issue. This NPS research would certainly seem relevant to wildlife in the Rio Grande National Forest and does not support a premise for closures and reductions in multi-use recreational opportunities.  Additional research published by Mark Rumble, Lahkdar Benkobi and Scott Gamo in 2005 has also found that hunting invokes a more significant response in elk than other factors in the same habitat area (e.g. roads or trails).  Likewise research by Connor, White and Freddy in 2001 has even demonstrated that elk population increases on private land in response to hunting activities.  This research again brings into question why multi-use trail recreation (specifically motorized recreation) might be cited and used as the justification for any closures or modification to public access.
  11. The Organizations are aware of demands regarding a perceived inadequacy of the USFS to provide enforcement of regulations pertaining to multi-use and motorized recreation in particular. We would challenge that based upon several studies, pilot projects, etc. by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division, the USFS and the BLM to analyze if indeed an enforcement issue exists, and without exception, those projects have shown there are no problems due to a lack of enforcement.  The State of Colorado’s OHV funds have been used to subsidize law enforcement programs and the detailing of law enforcement officers to OHV areas only to come back with consistent results that this cry for the need for enforcement is unfounded, unsubstantiated and just plain inaccurate. In 2011, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division initiated an OHV Law Enforcement Pilot program to address the accusations, questions and concerns raised by critics of OHV recreation on public lands in Colorado.  The data and observations gathered from this Pilot program in 2011, 2012, and 2103 repeatedly demonstrated excellent compliance with OHV rules and regulations throughout Colorado by OHV users.  It was estimated that over 10,000 individual OHV users were stopped and inspected during the Pilot Program and 94% of those users were found to be fully compliant with Colorado OHV laws and regulations.[76]
  12. Sound. Motorized and non-motorized uses are equally legitimate uses of public lands and especially on USFS roads and multi-use/motorized trails.  Sound from motorized use is to be expected in areas open to motorized use.  The Organizations would offer that the State of Colorado already has strict standards for any and all sound emanating from OHV’s.  This very detailed standard has proven to be effective since 2006 and governs vehicles produced as far back as 1971.  OHV users themselves have funded efforts to educate, test and “police” themselves for sound level compliance.  We feel that complaints of noise and demands for sound reduction are once again unfounded and will often be used as a selfish excuse to try and reduce or eliminate motorized access and use of public lands.The Organizations would be willing to partner with the USFS to address any site specific sound issues that may be asserted to be present on the Rio Grande National Forest.   The Organizations have undertaken sound testing with independent third parties at numerous other areas asserted to have sound issues and have almost uniformly found that site specific sound issues are unrelated to OHV activity and are more commonly related to trains, air travel and high speed arterial roads in the area.The Organizations further submit that those seeking a quiet recreational experience have a wide range of opportunities available on the Rio Grande National Forest given the high levels of Wilderness already in place.  The Organizations submit that these opportunities must be utilized before additional closures are undertaken, as the inability to access a “quiet area” is a different issue than the lack of quiet areas on the Rio Grande National Forest.
  13. We acknowledge that the Rio Grande National Forest may have struggled somewhat with the proliferation of non-system trails by ALL users throughout the Forest. However, we feel much of this stems from an increasing need and demand for multi-use recreational opportunities on public lands in general.  As the State of Colorado’s population has grown, so have the sales of Off Highway Vehicles (OHV’s), bicycles, hiking equipment, camping units and other forms of outdoor recreation increasing the demand for recreation sites within the Rio Grande National Forest.  We would offer that much of the increase in illegal user-created routes, braided routes & trails and unauthorized group campsites are a result and reflection of inadequately meeting the needs and demands of the public and the recreational users who choose these areas.  An adequate and varied inventory of routes and trails that fulfills the user’s spectrum of needs for variety, difficulty, destinations, challenge, terrain and scenic opportunity will lead to improved compliance and less off route travel.  Closure and reduction of recreational opportunities and the resulting concentration of the ever increasing number of users, has shown again and again that the desired results are not obtained.
  14. As future Proactive and Adaptive Management Plans are considered to try and achieve a particular desired condition or end state, these Plans should include thresholds and triggering mechanisms that allow for the expansion and adding of recreational opportunities, not just curtailment, restrictions and eliminations of opportunities. If desired conditions are not being achieved or monitoring protocols are not rendering the preferred results, consideration should be given that perhaps the needs and demands of the users are not being adequately provided for.  One example might be off trail use or use of closed routes.  Rather than assuming this is merely caused by a minority of users ignoring the rules, this may indeed be an indicator that the existing network does not adequately meet the user group’s spectrum of needs for a route to a particular destination, level or degree of challenge, route length, etc.  The Organizations believe the motorized game retrieval standards currently allowed on the Rio Grande National Forest provide a concrete example of the need for flexibility in management to achieve management objectives.
  15. We feel it will be necessary for this revision of the Forest Plan to provide opportunities and future opportunities that will not restrict the changes and development of new technologies such as hybrid bikes, electric bikes/motorcycles, personal mobility devices just to name a few.
  16. Cultural sites – The Organizations were pleased to note that The Need for Change document[77] states the desire to expand several cultural areas while maintaining motorized access. Maintaining multiple use access is critical to the public support for these areas in the future, as the public should understand why an area is important and without this type of hands on understanding resentment will grow for closure of these areas. The Organizations also vigorously assert that cultural sites have been specifically identified as a multiple use management concern and when multiple uses of cultural areas are balanced, closures to the areas are difficult to justify.
  17. Motorized game retrieval. The Organizations submit that motorized game retrieval is an important an unique component of the hunting experience on the Rio Grande National Forest. While the Organizations are aware this is a site specific travel management decision, the continuation of these regulations should be provided for as the RMP moves forward.


The Organizations vigorously support Alternative C of the Proposal due to this Alternative having the fewest categories for area management in the RMP, which we believe will greatly expand public understanding of the Proposal and provide significant long-term flexibility for the Rio Grande planning area moving forward. The flexibility of Alternative C of the Proposal is expanded by the fact that this Alternative provides the most flexibility for management moving forward as this provides the most multiple use opportunities.  This expanded opportunity will allow for more site specific planning in the future, and the Organizations are aware that in site specific planning restricting access can be easily accomplished but amended a forest plan to expand opportunities has been almost impossible.  Organizations are vigorously opposed to Alternative D due to its complexity and the fact that it functionally ties the hands of land managers dealing with the poor forest health that has become far too common in Colorado.

The Organizations are supporting Alternative C of the Proposal due to the limited number of management standards that are provided for in this Alternative, which is a significant benefit for the reasons previously addressed in these comments.  The Organizations also support the significant expansion of opportunity areas for motorized recreation that are provided in the Alternative, but this is not unexpected and our reasoning behind such a position should be apparent.    The Organizations believe the flexibility provided under the expanded multiple use opportunity areas is an important factor to be addressed in the RMP as  increasing populations in Colorado will continue to demand high quality opportunities synonymous with Rio Grande.  Site specific planners should have the most flexibility possible in their planning, and authority to allow multiple use should be provided in the RMP as this can be more meaningfully addressed in local planning.

The Organizations also support Alternative C due to the inherent simplicity of the Plan that results from the reduced number of management categories in the RMP.  The Organizations are well versed in site specific planning that occurs subsequent to the implementation of an RMP, and while planners attempt to streamline the subsequent site specific planning efforts by identifying a large number of issues and factors in the landscape level RMP, often times these efforts become outdated quickly and result in significant barriers resulting in site specific planning rather than streamlining local site specific plans.

The significant reduction in the number of categories of the RMP Alternative C will also result in increased simplicity for the public and allow for a much greater level of understanding of the Plan. This alternative is the easiest for the public to understand  for comments and for the public to understand how the Plan will guide management of particular areas to achieve particular goals in the future.   The most common frustration we have experienced in dealing with the public in working on site specific projects on forest is the high levels of  complexity of forest plans, the numerous overlapping categories for the management of areas that often provide contradictory and confusing guidance for areas and rely on boundaries that make little sense on the ground or rely on boundary lines in the forest plan that are of such poor definition due to mapping scales that conflict results. These benefits should not be overlooked.

The Organizations would welcome a discussion of these opportunities and any other challenges that might be facing the Rio Grande National Forest moving forward at your convenience.  Please feel free to contact  Don Riggle at 725 Palomar Lane, Colorado Springs, 80906, Cell (719) 338- 4106 or Scott Jones, Esq. at 508 Ashford Drive, Longmont, CO 80504.  His phone is (518)281-5810 and his email is


Scott Jones, Esq.
TPA Authorized Representative
CSA/COHVCO President

D.E. Riggle
Director of Operations
Trails Preservation Alliance


[1] See, Rio Grande NF 1996 RMP, Soil Productivity Standard #1 at pg. III-10.

[2] A copy of Secretarial Order 3355 has been included with these comments for your reference.

[3] See,  – DEIS public meetings slide show accessed December 19, 2017.

[4] See, USDA Forest Service; Kirst et al;  2013-2027 National Insect and Disease Forest Risk Assessment; January 2014 pg 51.

[5] A complete copy of this report is enclosed with these comments for your reference as Exhibit 1. (hereinafter referred to as 2016 Forest Health report.

[6] See,

[7] See, 2016 Forest Health Report at pg 6

[8] See, 2016 Forest Health Report at pg 24

[9] See, 2016 Forest Health Report at pg. 24.

[10] See, 2016 Forest Health Report at pg. 24.

[11] See, 2016 Forest Health Report at pg. 5.

[12] See, Colorado State Forest Service;  2010 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests Continuing Challenges for Colorado’s Forests: Recurring & Emerging Threats 10th Anniversary Report at pgs 7-8.

[13] See, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station;” A review of the Forest Service Response: The Bark Beetle Outbreak in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming prepared at the request of Senator Mark Udall’: September 2011 at pg i. (Hereinafter referred to as the “Udall Forest Health Report”)

[14] Udall Forest Health report at pg 5

[15] Udall Forest Health Report at pg 18

[16] Retzlaff, Molly L.; Leirfallom, Signe B.; Keane, Robert E. 2016. A 20-year reassessment of the health and status of whitebark pine forests in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana. Res. Note RMRS-RN-73. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 10 p.

[17] See, USDA Forest Service; Rio Grande NF Revised Management Plan at pg. 166.

[18] See, USAD Forest Service; Rio Grande NF Revised Management Plan; Draft Environmental Impact Statement; (September 2017) at pg. 266.

[19] See, 16 USC §583k-2

[20] See, Colorado State Demographer” Preliminary Population Forecasts by region and county ” September 2016.  A complete version of these projections, assumptions  and other supporting documentation is available here:

[21] See, Proposal at pg. 67.

[22] See, Department of Agriculture Forest Service 36 CFR Part 294 Special Areas; Roadless Area Conservation; Applicability to the National Forests in Colorado; Final Rule Vol. 77 Tuesday, No. 128 July 3, 2012 at pg 39577.  (Hereinafter referred to as the “Colorado Roadless Rule Final”).

[23] See, Colorado Roadless Rule Final at pg 39580.

[24] See, Colorado Roadless Rule FEIS at pg 296

[25] See, Colorado Roadless Rule FEIS at pg 248.

[26]  A complete version of this document is available here:

[27] See, USDA Forest Service; Rio Grande NF Revised Management Plan at pg. 166.

[28] See, USAD Forest Service; Rio Grande NF Revised Management Plan; Draft Environmental Impact Statement; (September 2017) at pg. 266.

[29] See, Rio Grande NF DEIS at pg. 267.

[30] See, 2016 USFS CDT Guidance at Pg. 9 – Senate Report No 95-636, 1978 is not available to the public- when searched on the Congressional history the following report is provided: “As of 12/15/2017 the text of this report has not been received.”

[31] See, HRep 1631 at pg. 3873.

[32] See, HRep 1631 at pg. 3861.

[33] See, HRep 1631 at pg. 3859.

[34] See, HR 1631 at pg. 3873.

[35] See, 2016 USFS CDT Guidance at pg. 1.

[36] See, 16 USC 1246(a)(2) emphasis added.

[37] See, 16 USC 1246(b)(ii).

[38] See, 16 USC  1246(j).

[39] See, 16 USC 1244(a)(5)

[40] See, 16 USC 12446(C) emphasis added.

[41] See, USDA Forest Service; The 2009 Continental Divide National Scenic Trail Comprehensive Plan;  September 2009 at pg. 19.

[42] See, USFS: The Continental Divide Scenic Trail Comprehensive Plan; 2009 at pg 19.

[43] See, 16 USC §1244(b)(9)

[44] See,

[45] See, USDA Forest Service; White and Stynes; Updated Spending Profiles for National Forest Recreation Visitors by Activity;  September 2010 at pg 6.

[46] See, Entergy Corp v. Riverkeeper Inc et al; 556 US ; 475 F3d 83; (2009) Opinion of Breyer J, at pg 4

[47] See, DEIS at pg 277.

[48] See, USFS National Visitor Use Monitoring report for the Rio Grande National Forest-  Round 3

[49] See, USFS National Visitor Use Monitoring Results, USDA Forest Service, National Summary Report, Updated 20 May 2013.

[50] See, DEIS at pg 284

[51] Carothers, P., Vaske, J. J., & Donnelly, M. P. (2001). Social values versus interpersonal conflict among hikers and mountain biker; Journal of  Leisure Sciences, 23(1) at pg 58.

[52] See, Norling et al; Conflict attributed to snowmobiles in a sample of backcountry, non-motorized yurt users in the Wasatch –Cache National Forest; Utah State University; 2009 at pg 3.

[53] A Copy of this study has been enclosed with these comments for your reference and complete review as Exhibit 7.

[54] Picture credit to timbersled industries and more information is available regarding these products here

[55] More information on these vehicles is available here:

[56] More information on this conversion is available here: The Organizations are not taking a position as to the management of these vehicles, as we have never seen one or are aware of any research on pressure the vehicle applies to snow. The Organizations  are providing this portion of our comments as an example of the rapidly changing nature of this class of vehicles.


[58] or


[60] Further information on this usage is available here:

[61] See, American Council of Snowmobile Associations; Fat Tire Bicycle Use on Snowmobile Trails; Background Information and Management Considerations; July 2016 pg 7. This research is exhibit 8 to these comments.


[63] See, Rio Grande NF; Draft Revised Land Management Plan; September 2017 at pg 60.

[64] See, Interagency Lynx Biology Team. 2013. Canada lynx conservation assessment and strategy. 3rd edition. USDA Forest Service, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, and USDI National Park Service. Forest Service Publication R1-13-19, Missoula, MT. 128 pp. at pg. 2. (Hereinafter referred to as “2013 LCAS”).

[65] See, 2013 LCAS at pg. 4

[66] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 94.

[67] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 83.

[68] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 95.

[69] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 84.

[70] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 83.

[71] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 26.

[72] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 94.

[73] See, 2013 LCAS at pg 91.

[74] See, 2015 CPW State Wildlife Action Plan at pg 173.

[75] See, National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council- Management Guidelines for OHV Recreation, 2006.

[76] See, Colorado Parks and Wildlife – The 2014 Off-Highway Vehicle Law Enforcement & Field Presence Program, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division, March 2014

[77]See, Rio Grande National Forest “Need for Change document” pg. 6 – item D7.  A complete version of this document is available here:


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HR 1349 – Wilderness Act Amendments

HR 1349 – Wilderness Act Amendments


Congressman Scott Tipton
218 Cannon HOB
Washington DC 20515

Senator Corey Gardner
354 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

Re: HR 1349 – Wilderness Act Amendments


Dear Congressman Tipton and Senator Gardner:

The above Organizations are contacting your Offices’ to provide more detailed information and follow up to our discussions earlier this week regarding our opposition to HR 1349, which would make significant revisions to the Wilderness Act. Our Organizations must oppose the legislation, as we are concerned HR 1349  would: 1. Create significant user conflict; 2. Be of limited benefit on the ground as significant site specific effort would have to follow HR 1349 passage to open any routes; 3.  Implementations of any changes would be exceptionally costly; and 4.  Expansion of nonconforming uses into Wilderness areas would degrade Wilderness quality and  in the long term result in extensive new discussions regarding expansion of Wilderness into areas already found unsuitable for designation.

While our Organizations have been staunch supporters of expanding access to public lands, we must oppose HR 1349 as we are aware of a huge number of interests and concerns, such as the motorized community, ranching, timber, recreation, mineral extractions, and water that have significant concerns regarding the Wilderness Act and related management standards, such as Wilderness Study areas and recommended Wilderness.  The Organizations would absolutely welcome a collaborative discussion regarding the release of WSAs and providing clarity on other Wilderness type management issues, but that discussion would not result from HR 1349. The Organizations believe this type of discussion would be of more value to addressing recreational needs of all users and all other interests as there are fewer management restrictions in WSA or RWA areas and expanding opportunities can happen in a far more cost-effective manner. Addressing the concerns of one user group around these issues will simply result in further conflict between users and interests and that type of legislatively created conflict must be avoided.

While HR 1349 might appear to provide access for these uses in Wilderness areas, the Organizations note that its passage would not open routes any on the ground.  Rather its passage would be the first step in a very long and contentious process as the overwhelming portion of the land management offices in Colorado have moved mechanized travel to designated routes on public lands.  Since these planning efforts have been completed, there are no legal trails in Wilderness Areas for mechanized travel.  Each planning unit would have to undertake extensive revisions of current plans in order to legally allow mechanized usage in these newly opened areas. Any discussions on this issue would be contentious at best.  Given the current budget challenges, the Organizations would have concerns regarding any allocations of money in this manner given the limited number of users that would benefit from this action. If any legislation is passed to address statutory restrictions and expand access to Wilderness or related management areas, it must be as cost effective as possible.

Another facet of our concerns regarding HR 1349 effectiveness on the ground is the fact that while many new uses would be allowed, the construction and support efforts for these efforts are not addressed by the Legislation.  As a result, any new trail being constructed after plans have been amended would have to be constructed by hand, using horses, foot or bicycles to access these areas and then removal of trees with handsaws and other manual tools and the footprint of the trail created with shovels and picks.  Any maintenance would have to be provided in the same manner, and this type of maintenance has been HUGELY expensive.  Given current budget challenges on public lands, the Organizations believe it makes more sense to create and maintain routes in the most efficient manner possible and this means using tools like chainsaws and trail size bulldozers for construction and maintenance.  Those would remain prohibited in Wilderness areas, even if HR 1349 was passed and result in huge maintenance obligations being accepted by land managers for the benefit of a small percentage of the trails community.

Our final concern involves the long-term impact of HR 1349 as its passage would degrade Wilderness quality and reopen discussions on new Wilderness areas.  We understand the need and reasoning for most existing Wilderness areas and would be concerned that these characteristics would be degraded with the new usages.  This degraded quality may open the door for discussions around the need for new high quality Wilderness areas to replace the lost quality. We would like to avoid discussions like that in the future as this discussion is largely settled in the western United States.

If you have questions please feel free to contact either Scott Jones, Esq. at 508 Ashford Drive, Longmont, CO 80504.  His phone is (518)281-5810 and his email is or Fred Wiley, ORBA’s Executive Director at 1701 Westwind Drive #108, Bakersfield, CA.  Mr. Wiley’s phone number is 661-323-1464 and his email is


Scott Jones, Esq.
ORBA/TPA/COHVCO Representative
CSA President

Fred Wiley, CNSA Past President
ORBA President and CEO
One Voice Authorized Representative

D.E. Riggle
Director of Operations
Trails Preservation Alliance

Sandra Mitchell, Executive Director
Idaho Recreation Council

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