Author Archive | Christina

2023 Fall Newsletter

Hello !
We have mostly wrapped up another riding season in Colorado! The Holiday season is upon us, and 2024 is around the corner. It’s no wonder that we are left wondering what happened to an entire year because, as always, we have been very busy here at the Trails Preservation Alliance. We hosted the 4th Annual TPA Partner Club Meeting, unveiled Phase 1 of our Colorado Off-Highway Motorcycle Strategic Plan, wrapped up our third TPA Bike Sweepstakes, and held our 12th Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium. We attended Club gatherings, conferences, workshops, and other meetings.

All of this, and of course, we are still finding time to ride!

See you on the trail!

Cheers,

Chad Hixon
Trails Preservation Alliance
Executive Director

 

2023 Colorado 600

The 2023 Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium (our annual fundraising and educational event) was hugely successful! Despite the rainy and cool weather, we got some great rides in, and many attendees said it was the best one ever!

If you’ve never been to a Colorado 600 check out the article (written and photos by Chad de Alva) about this year’s Colorado 600 in Upshift Magazine October, Issue 86 – see page 52! Also, have a look at this year’s photos! https://tpa.smugmug.com/2023-Colorado-600/

SAVE THE DATE!
2024 Colorado 600 – September 11th – 15th, South Fork, Colorado.

The Colorado 600 is an excellent opportunity to support the TPA and the mission and meet more like-minded individuals passionate about riding off-highway motorcycles. We are already in the beginning stages of planning for the 2024 event, so stay tuned for details!

TPA Partner Club Meeting

The 4th Annual TPA Partner Club Meeting was held in early April in Grand Junction, CO. We hosted 22 different organizations with 42 representatives from clubs around Colorado and Utah, as well as CPW State Trails OHV sub-committee members, BLM Grand Junction Field Office, USFS Salida Ranger District, and Utah’s Ride with Respect. It was a successful meeting, and great to have so many motorcycle advocacy groups in the region gather, network, and discuss topics to preserve our sport!

If you have a club in Colorado or surrounding states and are interested in connecting with us please reach out to us via our website Coloradotpa.org or Facebook at facebook.com/ColoradoTPA

SAVE THE DATE!
2024 Partner Club meeting – April 6th-7th, Grand Junction, CO

Club Spotlight: Rocky Mountain Sport Riders

Rocky Mountain Sport Riders (RMSR) is a family-oriented motorcycle club dedicated to preserving and expanding riding opportunities for its members and others who enjoy riding dirt bikes in Colorado. With its roots dating back to 1996 it wasn’t until 2013 that RMSR became a non-profit, 501(c)3. RMSR supports the balanced and responsible use of public lands while promoting respect, education, and stewardship of the environment. RMSR is recognized as the only entity representing and protecting the rights of off-road motorcycle users in the Vail Valley by the US Forest Service, the BLM, Eagle County, and most local governments in the Valley. With over 440 members and counting they have a well-established constituency in the Vail Valley.

One great example of the partnerships RMSR has developed with local governments is creating Dry Lake MX park. Purchased in 2017 by Eagle County Open Space and the Town of Gypsum, this 160-acre facility is leased and managed by RMSR. Not only does the facility have a motocross track with various options for varying skill levels, but it also has an Enduro Cross track and a perimeter single track where riders can practice more technical riding skills.

This Summer, the TPA teamed up with RMSR providing additional funding for two surveys required as an initial step to create the first ~6 miles of the proposed fifteen miles of new single track in the Hardscrabble Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) near Eagle, CO. Both a Botanical and Archaeological survey were needed and RMSR exhausted a considerable amount of their financial resources with the Botanical study. Before the project could proceed, an Archaeological survey was needed, and the TPA was able to contribute the money to keep this project on track. RMSR plans to apply for OHV grant funding to keep the “Reunion Trail” moving forward – way to go RMSR!

The TPA encourages everyone to become a member. Annual dues are only $20, and members 18 and under are free. Members receive a club logo sticker, discounts at local shops, and more importantly, help provide financial support for activities, including trail building and maintenance and managing the Dry Lake MX Park. Every dollar they receive goes right back into maintaining your off-road motorcycle privileges!

Email: info.rmsrco@gmail.com
Facebook: facebook.com/groups/115856818430859
Website: rmsrco.com

Changes to the TPA Board of Directors

Ned Suesse Steps Down as Board President

Ned Suesse stepped down in the Spring of 2023 to focus on personal business endeavors.

Since 2017, Ned has been a part of the TPA Board of Directors and served as President from 2021 to April 2023. Prior to being involved with the TPA, Ned was an active member of the Colorado Springs based motorcycle club, Colorado Mountain Trail Riders Association, and a founding member of the Salida, Colorado based motorcycle club, the Central Colorado Mountain Riders.

Ned’s involvement doesn’t stop with advocacy; he has been an innovator in the motorcycle industry as the founder and owner of Doubletake Mirrors. In addition, Ned’s resume also includes being a finisher in renowned off-highway motorcycle races such as the Baja 1000 and Dakar and writing for numerous motorcycle magazines and online publications on subjects ranging from bike reviews to advocacy issues.

Ned continues his support of the TPA by spearheading projects, offering advice on TPA business, and assisting with events as needed. Thank you, Ned, for all that you have brought to the off-highway motorcycle industry and the work you have done to preserve the sport of off-highway motorcycling in Colorado!

Scott Bright Named New Board President

Ned is succeeded as President by existing BOD member, Scott Bright, who has also been a part of the TPA BOD since 2017. Scott brings years of motorcycle industry and racing experience to the TPA. In addition, Scott is involved with numerous non-profit organizations, some of which he is the Chair.

From Scott:
“My lifelong pursuit is to help those who can’t help themselves and preserve the opportunities to explore God’s country on two wheels. I started riding in the Colorado mountains as a child with my family. Experiencing the Great Outdoors on 2 wheels is foundational to our family’s existence.”

Congratulations, Scott – thank you for stepping up to lead the TPA!

Clive Heller New Board Member

Clive moved to Del Norte, CO. in 1976 and became involved in off-road riding soon thereafter. After competing on the Rocky Mountain Enduro Circuit (RMEC) for a couple of years a group of like-minded riders in the San Luis Valley decided to form a club and sponsor a motorcycle event. They formed the Boot Hill Enduro Club (now known as Boot Hill Motorcycle Club) and soon after, held their first RMEC Enduro in 1981. The BHMC held ten annual events including one National Enduro in the Southwestern San Luis Valley.

One of Clive’s primary roles with BHMC was engaging with the Forest Service and other government agencies. His responsibilities also included reaching agreements with other special use permittees such as ranchers with grazing permits, logging contractors and private property owners. To paint a picture of the experience Clive brings to the TPA, he was engaged as a BHMC member when the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) did their last Travel Management Plan (TMP) in 1986 and now he will actively participate as a TPA Board member as the RGNF begins a new TMP almost four decades later.

In addition, Clive has served on the BLM Resource Advisory Committee, Rotary Club President, and currently also holds a position with the Advisory Board of the San Juan Trail riders in Durango, CO. Most of Clive’s professional career was spent as General Manager for a Ford Dealership in the San Luis Valley. Clive and his wife live in Littleton, CO., and have two children and three grandchildren.

From Clive:
“I consider it a privilege to serve on the TPA Board. I feel it is the best advocate for our sport in this part of the Country. The TPA has accomplished a lot, but there will be serious challenges ahead”

Welcome Clive – we’re so excited to have you on the board!

LOGE Partnership!

LOGE Camps, the new management group for the Wolf Creek LOGE in South Fork, CO, home of many Colorado 600 events, has made the Trails Preservation Alliance one of its 1% partner nonprofit partners. This means that the TPA is one of five nonprofits nationwide that LOGE will donate 1% of their annual revenue to!

From LOGE:
“When you stay at LOGE, you play a major part in helping us protect, preserve, and enlighten in each of our locations. Thanks to our guests, we’re able to give 1% of our total revenue annually to local nonprofits that are focused on supporting the community and enriching the outdoors. We’re proud of each of our long-lasting partnerships with these meaningful groups.”

With LOGE Camps in 17 locations around the country, all of which contribute to the 1% partnership, it doesn’t matter which location you choose, when you stay at a LOGE Camp, you support the TPA!

Gold Rush Ride

The Gold Rush Ride continues to see more participation! This year about 30 participants enjoyed four days of riding in some of the most beautiful mountains in Ouray and Crested Butte, Colorado.

The Colorado Gold Rush is a FREE, family-oriented, group motorcycle ride that happens annually in August and has 27 years of history in Colorado. Not only is this event a fun ride, but it also raises money for selected nonprofits each year, and we are honored that they chose the Trails Preservation Alliance again this year – they raised nearly $5K!

Photos: Zach Stubbs

For more information, or if you are interested in attending the 2024 ride, please contact Mervyn Davies at mervyndavies@comcast.net / 970-396-4146

You can also find out more about the Gold Rush through their Facebook group Colorado Gold Rush Ride where you will find pictures, stories, and comments from past events. Join the group, connect with other riders and come to the 2024 event!

COHVCO OHV State Park Survey

COHVCO has been exploring the development of an OHV-based state park in Colorado similar to OHV parks in other states such as California and Utah. This would be a park-based experience with higher levels of services available compared to public lands. Ideally the park would offer a wide variety of OHV experiences (single track, motocross tracks, UTV/ATV trails, rock crawling, camping etc.), close to major population centers and have an extended riding season. Please take a few minutes to fill out this OHV State Park Survey to help COHVCO get a better understanding of OHV enthusiasts’ desired experiences.

Land Use and Legal Responses

We have had a very busy few months keeping up with land planning processes, below are some highlights for 2023.

  • Rio Grande National Forest – It was nice to start the year with some good news with a win in the RGNF. The lawsuit brought on by various environmental groups against the recent forest plan revision was settled with the understanding the RGNF would expedite and prioritize getting Travel Management Planning in progress. The TPA would like to thank the Mountain States Legal Foundation for successfully representing us and other motorized organizations.  Read more here!
  • Moab Labyrinth Rims Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan (TMP) – Arguably the biggest OHV related news of 2023 was the BLM Moab Field Office’s recent TMP decision which closes 317 miles of roads and trails in the area directly Northwest of Moab referred to Labyrinth Rims Gemini Bridges. This TMP is part of a much larger process which COHVCO, Ride with Respect and the TPA have been involved in since 2017.  In response to the BLM’s decision, the TPA, COHVCO, CORE and RwR have partnered and filed a Notice of Appeal and Petition for Stay in opposition to the BLM decision.  Many other national, state and local motorized off-highway organizations and the State of Utah did the same. Unfortunately as of yesterday we learned that ALL our Petitions for Stay were denied by the Internal Board of Land Appeals. While not the decision we were hoping for, this is the beginning of a long process and we will do everything we can, including moving forward our Appeal to challenge this decision. Read more here!
  • BLM Conservation and Landscape Health Proposal – This National proposal seeks to create conservation leases for large portions of BLM lands across the West. We are concerned that the Proposal appears to benefit conservation interests more than planning that aligns with multiple uses. We are opposed to any trail loss resulting from conservation leases, ACEC expansions or other efforts that do not recognize the decades of analysis already in place. Read more here!
  • Penrose Recreation Area Management Plan – The TPA, along with local clubs, Central Colorado Mountain Riders, Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association (CMTRA), Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Association, Colorado Off Road Enterprise and the Rampart Range Motorized Management Committee have been working with the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office to develop a plan for Penrose Commons riding area. This effort is ongoing, but we are happy with the communication and cooperation between the clubs and the BLM over the past few months. We will continue to support this process led by local club CMTRA over the coming months. Read more here!
  • Grand Mesa Uncompahgre Gunnison (GMUG) Resource Management Plan – The long-awaited GMUG Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Draft Record of Decision (DROD) was released in late August. We have been heavily engaged in the process of this Forest Plan Revision over the past few years, arguably submitting some of the most extensive comments ever! We are very pleased to say that our work paid off with a FEIS/DROD that…
    • Closes nothing
    • Added 60k acres as currently suitable for summer motorized and 90k acres as suitable for winter motorized.
    • Added 40k acres of recommended wilderness (adjacent to existing areas) which is very minimal to the over 1 million that was proposed.
    • Grandfathered all existing routes and will allow for re-routes of those routes within designated wildlife areas.
    • While pleased with the overall outcome, we did file objections to certain elements of the decision in hopes of making the final plan even a little better! Read objections here!
  • Manti – LaSal National Forest (MLNF) Resource Management Plan (RMP) Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) – The current MLNF plan has been in place since 1986 and the original Scoping for this RMP was in 2004 – nearly two decades ago! Recently we partnered with Ride with Respect to submit extensive comments in support of Alternative A, the no-action alternative. Read more about here!

Please remember that for a full list of land planning responses (over 25 this year) the TPA has been involved with (and more) you can check out our News Page on our website.

Stay on the Trail

As responsible riders, staying on the trail is one of the most important things we can do. Going over, under, or through obstacles has been the message we’ve shared over the past two riding seasons (see our recent Upshift ad below), and we ask that you help us spread the word!

Sponsors

Thank you to our sponsors!
We couldn’t do it without these folks. Their donations to the TPA of time, money, and goods keep us all on the trails.

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Manti-La Sal National Forest Land and RMP – TPA and RWR Comments

Manti-La Sal National Forest Supervisor’s Office
Attn: Forest Plan Revision
599 West Price River Drive
Price, UT, 84501

Re: Manti-La Sal National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan #50121

Dear Planning Team:

Ride with Respect (RwR) and Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) submit these comments regarding the Manti-La Sal National Forest (MLSNF) Draft Land Management Plan and associated EIS (“the Proposal”).

1. Introduction

The Proposal resolves few of the concerns we have raised by comments submitted in 2021, 2020, and other years going all the way back to 2004 with the original scoping period to revise the MLSNF LMP.

We support Alternative A of the Proposal. Although elements of Alternative C may have merit, in sum we cannot support any of the other alternatives. Overall the Proposal casts only a negative light on all forms of recreation and provides almost nothing addressing the benefits to communities and the public more generally from recreation.

We could support some of the concepts and land allocations in Alternative C, but even it concerning new standards such as trails being limited to 66″ in width or new limitations on recreational activities above 11,000′ in elevation. The lack of detailed analysis of these changes makes substantive comments on the standards difficult to comment upon as there is no insight provided regarding the challenges being addressed or how the decision was made to use this course of action over others. As an example of why detailed analysis is needed, both of the aforementioned standards greatly concern the snowmobile community as grooming requires wider routes and most riding in Utah is limited to high altitude.

Meaningful public comment is difficult on the Proposal, because standards are inconsistently addressed in the Proposal. They fail to answer basic questions around implementation. Many inventory efforts were identified from which to develop management decisions rather than planning decisions. Inventory terms are used interchangeably in what appears to be a management decision.

Alternative D is completely untenable and unworkable. It conflicts with numerous legal requirements and ignores the fact of the growing population in the planning area. The inventory randomly identifies select characteristics mixed with random unsubstantiated standards of usage. A coherent vision is lacking that can be understood and applied by the future managers and the public effectively. This deficiency must be addressed.

Specific to the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) zones, all of the action alternatives would severely limit future forest planners from effectively providing an ample quantity, quality, and variety of motorized trails to accommodate the current level of interest, let alone future interest in light of the electrification of vehicles and other technological advances. Given the increasing scrutiny of subsequent travel management planning, zoning designations are only appropriate to provide modest guardrails, thus empowering state of the art planning to gain the visitor compliance so essential to conserving resources.

2. Recognize our organizations as important stakeholders in the MLSNF.

The TPA is an advocacy organization created to be a viable partner to public lands managers, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of motorized trail riding and multiple-use recreation. The TPA acts as an advocate for the sport and takes the necessary action to ensure that the USFS and BLM allocate a fair and equitable percentage of public lands access to diverse multiple-use trail recreational opportunities. Ride with Respect (“RwR”) was founded in 2002 to conserve shared-use trails and their surroundings. Over 750 individuals have contributed money or volunteered time to the organization. RwR has educated visitors and performed over twenty-thousand hours of high-quality trail work on public lands. Our work in cooperation with the USFS has ranged from rerouting trails by hand to installing rolling dips by machine. In the Monticello Ranger District, we’ve contributed a few thousand hours of trail work including on Camp Jackson, Wagon Wheel Gap, Spring Creek, Robertson Pasture, Red Ledges Red Ledges Access, Aspen Flat, Indian Creek, Shay Mountain, Shay Ridge, Vega Creek, and Gooseberry. In the Moab Ranger District, we’ve contributed a few hundred hours of trail work including on the Lower Twomile ATV Loop, Blue Lake Road, Geyser Pass Road, Pole Canyon, Brumley-Dorry, Miners Basin, and Beaver Basin. Collectively RwR and the TPA will be referred to as “The Organizations” for purposes of these comments.

3. Carefully consider these comments and those of other entities.

Please note that the Organizations have not encouraged others to submit MLSNF LMP comments in the past two years. We could have generated hundreds of unique and substantive comments because thousands of motorized trail enthusiasts are quite interested in current and future recreational opportunities of the MLSNF. Instead of reading hundreds of other letters, we ask you to give particular consideration to our comments, which speak for hundreds of our contributors and thousands of motorized trail riders.

We also ask you to particularly consider comments of the three counties in which the MLSNF contains the greatest acreage, which are Sanpete, Emery, and San Juan. Comments from San Juan County were especially attentive of the DEIS ramifications to its citizens, and the Organizations generally support the comments from all three counties.

Finally the Utah Snowmobile Association thoughtfully described its perspective, and constructively offered solutions that are proportional to the scale of resource conflicts, so we generally support the comments from this group as well. While the organizations focus on summertime recreation, many of our contributors participate in OSV travel, particularly with the rise of ski and track kits for off-highway motorcycles.

4. The Overall Management Model is deeply problematic and flawed as it immediately conflicts with the 2012 USFS Planning Rule.

There is no map reflecting management decisions for the forest under the various alternatives. We found the GIS map provided with the Proposal difficult to navigate, providing at best confusing information and failing to provide various inventory areas on the interactive map. Clicking the management area designation layer rarely provided any additional information about the decision. The most common designation we found for a management area was as follows:

“3 – managed for multiple uses – subject to extractive (e.g. mining or logging) or OHV use”

When these management area designations were identified the GIS map moved to highlighting the entire district or area and often included areas that are Congressionally designated for other non-multiple use areas, such as Wilderness. Obviously, the conflict with the summary above and anything close to Wilderness or recommended Wilderness is immediate. We can locate a wide range of issue specific inventories of characteristics on the Forest provided via a PDF map, but these are not management decisions and should not be interchanged. The confusion of decisions and inventory processes only compounds and confuses any analysis provided.

This preliminary failure is in direct conflict with the 2012 USFS Planning Rule, which specifically requires the identification and designation of management areas and boundaries as follows:

“(d) Management areas or geographic areas. Every plan must have management areas or geographic areas or both. The plan may identify designated or recommended designated areas as management areas or geographic areas.”[1]

Conceptually this provision viewed in isolation would allow designation of just ROS type characteristics, but the other parts of the 2012 Planning Rule require management decisions that are related to the management area, as follows:

Management area. A land area identified within the planning area that has the same set of applicable plan components. A management area does not have to be spatially contiguous.”[2]

When clicking onto Management Area boundaries in the GIS mapping tool, the entire Ranger District is immediately highlighted. While the political boundaries of a Ranger District might be a management boundary, they cannot be altered in the Plan, rendering this type of interpretation irrelevant to the effort. Applying the term management area in this manner fails to address that federal regulations require similar management components to be present in the management area.  We are unable to find any map or other resource to identify where management area boundaries might be or how they change across the various inventory of characteristics.

In its place, the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (“ROS”) that apparently is supposed to guide some management decisions at the Forest level and subsequent site specific NEPA. This departure from existing management designations and causes significant concern, as ROS is only one of many inventories of characteristics that have been prepared on the Forest, such as Roadless Areas, Visual Quality Objectives, possible Wilderness, wild and scenic corridors to name a few. The Proposal fails to address how to resolve conflicts among inventories of characteristics.

5. The Proposal fails to comply with CEQ regulations for an environmental impact statement.

NEPA regulations require an EIS to provide all information under the following standards:

“…It shall provide full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts and shall inform decision makers and the public of the reasonable alternatives which would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment… Statements shall be concise, clear, and to the point, and shall be supported by evidence that the agency has made the necessary environmental analyses…”[3]

The regulations include development of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which expands upon the detailed statement theory for planning purposes. The CEQ regulations state the need for the quality information being provided as part of this relationship as follows:

“It shall provide full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts and shall inform decision makers and the public of reasonable alternatives that would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment. Agencies shall focus on significant environmental issues and alternatives”[4]

The poor quality of information that supports confused inventory and decision standards is a problem. The impacts are compounded by the fact many huge recreational changes are simply never mentioned. CEQ regulations continue in requiring analysis as follows:

“Discussions of impacts are to be proportionate to their significance”[5]

Given that areas like Moab heavily rely on recreational access to public lands for basic economic viability of local communities, standards that keep major historical users from accessing the Forest are significant both to the users and the communities. These concerns are addressed in more detail subsequently.

6. Often desired conditions and other standards are directly in conflict with other management standards.

The Organizations must address the immense barrier that the inconsistencies in the Proposal pose to the creation of a substantive comment addressing a possible concern around the standard and complying with NEPA requirements.  These inconsistencies are further confused by the use of inventory concepts as management standards. These types of allocations of inventories are significant standards.  They present important issues that must be addressed and have not been. This type of decision making is specifically required by federal forest service planning regulations, as follows:

“(e) Plan components. Plan components guide future project and activity decisionmaking. The plan must indicate whether specific plan components apply to the entire plan area, to specific management areas or geographic areas, or to other areas as identified in the plan.”[6]

No analysis is provided on how to allocate the above absolute standard across the numerous characteristics of provided inventories. This situation occurs throughout the Proposal and is exemplified by the following situation where two entirely different management issues are simply merged into a desired condition without analysis. Desired condition #6 in the Proposal provides as follows:

06 Road and motorized trail use do not impact wildlife winter range and quiet winter recreation opportunities.”[7]

The Organizations are immediately concerned that the above desired condition has absolutely zero flexibility it is application.  It has been our experience that standards such as this are immensely difficult to implement.  Our concerns on how this will be implemented are compounded when we ask questions like “How does this align with the various Recreational Opportunity Spectrum based standards and goals in the Proposal?” While avoiding all impact to quiet recreation may be appropriate in a Primitive setting, we question how this standard could ever be achieved in other ROS settings.

Often the basis of winter travel is around parking lots and groomed routes as these are the only viable means of access to the backcountry. These are issues that should be directly addressed in site specific winter travel and not anecdotally in an LMP, as there are significant issues involved in these standards that are not addressed at all in the Proposal. This viability of access to the backcountry is a major concern as the only user groups that pay to maintain public access in the winter are the motorized users through their voluntary registration fees paid to the State. Usage of these funds to maintain exclusive access for nonmotorized groups is generally prohibited under state law. While shared usage may result from the motorized funding, the motorized community is not obligated to provide access to areas they can’t legally access.

This shared usage of groomed winter trails is often unacceptable to many in the nonmotorized community, and often access is sought to be provided to address this issue. This attempt at management fails to recognize that all areas of the forest are available to nonmotorized recreation. While they may be available, they are not accessible. This is not a management issue that should be addressed through standards and guidelines in a LMP, this is a funding issue that should be addressed with the development of a voluntary user registration fee for nonmotorized usages. We would support such a program but we are not aware of any effort to this scale being undertaken in the country. While only two of the standards are mentioned in this portion of these comments, this problem is prevalent throughout the plan. Addressing each instance of this type of problem is simply too large for a public comment.

7. The Proposal fails to provide any economic analysis of decision and alternatives being proposed.

Another concern is the lack of any economic analysis with the Proposal. There are no updates to the 2017 Economic assessment for the planning area, which was exceptionally brief to begin with. Huge changes in the demographics and economic activity have occurred across the country as a result of 2020.  More timely economic analysis information is needed. Federal regulations require this. But not even a draft economic report is available. This is a foundational flaw in the Proposal as an economic assessment and economic analysis are significantly different efforts that may not be used interchangeably. USFS regulations specifically require economic analysis of possible impacts to economic contributions to the surrounding communities from LMPs in planning rule as follows:

219.8 Sustainability.

The plan must provide for social, economic, and ecological sustainability within Forest Service authority and consistent with the inherent capability of the plan area, as follows:

(b) Social and economic sustainability. The plan must include plan components, including standards or guidelines, to guide the plan area’s contribution to social and economic sustainability, taking into account:

(1) Social, cultural, and economic conditions relevant to the area influenced by the plan.

The need for economic analysis of management alternatives is woven throughout the planning rule with consistently high levels of detail:

“(a) Integrated resource management for multiple use. The plan must include plan components, including standards or guidelines, for integrated resource management to provide for ecosystem services and multiple uses in the plan area. When developing plan components for integrated resource management, to the extent relevant to the plan area and the public participation process and the requirements of §§ 219.7, 219.8, 219.9, and 219.11, the responsible official shall consider:

(7) Reasonably foreseeable risks to ecological, social, and economic sustainability.”[8]

These highly specific provisions of the 2012 Planning Rule cannot be satisfied with a document that was completed prior to the development of any alternatives to be analyzed for the planning area. Relevant court rulings have concluded:

“an EIS serves two functions. First, it ensures that agencies take a hard look at the environmental effects of proposed projects. Second, it ensures that relevant information regarding proposed projects is available to members of the public so that they may play a role in the decision making process. Robertson, 490 U.S. at 349, 109 S.Ct. at 1845. For an EIS to serve these functions, it is essential that the EIS not be based on misleading economic assumptions.”[9]

Without an economic analysis we and the rest of the public cannot understand underlying economic assumptions of the Proposal. This is a foundational NEPA flaw compounded by the fact management area boundaries cannot be derived from the Proposal, which precludes any third-party analysis or forecasting of possible impacts.

8. The Proposal has not analyzed compliance with EO 14008 issued on January 27, 2021 by President Joe Biden mandates improved recreational access to public lands and associated economic benefits.

The failure to provide a management area map with clear management standards and an economic analysis violates various Executive Orders on the need to improve recreational access and associated economic contributions to small communities. President Biden’s January 27, 2021 Executive Order # 14008 has specific goals of improving access to public lands and improving the economic contributions from recreation to local communities. §214 of EO 14008 mandates improved recreational access as follows:

“It is the policy of my Administration to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters. The Federal Government must protect America’s natural treasures, increase reforestation, improve access to recreation, and increase resilience to wildfires and storms, while creating well-paying union jobs for more Americans, including more opportunities for women and people of color in occupations where they are underrepresented.”

215 of this EO is as follows:

“The initiative shall aim to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

217 of EO 14008 requires improvement of economic contributions from recreation on public lands as follows:

“Plugging leaks in oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned mine land can create well-paying union jobs in coal, oil, and gas communities while restoring natural assets, revitalizing recreation economies, and curbing methane emissions.”

The Proposal fails to meet the spirit and letter of these Executive Orders.  Defiance against these EOs is signaled by the failure to provide the public with maps of various management areas and economic analysis of the impacts of these decisions being provided.

9. The Goals of the Congressionally mandated USFS National Trails Strategy are not satisfied with the Proposal.

The USFS has been developing the National Sustainable Trails Strategy for the last several years,[10] to comply with the mandate of the National Trails Stewardship Act of 2016.[11] The National Trails Strategy clearly identified goal of improving sustainable access and partnerships as a goal of this Congressionally mandated effort. This strategy also sought to strategically change how the USFS looks at partners and sustainability of routes and given the Proposal will guide the sustainable access and partnerships on the Forest for the foreseeable future. The Organizations submit that the planning process that has been applied is not the new look at sustainability and partnerships that was envisioned by the National Trails Stewardship Act.

The Organizations are commenting on this issue given the fact this effort is simply never mentioned in the Proposal despite the Congressional mandate. The conflicting direction of the Proposal to the goals and objectives of the Legislation and National Trails Strategy is also concerning. The National Strategy clearly states this as follows:

“Strategic Intent

The strategic intent of the strategy is to embrace and inspire a different way of thinking—and doing—to create sustainable change where grassroots initiative meets leader intent. The combined effort and momentum of many minds and hands will move the trails community, as a whole, toward shared solutions. This strategy builds on the many examples from across the country where the Forest Service, its partners, and the greater trails community have successfully embraced a community-driven and locally sustainable trail system model.”[12]

The Utah OHV program is probably the largest trail partner with USFS and this program is predominately funded from the voluntarily created OHV registration program. This significant direct funding probably makes the motorized trail network the most sustainable on the MLSNF.  These types of contributions were recently recognized by the USFS planners as part of the sustainable trails effort as follows:

“The engagement and efforts of motorized groups have improved the condition of trails across National Forest System lands and we look forward to continued engagement with the motorized community as part of the Trail Challenge…. During phase one, I welcome collaboration to adequately track, monitor, and acknowledge accomplishments by the motorized community while identifying lessons learned to incorporate into future phases of the Trail Challenge.”[13]

While many interests struggle to provide a single maintenance crew, the motorized community now provides significant annual funding through the OHV Program, which exponentially improves management abilities every day. Rather than fixing trails with shovels these grants are buying skid-steers for USFS employees. It is anticipated that this funding stream will significantly grow over the life of the Proposal. This is a model of collaboration moving forward, and the Proposal should avoid any unintended negative impacts to this collaboration.

President Nixon’s 1972 travel management Executive Orders have led to over 50 years of scrutiny of every motorized route available for usage, producing the most analyzed and sustainable trail network for any type of resource usage. No other recreational activity on the Forest has been subjected to this level of scrutiny and analysis. Yet the Proposal arbitrarily fails to utilize that important work, to support a sustainable trails network that aligns with the national efforts. The sad reality is USFS is radically altering how it views and achieves sustainability with partners. NEPA requires that the implications of such a radical alteration of strategy be addressed and undergo rigorous analysis in the Proposal, to transparently expose to the public how the Proposal conflicts with the requirements of the National Trails Strategy and National Sustainable Trails Act. The failure to do this is a glaring NEPA inadequacy.

10. Economic analysis of management alternatives is a critical step in the planning process.

USFS collaborative documents developed with partners, also show the need for economic contribution calculations and economic impacts, which the Proposal fails to provide. These partner documents require a balance of numerous factors that directly impact the spending habits of those sought to be studied. The Western Governors Associations’ recreational economic contributions study show the required complexity of any economic determinations and the required size of the calculations, as follows:

“How is “economic impact” calculated? Many people might think of a consumer buying equipment – a tent, fishing pole, ATV, bicycle, boat, snowboard or rifle. However, the impact is much more complex than the manufacture and sale of gear and vehicles. Gas stations, restaurants, hotels, river guides and ski resorts benefit from outdoor recreation. In total, equipment and travel expenditures represent billions in direct sales that create jobs, income, tax revenues and other economic benefits.”[14]

The sheer number of pages required in most economic impact reports, just to explain the analysis process used to arrive at any final figure of any economic contribution, is notable. Given the complexity of these calculations, that analysis must be provided as part of the planning process.

According to the Western Governors Association collaborative efforts, mere integration of accurate economic information is often a weakness of the public lands planning process in the western United States.  This weakness has resulted in the creation of many other longer-term problems when decisions reflecting an imbalance of multiple uses are implemented. This concern was recently identified as a major planning issue that is not just limited to Colorado. The Western Governors’ Association released its Get Out West report in conjunction with its economic impact study of recreation on public lands in the Western United States, which specifically identified that proper valuation is a significant management concern as follows:

“Several managers stated that one of the biggest challenges they face is “the undervaluation of outdoor recreation” relative to other land uses.”[15]

The Get Out West report from the Western Governors’ Association also highlighted how critical proper valuation of recreation is to the development of good management plans based on multiple use principals. The Get Out West report specifically found:

“Good planning not only results in better recreation opportunities, it also helps address and avoid major management challenges – such as limited funding, changing recreation types, user conflicts, and degradation of the assets. Managers with the most successfully managed recreation assets emphasized that they planned early and often. They assessed their opportunities and constraints, prioritized their assets, and defined visions.”[16]

The Organizations believe our concerns regarding the Proposal failure of economic analysis and those expressed in the Western Governor’s Get Out West report virtually mirror each other. This concern must be addressed prior to finalization of the Proposal in order to avoid increases to many other management issues that were sought to be minimized.

11. The 66″ trail width restrictions are arbitrary and not supported by any rationale or analysis.

We oppose the proposed standard to limit all trails to 66″ in width, given this width restriction is arbitrary in nature and completely lacks any analysis to support the decision and conflicts with federal regulations on this issue. We understand that many pushed for width and weight restrictions in the development of both of these national regulations, and there were VERY good reasons why these types of standards were not included in the national rule generally. The EIS never addresses what management issue the new arbitrary standard seeks to resolve, nor why the new width limitation is appropriate. Nor does the EIS analyze the fact the summer and winter trails are handled under different regulatory processes. Nor does the EIS explain why the width restriction is sought to be developed in the LMP rather than the travel management plan. This is in complete violation of NEPA and conflicts with numerous federal regulations that have already reviewed concepts around minimum and maximum widths for trails and roads have chosen not to restrict trail width. After years of detailed analysis and research these regulations determined that rather than limiting maximum trail width, a minimum width for roads and routes was the only restriction appropriate, given the huge number of uses of these resources that may or may not even be within the travel management rule. We submit that these routes provide basic access for issues like firefighting, and these issues must be reviewed prior to ANY width restriction being placed in the LMP. These are issues that simply are not addressed in the Proposal and not scoped in such a manner to develop meaningful public input on the issue.

Again, trail width is more appropriately addressed in a forest-wide travel plan, not the LMP. This naturally follows from the fact that trail width issues are outside the scope of the new planning rule but specifically addressed in the National Travel management Rule. Development of the national travel management rule and its governance of trail width issues took years to develop and resulted in thousands of pages of analysis. This renders plainly arbitrary the Proposal’s forest level planning effort to apply a 66″ width restriction to all trails, summer and winter, as follows:

“06 To provide off-highway vehicle recreation opportunities other than those provided on roads, motorized off-highway vehicle trails should be built no wider than 66 inches, unless greater widths are necessary to mitigate other resource impacts or provide for user safety.”[17]

This entirely new standard is simply never analyzed or reviewed in the EIS. We see here, to put it as mildly and respectfully as possible, an absurd violation of NEPA. Width restriction issues like this should be addressed in the travel management process and not the LMP.

The failure of the Proposal to start planning based on an accurate summary of existing decisions, analysis and federal regulations is evidenced by the fact the Proposal recommends an entirely new travel management process and reopens many decisions already reviewed and declined to be applied. Summer travel management rule regulations requires all routes less than 50″ to be a trail as follows:

“a motor vehicle route over 50 inches wide, unless identified and managed as a trail.”

By comparison there is no upper limit on the width of a route that can be managed as a trail, which is provided for as follows:

“a route 50 inches or less in width or a route over 50 inches wide that is identified and managed as a trail.”[18]

The National travel management rule clearly provides that all trails are routes, but not all routes are trails. Under the regulations, any route less than 50″ in width must be a trail but there is no cap on the width of trails. The compelling need for this type of management structure is provided by the basic public safety that is provided for those less than familiar with the USFS designation process. This ensures that the public will not be allowed to use over the highway vehicles on something that cannot support the usage under any circumstances. The idea of a full size over the road motor vehicle trying to use a designated singletrack trail limited to 36″ in width did not appeal to anyone. This was immediately seen as a public safety issue. The safety implications exponentially expand when issues such as emergency responses to the area for search and rescue efforts or wildland firefighting are addressed. Has anyone reviewed the local ability of search and rescue to access the backcountry once they have to travel long distances on foot? How does this restriction impact the ability of a search and rescue team to recover injured members of the public? The Organizations are also intimately aware that the proposed width restrictions also create a monumental issue when issues like permittee access and private lands access are analyzed. Further explanation on the basis of the width restrictions is available in the summer travel management rule.

While the summer travel management rule only provides a floor for the width of routes, it also provides specific reasoning for the permissibility of a trail to be wider than 50″ or 66″. This allows the use of wider vehicles for recreational purposes is specifically addressed in the USFS TMP handbook as follows:

Generally speaking, NFSTs “present different challenges and require different skills from driving on roads,” with trails “characterized by narrower treads and clearing limits, slower speeds, narrower turning radii, and a more intimate experience with the surrounding landscape than roads designed for motor vehicles.”[19]

While the USFS summer travel rule distinguishes between roads and trails for limited management decisions, the USFS winter travel rule clearly states that groomed trails can occur on routes, roads, or trails while retaining local authority to address site specific issues as follows:

“(a) General. Over-snow vehicle use on National Forest System roads, on  National Forest System  trails, and in areas on National Forest System lands shall be designated by the Responsible Official on administrative units or Ranger Districts, or parts of administrative units or Ranger Districts, of the National Forest System where snowfall is adequate for that use to occur, and, if appropriate, shall be designated by class of vehicle and time of year, provided that the following uses are exempted from these decisions…”[20]

Again, we object to the Proposed width restriction as it directly conflicts with federal regulations on winter travel as well as all routes are trails in the winter and winter routes are separately designated. We are familiar with why the federal regulations are structured in the manner they are, and we oppose any alteration of these standards without significant analysis of possible impacts. The only analysis we are able to identify in the EIS is provided as follows:

“Motorized trail opportunities include a mix of single track, 50 inches or less, and 66 inches or less routes. Demand for additional motorized trails persists, including for trails that can accommodate wider vehicles, as well as over-snow opportunities. Demand for non-motorized opportunities to accommodate an evolving suite of technologies and activities is also present, as population and public diversity also increases.”[21]

We cannot discern any basis or need for the standard from this paragraph. The isolated insertion of these standards in the MLSNF LMP without any analysis is NEPA inadequate and well short of the needed analysis of this issue. Again these are issues that must be analyzed and have not been.

12. The 66″ trail width cap will prohibit all full size vehicle trails on the Forest.

We oppose inclusion of the 66″-wide trail cap as this will prohibit any full-size trail from existing on the Forest. These types of issues, pertaining to the requirement of landscape-level trail width and weight restrictions, were addressed in great detail in the development of the summer travel management rule. There is a good reason why the summer travel management rule contains no width restrictions. The need to recognize this issue in comments is deeply concerning to the Organizations, and this concern only expands when the proximity of the forest to globally recognized full size vehicle trails is recognized. The planning area has been a global destination for this type of activity for more than 75 years, and the common width for a jeep is around 68″. Most full-size pickup trucks are around 72″ wide. If USFS wants to keep full size vehicles away, that warrants a much greater deal of travel management planning and NEPA work than the couple of passing references made by the Proposal.

13. 66″-wide trails for OSVs will functionally prohibit many types of usage and any winter grooming on the forest.

The conflict of the 66″-wide trail width limit with winter travel management creates even further concerns and conflicts. The Proposal consolidates two separate and distinct planning efforts in the limited amount of discussion that is provided:

“Motorized trail opportunities include a mix of single track, 50 inches or less, and 66 inches or less routes. Demand for additional motorized trails persists, including for trails that can accommodate wider vehicles, as well as over-snow opportunities. Demand for non-motorized opportunities to accommodate an evolving suite of technologies and activities is also present, as population and public diversity also increases.”[22]

This consolidation of the two existing processes and decisions is a violation of national NEPA and regulations as USFS regulations clearly and directly identify that OHV and OSV management are two separate and distinct regulatory processes.

This distinction is an issue that has been successfully litigated against the USFS, and an issue that we are passionate about as many of our Organizations intervened in defense of the USFS.[23] Given our years of efforts that have already gone into addressing the difference between summer and winter travel, the Organizations are opposed to any decisions that could result in further litigation of this issue. We are concerned that the Proposal completely fails to address these regulations as separate and distinct travel management processes.

We are also very concerned that the 66″ width restriction on trails will prohibit grooming of winter routes despite a long history of these efforts occurring on the forest.[24]  This problem should have been recognized in development of the Proposal, as most winter grooming equipment is 10′ to 14′ in width. As a result, implementation of the proposed width restriction would functionally prohibit grooming on the forest. These are serious concerns and impacts that arise in the Proposal, for which there is no discussion or analysis to support the decision.

14. Elevation based management standards are arbitrary and again not thoroughly analyzed.

Elevation based management standards for recreation reveal an arbitrary bias against recreation. The standard again is provided without any discussion of management issues sought to be addressed or other tools that might be used to achieve these goals. The elevational-based management standard is outlined in the Proposal as follows: [25]

The Proposal entirely fails to provide any analysis of this standard or the management issue that it is seeking to resolve. Basic definitions of what could be included as a recreational impact are not provided.  Issues like this are often fraught with ongoing conflicts between interests. Is a visible trail a recreational impact? Is a visible trailhead a recreational impact? Are educational materials and basic infrastructures, such as shelters or GPS towers, a recreational impact? If a route has a recreational function and other functions that might now even be managed by the Forest Service, how will these issues be resolved? We are aware of numerous routes that access cell phone towers, 911 repeaters, connect to water related infrastructures and other permitted activities that may also have some type of recreational component to their usage. In these situations, how do these possible recreational impacts relate to the ROS and other management decisions that may not even be made by the USFS. If sites are found to be recreational impacts how will this capacity be replaced in order to comply with mandates like Executive Order 14008.

The basic questions that we have presented above may easily be pushed aside as abstract or remote, until other provisions of the Proposal are reviewed.  While the Proposal seeks to mitigate recreational impacts in alpine areas, the Proposal also requires the installation of signage in these areas.  This is required as follows: [26]

We question why a standard addressing such a small, site-specific issue is worthy in a LMP discussion, especially when so many large-scale concerns are overlooked and deemed not worthy in the LMP.

The failure of the analysis in the Plan leaves fundamental conflicts unresolved or even recognized. Questions such as “How does this standard relate to winter recreation as most of the winter recreational opportunities on the forest are at or above 11,000′?” are critically important to the winter motorized recreational community. The Organizations have participated in numerous winter travel planning efforts in California and are aware that elevation was used to determine when OSV could and could not be used on these forests. These forests would include the Tahoe National Forest, Plumas National Forest, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, El Dorado National Forest and the Lassen National Forests. In these discussions, elevation was thought to be an easy way to address various issues. Despite having a far more narrowly and specifically defined challenge on these forests after extensive discussion, these decisions were withdrawn for a wide range of reasons as once the standard was reviewed the standard would have created more issues than it resolved. We encourage the MLSNF to review the winter travel EIS on these other forests to gain a more complete understanding of the challenges associated with management based on elevation.

15. Recreational Visitation data is merely mentioned in the Proposal.

Throughout the Proposal, information about the types and volumes of visitation to the forest simply are never provided in any manner. This lack of information is fairly apparent when compared to other forests we have been involved. We are concerned that there appears to be very little visitation available, and we are also concerned that the data may not be accurate. This type of information is critical in determining the proper allocation of recreational opportunities or infrastructure on the forest. This is concerning as the Proposal is seeking to guide these resources on the forest over the next several decades, but also there are also new resources available that will allow this information to be compiled quickly and accurately. The Organizations are currently working on several forests to obtain cell phone-based visitation data from sources like Google and others to accurately determine visitation on the forest. At best, when these resources are obtained for the MLSNF and they don’t align in any manner with the assumption made in the Proposal, this will heavily impact public support for and faith in the Proposals.

This lack of integrity in planning that can result from poor to non-existent information necessary for planning is a direct violation of the new NEPA provisions added in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023.  These NEPA provisions are now specifically applying generally-applicable data-quality standards that have historically been present to the NEPA process. While these new NEPA specific requirements are recent additions specifically to NEPA, these provisions require application of statutory requirements that have been in place for decades including Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2016 and Data Quality Act of 2001. As an example, the Data Quality Act provided the following general standards for all government efforts:

”(D) ensure the professional integrity, including scientific integrity, of the discussion and analysis in an environmental document;

”(E) make use of reliable data and resources in carrying out this Act; [27]

The NEPA provisions added in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 further clarify the applicability of existing provisions of the Data Quality Act and Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act to the NEPA process as follows:

”(3) SOURCES OF INFORMATION.—In making a  determination under this subsection, an agency—

”(A) may make use of any reliable data source; and

(B) is not required to undertake new scientific or technical research unless the new scientific or technical research is essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives, and the overall costs and time frame of obtaining it are not unreasonable.”[28]

We are unable to identify any information in the EIS that satisfies these requirements with regard to recreational visitation or how this information supports the decisions made in the Proposal. The Proposal should extend ROS designations until such time as sufficient high-quality information is available to support designations. As we have previously mentioned, we have serious concerns regarding the quality of visitation to the forest.  This issue appears exceptionally problematic for all recreational usages.

16. The Organizations oppose new USFS Recommended Wilderness Areas in Utah the MLSNF.

The Organizations oppose any new recommended wilderness areas in the planning area. The recommended wilderness areas in Alternative B and Alternative D tend to be too large, virtually abutting trails and roads (even some graded roads), effectively creating permanent walls against even bicycle travel. They are somewhat redundant with other restrictions, such as Primitive ROS zones and Research Natural Areas. The difference is that, until Congress acts on these specific locations, they would apparently be managed like wilderness.

By constricting the development and maintenance of even non-mechanized trails to a standard that many non-mechanized recreationists prefer, these recommended wilderness areas would displace some non-mechanized recreation and all mechanized trail development to motorized areas, which may in turn displace motorized trail recreation to graded road corridors or off the forest completely. Recommending wilderness designation per se is generally not needed to provide for non-mechanized recreation, and it actually tends to hinder the agency’s ability to manage for a diversity of recreation opportunities.

On top of recreational concerns, the Organizations urge you to consider potential consequences to forest health and fire management. One example is MA-RECWILD-ST-04, which states “Timber harvest in a recommended wilderness area shall only occur if required to maintain the wilderness characteristics of that area.” Thus timber harvesting (which is often the only affordable option) couldn’t be permitted for vital goals such as forest health or public safety, only for furthering the social construct of “wilderness characteristics.” Another example is MA-RECWILD-GD-01, which states “To maintain wilderness characteristics, fire suppression actions should apply minimum impact strategies and tactics, except when direct attack is needed to protect life, adjacent property, or to mitigate risks to responders.” Thus recommended wilderness would even constrain fire crews except in the most dire of emergencies.

Last but certainly not least, existing law prohibits the USFS from proposing let alone managing for new recommended wilderness areas. In the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984, PUBLIC LAW 98-428, September. 28, 1984, Congress determined in Section 101(a)(1) of the Act that all USFS lands in Utah not designated as wilderness “should be available for nonwilderness multiple uses under the land management planning process, other applicable laws and the provisions of this Act.” The express stated purpose of the Act was to “insure that certain other national forest system lands in the State of Utah [other than designated as wilderness in that Act] be available for nonwilderness multiple uses.”  Id. at Section 201(2). See also Section 201(b)(3) of the Act.

Congress in the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984 also expressly upheld, ratified, and adopted the Department of Agriculture’s second roadless area review and evaluation program (RARE II) for all forest system lands in the State of Utah, Section 201(a)(1), despite how the Courts may have rule against RARE II for purposes of the rest of the country, and Congress expressly declared in Section 201(b)(1) and (b)(2) of the Act:

(b) On the basis of such review [RARE II], the Congress hereby determines and directs that—

(1) without passing on the question of the legal and factual sufficiency of the RARE II final environmental statement (dated January 1979) with respect to national forest lands in States other than Utah, such statement shall not be subject to judicial review with respect to national forest system lands in the State of Utah;

(2) with respect to the national forest system lands in the State of Utah which were reviewed by the Department of Agriculture in the second roadless area review and evaluation (RARE II) and those lands referred to in subsection (d), that review and evaluation or reference shall be deemed for the purposes of the initial land management plans required for such lands by the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, as amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976, to be an adequate consideration of the 16 u s e 1600 suitability of such lands for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System and the Department of Agriculture shall not be required to review the wilderness option prior to the revisions of the plans, but shall review the wilderness option when the plans are revised…

In Section 201(b)(5) of the Act, Congress declared:

(5) unless expressly authorized by Congress, Department of Agriculture shall not conduct any further statewide roadless area review and evaluation of national forest system lands in the State of Utah for the purpose of determining their suitability for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

These provisions of the 1984 Utah Wilderness Act render void and invalid the 2001 Roadless Area Review conducted under the purported administrative authority of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (“2001 RACR”). The 2001 RACR is an invalid exercise of administrative authority that is clearly trumped by the legislative authority of Congress which forbade additional statewide roadless area review and evaluation of Forest System lands in Utah. Any suggested wilderness addition in the Proposal is therefore legally barred as the fruit of the poison (illegal) tree, namely the 2001 designation of roadless areas, made illegal and without authority by the above-cited provisions of the 1984 Utah Wilderness Act. Hence we are adamantly opposed to the Proposal’s suggested additions to wilderness since they stem from the 2001 roadless area inventory and designation.

17. The Proposal must address Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) in compliance with existing law.

See our discussion the Recommended Wilderness Areas section, which is incorporated here. The Proposal apparently sticks with boundaries of IRA designations from the 2001 inventory. While this is better than using even more recent inventories, to be legally and fundamentally correct, you should not exceed the designations recognized in the 1979 RARE II inventory of roadless areas. (See our Exhibit 1 enclosed.) This was the only inventory properly sanctioned and authorized by Congressional legislation. If going with the RARE II designations is not preferred because they were subject to court challenge, then the only legally right thing to do is have no roadless area designations. This would be the legally correct application, although we have no objection to the RARE II designations, but we do oppose the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (“Roadless Rule”) designations.

In fact we view as without legal authority the application of the Roadless Rule in the Proposal. The Roadless Rule is not a legitimate basis for inventorying characteristics on USFS lands. It provides exceptionally limited management direction, and unauthorized direction at that. The Proposal treats unauthorized Roadless Rule inventory analysis as if it were somehow a management decision itself. There is no legal basis for this. We see bright-line distinctions between inventories on the forest, and management decisions on the forest. The Roadless Rule is a unique, unauthoritative, and contentious designation, and we oppose using this tool in an LMP, particularly when the Roadless Rule itself states that it is not for LMP use.

18. The Proposal fails to recognize that the current motorized trail opportunities in the MLSNF is drastically insufficient.

The Proposal reports 322 miles of motorized trails, which isn’t enough for any of the ranger districts (RDs), most notably the Moab RD that has 2 miles. The Proposal highlights 53 miles of motorized trails constructed since the current plan was approved in 1986, but fails to acknowledge that the majority of existing full-size vehicle routes and singletrack trails have since been closed to motorized use, primarily by the 1991 Travel Management Plan (TMP). The TMP was insufficient in 1991 and, since motorized recreation has grown exponentially, it’s even far less sufficient today (let alone in the future).

Granted some modest alternatives exist, such as state land east of the La Sal peaks that provides a small network of primitive roads / ATV trails / motorized singletrack. However providing diverse recreation opportunities isn’t central to mission of the Utah Trust Lands Administration, while it is central to that of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) mission, as illustrated by the slogan “land of many uses.” Some private lands are also nearby, but the MLSNF encompasses by far the most high-elevation land within range of nearby communities.

The three counties that have the most MLSNF acreage are San Juan, Sanpete, and Emery. All three counties have expressed concern about the Proposal constraining the maintenance and improvement of opportunities for OHV riding and snowmobiling as key components of the local residents’ livelihood and quality of life.

19. The Proposal fails to recognize that adding well-designed motorized trail opportunities is less costly in the long run.

The Proposal refers to the cost of maintaining trails, but well-designed trails often require virtually no ongoing tread work, and the corridor work can be performed by volunteers. For example, in partnership with MLSNF, the Organizations rerouted large sections of the motorized singletracks in the Abajo Mountains (Robertson Pasture, Red Ledges Access, and Red Ledges in two locations). Despite being in challenging terrain, the reroutes have sustained, and they have benefited non-motorized recreation even more than motorized recreation. The three-mile reroute of Robertson Pasture became a favorite among some mountain bikers, and even became the highlight of a locally-organized mountain bike race.

The MLSNF could utilize far more OHV grants and volunteers. The MLSNF has applied for few grants in recent years. Partners like counties have applied a few times, but applications have not risen with use levels or with the increased OHV grant funding available. Even if performed by agency staff, the cost of trail work is less than the cost of law enforcement and various blockades to gain compliance with an overly restrictive TMP. Ultimately it’s cheaper to guide visitors through well-designed trails than it is to keep them on graded roads. This proactive approach requires sufficiently desirable forest land to be eligible for motorized trail development, which is not the case in any of the action alternatives (B through D).

20. The Proposal fails to recognize and plan for the rapid growth of electric bicycles and electric OHVs.

Technological improvements are making some forms of motorized recreation increasingly compatible with other uses and resources of MLSNF. Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are the fastest growing segment of the cycling market. Likewise the number of electric motorcycles coming to market is growing exponentially, as is the capability of their batteries. Electric UTVs and 4WD vehicles are less common, but are already available for sale from major manufacturers. Over the life of a new LMP, the majority of motorized recreation seems likely to be using electric motors, which are significantly quieter while still producing some sound that can be beneficial when encountering other trail users or wildlife. They also still are capable of hauling maintenance supplies to maximize the efficiency of trail work.

We appreciate that Alternative C would allow Class 1 e-bikes in Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized (SPNM) Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) zones, especially since the vast majority of current e-bikes are Class 1. However there is also major growth in e-bikes that have either been modified from their Class 1 condition, designed as another class, or unclassified. There’s also major growth in lightweight electric motorcycles, and these products collectively hybridize motorcycling and bicycling.

This spectrum of electric vehicles could be accommodated by expanding traditional motorized trails, which provides access to OHV grant funds, plus it reduces the enforcement burden of distinguishing between various classes or bicycle and motorcycle. Such vehicles could also be accommodated by adding trails of a new class, particularly if industry standards are established. Either way, such vehicles won’t qualify as Class 1 e-bikes, so they’ll depend heavily on motorized ROS zones.

21. The Proposal fails to recognize that the current TMP is missing many well-established routes that would be viable additions.

Across the MLSNF, well-established routes are missing from the current TMP, many of which have been continuously used since the 1991 TMP was approved. For example, above the designated spur Beaver Basin, one fork goes to a historic cabin while the other goes to a view of the glacial cirque. Many visitors have physical limitations that would prevent them from walking from the designated endpoint to see these two viewpoints.

The Organizations recognize that each route would need to be reviewed before adding it to the TMP, but that review would be precluded by all the ROS in action alternatives that would zones the routes as non-motorized. Since some of these routes haven’t been marked closed, and since some of them are too short to distinguish on an MVUM, many visitors have no idea that the routes are technically closed. They understandably assume the routes would be left open when the agency claims that the Proposal wouldn’t close any routes, yet the Proposal would actually preclude well-established routes from ever being added. There’s no indication that the agency gave any consideration to non-designated routes when developing ROS boundaries in any action alternative.

Further the ROS in all action alternatives would zone several designated routes as non-motorized, such as Skyline to Black Canyon (FR 52467). Most of all, though, the action alternatives excessively constrain planning for new routes in quality terrain that would be sustainable as defined by the Proposal. The agency appears to assume that the current TMP is complete and sufficient for motorized recreation, and to entomb the current TMP by ROS zoning. The Proposal shows no evidence that the current TMP provides enough quantity and quality of OHV riding opportunities to meet current let alone future levels of interest.

22. The Proposal fails to demonstrate that non-motorized recreation needs a drastic expansion of non-motorized ROS zones.

The current LMP zones 92% of the forest as motorized in summer and even more of it is available for over-snow vehicle (OSV) travel provided adequate snowpack in winter. Even of the 8% that’s non-motorized, the current LMP doesn’t outright prohibit designating a motorized trail. Yet since the LMP was approved in 1986, the motorized zones have seen total motorized access decrease while the designation of non-motorized as well as non-mechanized trails in the motorized zones has increased. Of course the total motorized access has decreased in non-motorized zones as well. Clearly, motorized ROS zones (particularly Semi-Primitive Motorized) have advanced non-motorized interests, which suggests that no major expansion of non-motorized ROS zones is warranted, let alone an expansion from 8% to about 50% in the action alternatives. Given that the Proposal excludes ROS within nearly 300,000 acres of Bears Ears including Dark Canyon Wilderness Area, it seems likely that the expansion of non-motorized ROS zones would greatly exceed 50% of the total MLSNF. The organizations might understand a need for change if the Proposal demonstrated significant levels of trail-use conflicts, particularly if such conflicts warrant separation at great distances, but the Proposal doesn’t report such conflicts or a great likelihood of them developing.

23. Zoning is largely accomplished at the route level via subsequent travel management planning, so it doesn’t require non-motorized ROS zones in the LMP to be vastly expanded.

Motorized trails can and do provide enjoyment for non-motorized recreation, but the Organizations recognize that some degree of separation can be useful to prevent conflicts. That said, non-motorized routes don’t need to be miles away from motorized routes because national forests provide vegetative and topographic screening. Even in winter, the uses can often be separated by a stand of trees or ridge rather than an entire mountain. These smaller non-motorized ROS zones suffice to prevent “goal interference,” particularly when subsequent travel management planning will analyze further separation at the route-specific level.

24. The Proposal fails to show its ROS inventory, boundary-specific analysis, cumulative analysis, or rationale for the zones proposed in any action alternative.

The ROS zones in all action alternatives would profoundly affect travel management planning yet, in stark contrast to the TMP process, the Proposal simply doesn’t show its work. How did planners choose the location of each boundary? What tradeoffs did they consider, and why did they ultimately choose one over another? Once they decided upon all the new zones, did they analyze the cumulative effects upon each form of recreation, and what were the results? These fundamental questions must be answered for the public to be able to meaningfully review and comment on the proposal.

25. The Proposal fails to justify automatically changing motorized ROS zones to non-motorized ones in Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) just because they currently lack routes designated for motorized use.

In addition to the Roadless Rule not being an appropriate basis for LMP management decisions, IRA status is not an appropriate basis for converting to non-motorized ROS zoning, and doing so would systematically erode the very spectrum of combinations (i.e. motorized trail riding in semi-primitive settings, particularly in the mountainous portions of the MLSNF) that ROS is designed to ensure.

The Proposal states:

“The Manti-La Sal National Forest contains 44 Inventoried Roadless Areas… While this does not preclude motorized opportunities completely, it does limit development of those opportunities that might impair roadless characteristics. Again, since a motorized ROS class doesn’t ensure development of motorized opportunities but rather identifies them as potential and suitable, it is unlikely that the inventoried roadless areas would see the development of motorized opportunities regardless of the ROS. However, by better aligning the ROS and inventoried roadless areas, it would improve management direction consistency and clarity.”

Further it states “the Roadless Rule provides guidance to manage for roadless characteristics which may not be congruent with a motorized ROS class.” The Proposal doesn’t explain what the characteristics are or how they would be impaired by developing any OHV trails. It doesn’t describe impairment by the existing network of motorized singletrack that’s in an IRA of the eastern Abajo Mountains.

As the Organizations’ previous comments have made clear, roadless doesn’t mean trail-less or motor-less. We see no reason why ROS zoning needs to change from motorized to non-motorized just because of IRA status. Particularly in ranger districts like Moab and Price, converting IRAs to non-motorized ROS zones largely eliminates the potential of semi-primitive settings to be enjoyed by motorized recreation. The whole point of ROS is to ensure that a variety of activities can be enjoyed in a variety of settings, and OHV trail riding in semi-primitive settings is central to recreation in national forests, increasingly so.

26. All action alternatives would excessively constrain the development of recreation opportunities.

When it comes to subsequent travel planning, a heavy burden is placed on justifying the addition of any motorized route to the travel plan, which is why adding motorized routes even in motorized zones is rare. It requires stars will align, so to speak, thus it depends upon a wide range of options at the outset.

The organizations understand the intent of ROS to place guardrails on travel management planning, but the action alternatives would limit OHV trail development so severely in ranger districts like Moab and Price that future planners couldn’t consider developing trails in terrain that’s actually mountainous and forested other than within road corridors, most of which are dead ends.

Connectivity is key to OHV riding opportunities, yet the ROS zones of all action alternatives would prevent the development of motorized trails to link any of the spur roads in vast portions of the MLSNF.

Just as the ROS zones of all action alternatives fail to provide adequate connectivity, they fail to provide an adequate cross-section of the physical settings for OHV trail riding, particularly in the Moab and Price ranger districts. Areas over 8,000′ of elevation offers taller trees and slopes that are far more desirable. The Proposal acknowledges the importance of physical settings for recreation opportunities:

“Areas where vegetation is removed, areas of minimal to thick vegetation, and densely timbered areas all play a part in providing a variety of settings for a variety of recreation opportunities and activities. The variety of viewsheds, which range from sparsely to densely covered terrain, influence the setting for recreation activities. Additionally, it influences the visual appeal for some visitors.”

Yet the ROS of all action alternatives would zone areas over 8,000′ as nonmotorized except along the corridors of currently-designated routes, thus eliminating the most valuable settings for consideration of developing OHV trails.

The Proposal doesn’t acknowledge this determination let alone justify it. Steeper slopes are entirely suitable for OHV trails given the proper design of a rolling contour. In fact steeper slopes help to keep vehicles on the trail while shedding water off the trail. Wildlife habitat is often as suitable for motorized recreation as it is for non-motorized recreation, as motors provide warning to wildlife of a vehicle’s approach. Provided that operators slow down upon encounters, wildlife often habituates to vehicles.

27. Reducing motorized ROS zones to 50% of the MLSNF is not justified by the rhetoric of “balance.”

The Proposal claims that “Alternatives B and C should provide an even balance between the demands for nonmotorized and motorized summer recreation opportunities” because the motorized and non-motorized ROS zones would each occupy roughly 50% of the MLSNF. The fact is that non-motorized zones would be 100% non-motorized due to the proposed standards and guidelines for such areas, while motorized zones would be 99% non-motorized in terms of route footprints due to the increasing challenges of approving any additions to the TMP. Therefore, when it comes to ROS, references to a 50/50 balance are highly misleading and inappropriate in agency planning documents.

Even regarding Winter ROS, in which OSV travel is permitted cross-country, there’s absolutely no need for non-motorized zones to approach half of the area. Granted, portions of lower elevations can be reserved for wildlife winter range, or higher elevations can be reserved for a particular ski trail or drainage basin. However most areas are rarely crowded, and vehicle sound is dampened by snow. OSV travel doesn’t impact soils or much wildlife at higher elevations. Further, some visitors use OSV travel to assist their non-motorized recreation.

Finally Winter ROS should accommodate OSV travel to connect areas while staying above 9,000′ of elevation, as lower elevations often lack adequate snowpack. At the highest elevations, even though snow conditions often prevent OSV travel from one basin over to another, ROS zones should allow most basins to be connected for those times when conditions allow.

28. If ROS map changes of the action alternatives are not scaled back to resemble the current LMP, then ROS text changes should be softened to resemble the current LMP.

On top of drastically reducing the acreage of motorized ROS zones, all the action alternatives add standards and guidelines that would make the non-motorized zones entirely exclusive for non-motorized use. If the ROS boundaries aren’t brought back much closer to the current LMP, then the ROS language should be left closer to the current RMP in which non-motorized recreation is the focus of non-motorized zones but not necessarily the exclusive recreational use of them.

In that case, below are five standards or guidelines that should be removed. In some cases, they could be merely qualified, such as by replacing “all project-level decisions” to “most project-level decisions” in FW-ROS-ST-02. Note that, even though FW-ROS-ST-01 would allow a motorized route to be opened provided that another motorized route is closed, this is no consolation since there are few if any routes in the current TMP to spare.

Regarding Summer ROS:

“Standards (FW-ROS-ST)
01 New system roads and motorized trails shall only be located within the Rural, Roaded Natural, and Semi-primitive Motorized classes unless they are replacements in kind of existing system roads or motorized trails to address resource impacts.
02 Existing roads and motorized trails in Primitive and Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized recreation opportunity spectrum classes shall be considered for closure during travel management planning.
Guidelines (FW-ROS-GD)
01 To sustain recreation settings and opportunities, all project-level decisions and implementation activities, including management activities at developed and dispersed recreation sites, should be moving toward the desired recreation opportunity spectrum mapped classes.”

Regarding Winter ROS:

“Guidelines (FW-WINTER-GD)
01 To provide distinct recreation opportunities when adequate snow is on the ground, all project-level decisions and implementation activities – including management activities at developed and dispersed recreation sites – should move toward the desired winter recreation opportunity spectrum mapped classes; these classes should be applied instead of the summer recreation opportunity mapped classes.
02 To manage for and provide a diversity of winter recreation opportunities, motorized, over-snow travel is not suitable in Primitive and Semi-primitive non-motorized recreation opportunity spectrum classes except for emergencies or administrative uses. New motorized facilities and infrastructure should not be developed in those classes.”

29. ROS comments that are site-specific

Below is a list of the most noteworthy locations that should remain in a motorized ROS class instead of being zoned non-motorized as proposed by Alternative B. (The organizations oppose virtually all expansions of non-motorized zones as proposed in Alternative D.) To be clear, this list is by no means complete, and we urge the agency to start with Alternative A and only eliminate motorized ROS zoning in specific locations where the USFS is confident that recreation planners decades in the future shouldn’t even consider any degree of access by e-bike, be it Class 1 or otherwise. By that logical guide, the portion of the forest that should remain in a motorized ROS zone is closer to the 90% of Alternative A than the 50% of Alternative B.

Monticello Ranger District:

While the network of motorized singletrack surrounding Robertson Pasture goes a long way toward filling out the range of recreation opportunities, only a quarter of the district is left out of Bears Ears National Monument, making this eastern quarter critical for its ability to more squarely focus on motorized recreation. For this reason, non-motorized zones proposed in this eastern quarter should be far more modest.

At the very least, motorized corridors should be greatly widened to accommodate any needed reroutes, the designation of short spurs, or development of parallel trails to provide a higher-quality opportunity than the graded roads, and to prevent conflicts with vehicles on the graded roads that tend to be larger and slower. Non-motorized boundaries should be set back at least 200 yards from both sides of motorized routes to give trail planners the latitude to deal with rugged terrain, like the road from Johnson Creek to Jackson Ridge and the road in North Canyon. (It would be great to reach the Robertson Pasture network by being able to start on singletrack immediately from the Blue Mountain Byway.)

Likewise the corridor of upper Abajo Peak Road should be widened and, on its west side, it should actually be widened all the way down to Cooley Pass (creating a triangle-shaped motorized zone) so that Trail 1 can be considered for reopening. Trail 1 combines with the Trail 5052 creates a mini-loop that can be a highlight for anyone traveling along the Abajo Peak or North Canyon roads, and e-bikers prefer to catch singletrack from the top of Abajo Peak for a long descent to Spring Creek Saddle. To consider making a parallel trail between Cooley Pass and Spring Creek Saddle, the motorized corridor should be widened to at least 200 yards from the graded road.

The road between Cooley Pass and Spring Creek Saddle is just one example of why a minimum of 200 yards is entirely justified, as unstable slopes actually extend 175 yards above the graded road, and below the graded road even further. Plus it’s almost always preferable to make a parallel trail above the road so the trail avoids any drainage that may be concentrated by the road, so trail riders can more easily reach the road in an emergency, and so trail riders can enjoy the aesthetic and psychological benefits of being above the road rather than below it.

Another good example of the 200-yard minimum buffer is east of the pass on Robertson Pasture Trail. The reroute that RwR planned and implemented with the USFS is actually over 175 yards from the trail’s original location. In fact, on the west side of the pass, the reroute RwR planned and implemented with the USFS is 550 yards from the trail’s original location. Similar latitude would be provided by a 200-yard minimum buffer along lower Robertson Pasture Trail and upper Spring Creek Trail.

Moab Ranger District:

As with the eastern quarter of the Monticello Ranger District, most of the mountains south of La Sal Pass and north of Geyser Pass should remain motorized for future planners to consider any e-bike trails and perhaps a semblance of the motorcycle trail opportunities that existed all throughout the La Sal range for decades until 1991. The fact that Alternative B precludes any such consideration in the mountainous part of the Moab Ranger District (other than within the road corridors) is out of hand.

Perhaps the most egregious part of Alternative B’s ROS proposal is from Carpenter Basin Trail all the way down to the forest boundary by going through a chained pinyon juniper woodland that includes a through-going road, which is partially covered by vegetation but nevertheless exists (as one of many motorized routes whose existence is not acknowledged by the Proposal or past plans such as the Moab Open Areas Route Designation of 2009). For MLSNF LMP scoping in 2004, RwR proposed reopening South Mountain trails for motorcycling since hiking had become particularly popular north of La Sal Pass and mountain biking had become particularly popular north of Geyser Pass. In response to concerns, in 2006 RwR proposed merely going around the flank of South Mountain by reopening Carpenter Basin Trail, which is an old road that marked the northeast boundary of an OHV-open area until 2009. After being told to wait since 2006, Alternative B’s ROS proposal essentially says that not only is Carpenter Basin Trail dead on arrival, but so would be any route that goes around the mountains. In other words, don’t even think about developing a trail over South Mountain, on the flank of South Mountain, at the base of South Mountain, or across the chained pinyon-juniper woodland. If motorcyclists want a trail to reach from Spanish Valley to the state land of Upper Twomile, they can do it on BLM land, and stay off of the national forest, as it’s simply not the “land of many uses.” We urge the agency to keep any non-motorized zone well-above the Carpenter Basin Trail, and preferably above all foothills surrounding South Mountain, or at the very least 200 yards away from the edge of motorized routes.

Similarly the majority of the mountains north of Geyser Pass should remain in a motorized zone, or at least the portion of them that make prominent connections that may warrant future consideration of use by something more than a bicycle or Class 1 e-bike, such as Boren Mesa to Oowah Lake and from Miners Basin to Bachelor Basin. Also for future planners to consider making a parallel trail above the La Sal Loop Road and the Castleton-Gateway Road, the ROS should remain motorized north of the radio towers, northeast of Spring Branch, and above property that’s near Bachelor Basin and Willow Basin (to connect east all the way to state land).

In Beaver Basin, a couple examples of the need for making corridors extend at least 200 yards from motorized routes are the well-established spurs that go to the historic cabin and the upper view of the glacial cirque. Likewise the corridor of Miners Basin Road should be widened. ROS zoning should remain motorized east of Miners Basin, where several old roads climb the flanks of Mineral and Green mountains. In fact, to keep planning options open for anything beyond a bicycle or Class 1 e-bike, the motorized ROS zone ought to extend from Miners Basin all the way to Beaver Basin. However what’s most essential is to have continuous motorized ROS zones for going around the La Sal Range, along the north side above several properties, and along the south side via Carptenter Basin Trail.

Ferron Ranger District:

It appears that Dry Wash, Dairy Trail, Pole Canyon and Gentry single track trails are cherry-stemmed in. While we are grateful for this consideration we are asked for a wider cherry-stemmed ROS within these routes to allow for mapping/data errors and for trail reroutes

However narrow many non-motorized ROS zones may be, some of them are many miles long, effectively creating a wall that excessively constrains future planning. For example, although the action alternatives would leave more of the Ferron District in a motorized ROS zone than the Price District, even the Ferron District has a fifteen-mile long continuous strip of non-motorized ROS zone from The Narrows of Stevens Creek all the way up to Swedish Knoll.

Price Ranger District:

All action alternatives are enormously restrictive by relegating motorized ROS zones almost entirely to road corridors, leaving virtually no potential to meaningfully improve connectivity. Even the Tie Fork Canyon – Pole Canyon motorcycle loop would struggle to get a motorized singletrack paralleling UT-31 (to keep motorcycle trail riders off the highway) since the measly hundred yards between the highway and the non-motorized ROS boundary is largely occupied by the meandering creek. Perhaps the most egregious example of entombing an inadequate TMP is at the north end surrounding Garret Ridge and Coffeepot Ridge. Not only would the action alternatives prevent the possibility of connecting the spurs of Blind Canyon, Cougar Ridge, or Dry Canyon, but the proposed non-motorized ROS boundaries actually truncate the existing roads.

San Pitch Mountains:

Other than by driving the primary road of Chicken Creek, all action alternatives would prevent the consideration of linking westward from anywhere between Horse Heaven Mountain (three miles from the forest’s southern boundary) nearly fifteen miles beyond Salt Creek Peak to the forest’s northern boundary.

30. Peavine Corridor

“Desired Conditions (DA-WILD-DC)
10 Use within the Peavine Corridor has a minimal effect on Dark Canyon wilderness resources; motorized use stays within the corridor and does not enter the designated wilderness.”
“Guidelines (DA-WILD-GD)
02 To maintain wilderness character, management actions along the motorized Peavine Corridor should minimize user conflict and reduce impacts on soil, watershed, vegetation, and other resources.”

As our 2020-12-18 comments pointed out, the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984 that created the Dark Canyon Wilderness clearly states “The fact that nonwilderness activities or uses can be seen or heard from areas within the wilderness shall not, of itself, preclude such activities or uses up to the boundary of the wilderness area.” To comply with this law, the above statements could be condensed to read “Motorized use within the Peavine Corridor stays within the corridor and does not enter the designated wilderness” and “Management actions along the motorized Peavine Corridor should minimize user conflict and reduce impacts on soil, watershed, vegetation, and other resources.”

31. Groundwater-Dependent Ecosystems

“Standards (FW-WETLAND-ST)
01 New road and trail development shall not be authorized in groundwater-dependent ecosystems and wetlands.”

As our 2020-12-18 comments pointed out, the above statement is too sweeping, and should be followed with the caveat “…except to cross them in sustainable locations.” This caveat would make the statement consistent with the rest of the draft Forest Plan, including (FW-ACCESS-GD-2) “To maintain the ecological health of riparian areas, new roads and trails should be located outside of riparian areas and should only cross them in sustainable locations.”

32. Elk Ridge Geographic Area

Generally the Organizations oppose unique parts of Alternative D, but let us specifically explain some reasons we oppose the designation of an Elk Ridge Geographic Area (ERGA). The area includes valuable OHV riding opportunities such as the Gooseberry ATV Trail, but several provisions of the ERGA threaten continued enjoyment of such opportunities. For example, a standard prohibits increasing the density of routes, which could prevent rerouting a trail away from sensitive resources because doing so would increase the route density. Such provisions are not only unnecessary, but ineffective, and an inefficient use of managerial resources.

33. Conclusion

We strongly support Alternative A of the Proposal, as there are many troubling new concepts and standards in every other alternative of the Proposal. Throughout the Proposal, the entire direction of analysis reflects only negative impacts of all forms of recreation and provide almost nothing about the benefits to communities and the public more generally from recreation. We emphatically oppose Alternative D, as it fails to align with numerous legal requirements and fails to set a vision for the planning area that reflects the growing population in the planning area.

While there are concepts and land allocations that we could support in Alternative C, this Alternative includes new standards, such as trails being limited to 66″ in width and recreational activities above 11,000′ in elevation needing to be limited, that are not acceptable. It is troubling to the Organizations that many of these entirely new standards are in every alternative and there is no discussion of possible challenges that could result from generalized standards such as these.

Development of meaningful public comment is made more difficult on the Proposal for several reasons. This is not a viable plan for the management of the MLSNF moving forward, as many tools intended as management decisions are purportedly used as planning decisions. This problem is only compounded when inventory terms are used interchangeably with what appears to be management-decision terms. This is a significant barrier to public comment and hence a serious NEPA inadequacy.

Specific to ROS, the current LMP that has held 90% of the forest in a motorized zone has yielded a drastic reduction in motorized access while many trails have become designated for non-motorized or non-mechanized use inside the motorized zones. Even though more non-motorized zoning clearly hasn’t been needed to advance non-motorized opportunities, the Organizations are open to reducing the portion of the forest that’s in a motorized zone. However reducing down to 50% is excessive, especially given that it would relegate almost any motorized trail development to the mesas below the mountains, and especially given that new standards and guidelines would make non-motorized zones exclusive to that use. Changing ROS boundaries in a more modest fashion would ensure that managers in the coming decades will retain sufficient latitude to find ways of providing ample recreation opportunities while juggling all of the other management goals.

For questions, please contact Clif Koontz (435-259-8334 / clif@ridewithrespect.org) or Chad Hixon (719-221-8329 / chad@coloradotpa.org).

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Chad Hixon
Executive Director
Trails Preservation Alliance

Clif Koontz
Executive Director
Ride with Respect

 

 

[1] 36 CFR 219.7(c)

[2] 36 CFR 219.19

[3] 40 CFR 1500.1

[4] 40 CFR 1502.1

[5] 40 CFR 1502.2(b)

[6] 36 CFR 219.7d

[7] Draft EIS at pg 2-63

[8] USFS Planning Rule 36 CFR 219.10

[9] Hughes River Watershed Conservancy v. Glickman; (4th Circ 1996) 81 f3d 437 at pg 442; 42 ERC 1594, 26 Envtl. L. Rep 21276

[10] A complete copy of this strategy and more information on the process as a whole is available here: National Strategy for a Sustainable Trail System | US Forest Service (usda.gov)

[11] PUBLIC LAW 114–245—NOV. 28, 2016

[12] National Trails strategy at pg. 4

[13] A complete copy of this correspondence is attached as an exhibit to the comments of ORBA et al.

[14] Western Governors Association report; A snapshot of the Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation; prepared by Southwick and Associates; July 2012 at pg. 1

[15] Western Governors Association; Get out West Report; Managing the Regions Recreational Assets; June 2012 at pg 3

[16] Get Out West Report at pg. 5

[17] Draft Land management plan @ pg 2-64

[18] 36 C.F.R. § 212.1

[19] (FSH 2353.28j ¶ 1)

[20] 36 CFR 212.81

[21] Draft decision at pg. 2-62

[22] Proposal at pg. 2-62

[23] A complete copy of this lawsuit is attached as an exhibit to the comments of ORBA et al.

[24] ephriammanti1.pdf (utah.gov)

[25] DEIS at pg. 2-20

[26] DEIS at pg. 2-30

[27] 42 U.S.C. 4332(2)

[28] 42 U.S.C. 4321

 


 

Exhibit 1 to Comments of Ride with Respect and Trail Preservation Alliance on the Forest Service 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (“2001 RACR”) as it pertains to the MLSNF Draft LMP/EIS.

Background, Summary and Text of 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule

In October 2011, USFS appealed the 2007 Wyoming district court decision enjoining the 2001 RACR, arguing the Wyoming district court’s injunction was improper.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with USFS and upheld the 2001 Rule, vacating the injunction imposed by the Wyoming district court in 2008.  Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 661 F.3d 1209, 1272 (10th Cir. 2011).  In reinstating the 2001 RACR, the Tenth Circuit rejected arguments that the rule violated NEPA and created de facto wilderness in violation of the Wilderness Act. Id., at 1220-34.  The State of Wyoming petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court review of the Tenth Circuit decision on writ of certiorari, but that petition was declined.

As a result, the 2001 RACR is currently nominally in effect throughout the United States except in Colorado and Idaho.  However, the 2001 RACR is not actually currently codified in the current Code of Federal Regulations.  Thus, the 2001 RACR’s viability is solely judicially sustained by the 2011 Tenth Circuit decision cited above.  The United States Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the 2001 RACR, but as noted above that Court in 2012 declined to review the Tenth Circuit’s 2011 ruling upholding the rule.

The actual 2001 RACR itself may be found only by going to the Federal Register publication of its final enactment, cited at 62 FR 3244-72, date January 12, 2001.

Here is a summary of the 2001 RACR, and then the actual text of the Rule follows:

As pertaining to roads, the 2001 RACR prohibits new road construction and reconstruction in inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands, except:

  • To protect health and safety in cases of an imminent threat of flood, fire, or other catastrophic event that, without intervention, would cause the loss of life or property.
  • To conduct environmental clean up required by federal law.
  • To allow for reserved or outstanding rights provided for by statute or treaty.
  • To prevent irreparable resource damage by an existing road.
  • To rectify existing hazardous road conditions.
  • Where a road is part of a Federal Aid Highway project.
  • Where a road is needed in conjunction with the continuation, extension, or renewal of a mineral lease on lands that are under lease, or for new leases issued immediately upon expiration of an existing lease.

As pertaining to timber activities, the 2001 RACR prohibits cutting, sale, and removal of timber in inventoried roadless areas, except:

  • For the cutting, sale, or removal of generally small diameter trees which maintains or improves roadless characteristics and:
  • To improve habitat for threatened, endangered, proposed, or sensitive species, or
  • To maintain or restore ecosystem composition and structure, such as reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects.
  • When incidental to the accomplishment of a management activity not otherwise prohibited by this rule.
  • For personal or administrative use.
  • Where roadless characteristics have been substantially altered in a portion of an inventoried roadless area due to the construction of a classified road and subsequent timber harvest occurring after the area was designated an inventoried roadless area and prior to the publication date of this rule.

Here is the actual Federal Register Text of 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.  Again, this will not be found in the current Code of Federal Regulations.  As may be seen, the 2001 RACR was initially codified at 36 CFR Part 294, but that is no longer the case:

 

PART 294—SPECIAL AREAS

  1. Add and reserve §§ 294.3–294.9, designate §§ 294.1 through 294.9 as subpart A, and add a subpart heading to read as follows:

Subpart A—Miscellaneous Provisions

  1. Remove the authority citations that follow §§ 294.1 and 294.2 and add an authority citation for the newly designated Subpart A to read as follows: Authority: 16 U.S.C. 472, 551, and 1131.
  2. Add a new Subpart B to read as follows:

Subpart B—Protection of Inventoried Roadless Areas

Sec.

294.10 Purpose.

294.11 Definitions.

294.12 Prohibition on road construction

and road reconstruction in inventoried

roadless areas.

294.13 Prohibition on timber cutting, sale,

or removal in inventoried roadless areas.

294.14 Scope and applicability.

Authority: 16 U.S.C. 472, 529, 551, 1608,

1613; 23 U.S.C. 201, 205.

Subpart B—Protection of Inventoried Roadless Areas

 

§ 294.10 Purpose.

The purpose of this subpart is to provide, within the context of multiple use management, lasting protection for inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System.

 

§ 294.11 Definitions.

The following terms and definitions apply to this subpart:

Inventoried roadless areas. Areas identified in a set of inventoried roadless area maps, contained in Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation, Final Environmental Impact Statement, Volume 2, dated November 2000, which are held at the National headquarters office of the Forest Service, or any subsequent update or revision of those maps.

Responsible official. The Forest Service line officer with the authority and responsibility to make decisions regarding protection and management of inventoried roadless areas pursuant to this subpart.

Road. A motor vehicle travelway over 50 inches wide, unless designated and managed as a trail. A road may be classified, unclassified, or temporary.

(1) Classified road. A road wholly or partially within or adjacent to National Forest System lands that is determined to be needed for long-term motor vehicle access, including State roads, county roads, privately owned roads, National Forest System roads, and other roads authorized by the Forest Service.

(2) Unclassified road. A road on National Forest System lands that is not managed as part of the forest transportation system, such as unplanned roads, abandoned travelways, and off-road vehicle tracks that have not been designated and managed as a trail; and those roads that were once under permit or other authorization and were not decommissioned upon the termination of the authorization.

(3) Temporary road. A road authorized by contract, permit, lease, other written authorization, or emergency operation, not intended to be part of the forest transportation system and not necessary for long-term resource management. Road construction. Activity that results in the addition of forest classified or temporary road miles.

Road maintenance. The ongoing upkeep of a road necessary to retain or restore the road to the approved road management objective.

Road reconstruction. Activity that results in improvement or realignment of an existing classified road defined as follows:

(1) Road improvement. Activity that results in an increase of an existing road’s traffic service level, expansion of its capacity, or a change in its original design function.

(2) Road realignment. Activity that results in a new location of an existing road or portions of an existing road, and treatment of the old roadway.

Roadless area characteristics.

Resources or features that are often present in and characterize inventoried roadless areas, including:

(1) High quality or undisturbed soil, water, and air;

(2) Sources of public drinking water;

(3) Diversity of plant and animal communities;

(4) Habitat for threatened, endangered, proposed, candidate, and sensitive species and for those species dependent on large, undisturbed areas of land;

(5) Primitive, semi-primitive nonmotorized and semi-primitive motorized classes of dispersed recreation;

(6) Reference landscapes;

(7) Natural appearing landscapes with high scenic quality;

(8) Traditional cultural properties and sacred sites; and

(9) Other locally identified unique characteristics.

 

§ 294.12 Prohibition on road construction and road reconstruction in inventoried roadless areas.

(a) A road may not be constructed or reconstructed in inventoried roadless areas of the National Forest System, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section.

(b) Notwithstanding the prohibition in paragraph (a) of this section, a road may

be constructed or reconstructed in an inventoried roadless area if the Responsible Official determines that one of the following circumstances exists:

(1) A road is needed to protect public health and safety in cases of an imminent threat of flood, fire, or other catastrophic event that, without intervention, would cause the loss of life or property;

(2) A road is needed to conduct a response action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) or to conduct a natural resource restoration action under CERCLA, Section 311 of the Clean Water Act, or the Oil Pollution Act;

(3) A road is needed pursuant to reserved or outstanding rights, or as provided for by statute or treaty;

(4) Road realignment is needed to prevent irreparable resource damage that arises from the design, location, use, or deterioration of a classified road and that cannot be mitigated by road

maintenance. Road realignment may occur under this paragraph only if the road is deemed essential for public or private access, natural resource management, or public health and

safety;

(5) Road reconstruction is needed to implement a road safety improvement project on a classified road determined to be hazardous on the basis of accident experience or accident potential on that

road;

(6) The Secretary of Agriculture determines that a Federal Aid Highway project, authorized pursuant to Title 23 of the United States Code, is in the public interest or is consistent with the purposes for which the land was reserved or acquired and no other reasonable and prudent alternative exists; or

(7) A road is needed in conjunction with the continuation, extension, or renewal of a mineral lease on lands that are under lease by the Secretary of the Interior as of January 12, 2001 or for a new lease issued immediately upon expiration of an existing lease. Such road construction or reconstruction must be conducted in a manner that minimizes effects on surface resources, prevents unnecessary or unreasonable surface disturbance, and complies with all applicable lease requirements, land and resource management plan direction, regulations, and laws. Roads constructed or reconstructed pursuant to this paragraph must be obliterated when no longer needed for the purposes of the lease or upon termination or expiration of the lease, whichever is sooner.

(c) Maintenance of classified roads is permissible in inventoried roadless areas.

 

§ 294.13 Prohibition on timber cutting, sale, or removal in inventoried roadless areas.

(a) Timber may not be cut, sold, or removed in inventoried roadless areas of the National Forest System, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section.

(b) Notwithstanding the prohibition in paragraph (a) of this section, timber may be cut, sold, or removed in inventoried roadless areas if the Responsible Official determines that one of the following circumstances exists. The cutting, sale, or removal of timber in these areas is expected to be infrequent.

(1) The cutting, sale, or removal of generally small diameter timber is needed for one of the following purposes and will maintain or improve one or more of the roadless area characteristics as defined in § 294.11.

(i) To improve threatened, endangered, proposed, or sensitive species habitat; or

(ii) To maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition and structure, such as to

reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects, within the range of variability that would be expected to occur under natural disturbance regimes of the current climatic period;

(2) The cutting, sale, or removal of timber is incidental to the implementation of a management

activity not otherwise prohibited by this subpart;

(3) The cutting, sale, or removal of timber is needed and appropriate for personal or administrative use, as provided for in 36 CFR part 223; or

(4) Roadless characteristics have been substantially altered in a portion of an inventoried roadless area due to the construction of a classified road and subsequent timber harvest. Both the

road construction and subsequent timber harvest must have occurred after the area was designated an inventoried roadless area and prior to January 12, 2001. Timber may be cut, sold, or removed only in the substantially altered portion of the inventoried roadless area.

 

§ 294.14 Scope and applicability.

(a) This subpart does not revoke, suspend, or modify any permit, contract, or other legal instrument authorizing the occupancy and use of National Forest System land issued prior to January 12, 2001.

(b) This subpart does not compel the amendment or revision of any land and resource management plan.

(c) This subpart does not revoke, suspend, or modify any project or activity decision made prior to January 12, 2001.

(d) This subpart does not apply to road construction, reconstruction, or the cutting, sale, or removal of timber in inventoried roadless areas on the Tongass National Forest if a notice of

availability of a draft environmental impact statement for such activities has been published in the Federal Register prior to January 12, 2001.

(e) The prohibitions and restrictions established in this subpart are not subject to reconsideration, revision, or rescission in subsequent project decisions or land and resource

management plan amendments or revisions undertaken pursuant to 36 CFR part 219.

(f) If any provision of the rules in this subpart or its application to any person or to certain circumstances is held invalid, the remainder of the regulations in this subpart and their application remain in force.

 

Comment

The 2001 RACR does not prohibit the MLSNF from constructing, reconstructing, or maintaining motorized trails.  Section 294.11.

The 2001 RACR defines Semi-Primitive Motorized classes to themselves be roadless characteristics.  Section 294.11.

The 2001 RACR does not prohibit the MLSNF from maintaining existing roads but prohibits new road construction and reconstruction.  Section 294.12(a).

The 2001 RACR does not compel the MLSNF to do anything by way of revision to the current land and resource management plan.  Section 294.14(b).

The 2001 RACR must be applied in such a way as to respect and preserve multiple use management, and not be used as a club to forge de facto wilderness creation at the expense of multiple use management.  Section 294.10.

Though it was upheld in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest court in the land has not ruled.  The 2001 RACR is therefore still open to a possible legal challenge by pursuing United States Supreme Court review of excessive abuse of administrative rulemaking authority that overrides the multiple-use policies of the MUSYA, the 1964 Wilderness Act, and the NFMA.  An as-applied challenge is conceivable in the Tenth Circuit as well.

 

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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument RMP

Bureau of Land Management
GSENM RMP Project Manager
BLM Paria River District
669 S Highway 89A
Kanab, UT 84741

RE: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument RMP (DOI-BLM-UT-P010-2022-0006-RMP-EIS)

Dear BLM Planning Team:

Please accept this correspondence from the above organizations as our official comments regarding the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) Draft Resource Management Plan (DRMP).

1. Background of Our Organizations

In our comments, the “Organizations” will refer to the following four groups:

Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE) is a motorized action group based out of Buena Vista Colorado whose mission is to keep trails open for all users to enjoy. CORE achieves this through trail adoptions, trail maintenance projects, education, stewardship, outreach, and collaborative efforts.

The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO) is a grassroots advocacy organization of approximately 2,500 members seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado.  COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations.

Ride with Respect (RwR) was founded in 2002 to conserve shared-use trails and their surroundings. Since then, over 750 individuals have contributed money or volunteered time to the organization. Primarily in the Moab Field Office, RwR has educated visitors and performed over twenty-thousand hours of high-quality trail work on public lands.

The Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) is an advocacy organization created to be a viable partner to public lands managers, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of motorized trail riding and multiple use recreation. The TPA acts as an advocate for the sport and takes necessary action to ensure that the USFS and BLM allocate a fair and equitable percentage of public lands to diverse multiple-use recreation opportunities.

2. Introduction

The GSENM encompasses a vast area with over a thousand miles of motorized routes that are of high quality for responsible riding and driving. In addition to providing access to remote places of varied geology among other resources, the motorized routes provide opportunities for exploration, a sense of harmony with nature, camaraderie with one’s group, and even some exercise or challenge from the roughest routes. These primitive routes and even the graded roads to some degree are the very types of opportunities described in Proclamation 10286, which states “The Grand Staircase-Escalante region retains the frontier character of the American West, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience a remote landscape rich with opportunities for adventure and self-discovery.”

3. Context of National Monument Designations

The designation of GSENM, then scaling it back, and most recently expanding it were quite political acts, and this context should not be ignored when revising its RMP. On January 16th, 1997, Deseret News published “Making a Monument” that stated:

When BLM state director Bill Lamb announced [the appointment of Jerry Meredith as Monument Manager], he seized the occasion to speak in conciliatory tones to those who opposed the preserve, suggesting long-established land uses such as grazing and hunting will continue beside “various types of recreation” in the area.

“We have an opportunity, if not the obligation, to try to build something completely new and fresh here – something that adds diversity to the forms of land management heretofore found on the federal lands of the West,” said Lamb.

“If we do it right,” he said, “(the monument will) protect some of the most remarkable land on Earth while sustaining the cultural identity that makes the region so special and rare. We just need to work together.

Accommodating various types of recreation and forging a different path than the NPS has done with national monuments took a setback shortly thereafter, as the BLM attempted to prohibit OHV use of graded roads, similar to the NPS policy in national parks (although NRAs now allow OHV use). In fact, back then GSENM staff discouraged some of the Organizations’ members and contributors from riding routes designated open in the 2000 MMP even though their motorcycles were registered for interstate highway use. This attempt to ban OHVs and discourage registered motorcycles failed but, over two decades later, the DRMP attempts to adopt a much more concerning aspect of NPS policy, which is route density. At least one of the DRMP alternatives for OHV area designations would almost certainly result in a route network that’s as sparse as the ones in each district of Canyonlands National Park.

Meanwhile there’s cognitive dissonance south of GSENM in the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument that was designated just a few months ago. On August 17th, 2023, the Moab Times-Independent published “Biden’s new Arizona national monument exposes Grand Canyon-like divide between supporters and critics” that stated:

Amber Reimondo, energy director for the environmental nonprofit Grand Canyon Trust, said such assertions are just plain wrong. She said the monument will not involve the seizure of private property, threaten existing livestock or water rights or limit access to recreation.

“If these [claims] were true,” she said, “they’d have legitimate ground to stand on. But they are just not true.”

So Baaj Nwaavjo is touted to not limit access to recreation while GSENM would further limit access to recreation, and dramatically so. It’s not too late for GSENM planners to prove the Grand Canyon Trust representative or the former BLM state director right. Fix the DRMP to provide far more diverse recreation opportunities than Canyonlands National Park provides.

4. OHV Area Designations

The Organizations are very concerned by the extent of areas proposed to be closed to OHV travel in all three action alternatives, which would force the subsequent travel planning to severely reduce motorized recreation opportunities that are already lacking when one considers the sheer expanse of GSENM. All three action alternatives would force the closure of some motorized routes by zoning their locations are closed to OHV travel. This enormous impact of travel planning isn’t even addressed let alone analyzed at the route-specific or cumulative scales, which violates NEPA and hampers our ability to meaningfully review and comment. Even where the route is “cherry stemmed,” boundaries are so tight that it sort of straitjackets the route and hobbles potential management actions such as a reroute. Further, the closed area designation prohibits even the mere consideration of adding a route in future. Obviously approving any additional routes has proven very difficult, as few routes have been added across the entire GSENM over the past couple decades. Nevertheless it’s important to preserve this flexibility for future planners to discover those instances when adding a route may be appropriate to benefit recreation or mitigate its negative effects. After all, such routes could be as minimal as an e-bike trail, or as useful as a short road to cluster campsites in order to close dispersed sites elsewhere. This RMP may be in effect for decades, by which time the majority of motorcycles and possibly automobiles may become electric and even quieter. The organizations accept some scrutiny when it comes to subsequent travel planning and certainly when new routes are proposed, but area designations at this highest level of land-use planning should only be closed to motorized use outright if it’s certain that the given area won’t ever become suitable for any extent of e-biking or other emerging uses. The fact that the BLM can manage more proactively than the NPS is a distinction that could help GSENM achieve the aspirations of the former BLM state director.

5. Coordination with Resource Advisory Councils

When developing the current RMPs for GSENM and the KEPA in June of 2019, the BLM consulted its Utah Resource Advisory Council (RAC), which deliberated to reach a set of recommendations focused on making management more effective for conservation, recreation, and other uses so that they would be optimal plans regardless of national-monument status. Most of this work is discarded by the action alternatives, which is disappointing because the current RMPs’ reliance on active management and adaptability achieved the kind of consensus espoused by the former BLM state director.

6. Coordination with Motorized Trail Groups

Local OHV groups such as the UT/AZ ATV Club are key partners, as they perform countless hours of service work, provide the unique perspective of motorized trail enthusiasts, and promote responsible visitation that’s peer to peer. In particular the UT/AZ ATV Club’s exceptional work on Inchworm Arch has been a model partnership that should be nurtured, yet it’s jeopardized by the DRMP, which should be rectified immediately by ensuring that Inchworm Arch and all other routes will get a fair shake when it’s actually time for travel planning. Please see the enclosed comments from UT/AZ ATV Club’s DRMP, which the Organization’s fully incorporate as our own comments to the BLM.

7. Coordination with Garfield and Kane Counties

In the GSENM, perhaps the most important partners to recognize are Garfield and Kane Counties. The general public greatly benefits from their maintenance of the road network that’s owned jointly between the counties and State of Utah. Both of these counties have been outstanding in their assistance with motorized routes of all kinds. The DRMP must be improved to honor the critical role these counties play in successfully managing GSENM. Please see the enclosed comments from Garfield County regarding motorized routes, which the Organization’s fully incorporate as our own comments to the BLM.

8. Conclusion

The Organizations urge GSENM planners to recognize the motorized route network and its stewards as vital to providing diverse recreation opportunities, which are indeed compatible with Proclamation 10286.

Sincerely,

Clif Koontz
Executive Director
Ride with Respect

Chad Hixon
Executive Director
Trails Preservation Alliance

Marcus Trusty
President/Founder
Colorado Off Road Enterprise

Scott Jones, Esq.
Authorized Representative
Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition

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Advocacy Awareness – Upshift November 2023

Reprinted with permission
Upshift Online, Issue 87
by Chad de Alva

Advocacy Awareness article

Chad Hixon on motorcycle in Moab

Rider: Chad Hixon, photo: Angela Hixon

Moab, Utah is a world class riding destination. Each year, riders come from all over the world to sample Moab’s diverse network of fun and challenging trails. There’s something here for every appetite from hard enduro to endless miles of adventure bike exploring through a landscape that is staggeringly beautiful. Yet thanks to an organization called the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), our access to thousands of square miles of public land via roads and trails is being taken away.

To make a long story short, SUWA sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for not closing enough motorized routes (roads and trails) in the agency’s 2008 Travel Management Plans (TMPs) across the southeast half of the state. Many motorized recreation groups like Moab-based Ride with Respect, the Trails Preservation Alliance, and the BlueRibbonCoalition intervened on behalf of the BLM to defend the original TMPs. In 2017, the BLM settled with SUWA and agreed to redo the TMP for twelve specific areas in southeast Utah. Moab’s Labyrinth Rims / Gemini Bridges is the third area to be re-evaluated, meaning that there are nine more areas left.

In Labyrinth Rims, the 2008 TMP closed nearly a thousand miles of existing routes, and the BLM’s new decision closes an additional 317 miles, leaving us with less than half of the routes that were on the ground and open 15 years ago.

Closures may already be in effect, but thankfully the fight isn’t exactly over. The state of Utah and several motorized recreation groups intend to appeal the BLM decision. They’ll also request a stay of the decision which, if granted, would probably leave the 317 miles open for months while the case is reviewed.

If Moab matters to you, and it should, here’s what you can do: ride responsibly by staying precisely on the trail and reducing speed when encountering other users to avoid creating negative impacts used to justify closures. Comment on the TMPs for the next nine BLM areas. Many advocacy organizations put out great comment outlines and provide talking points you can use to construct your comments. You can engage here. Support local organizations like Ride with Respect Link, state organizations like The Trails Preservation Alliance, and national organizations like the BlueRibbon Coalition. Follow these groups so you get updates on Moab and the other access issues.

The scary thing is that SUWA isn’t the only organization out there working to vastly expand the amount of wilderness area that prohibits all mechanized travel. All over the country, riding opportunities are under attack – so we all need to get involved to help save our sport.

Editor’s note: This is a new feature of Upshift, and as such (and always) we would love feedback on how we can make this content better. The goal here is to spread the word on advocacy-access issues, so if you or your organization has a trail advocacy issue in which we can help spread the word, please reach out.

Information presented herein was obtained from the Trails Preservation Alliance.

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LOGE Partnership!

LOGE Camps, the new management group for the Wolf Creek LOGE in South Fork, CO, home of many Colorado 600 events, has made the Trails Preservation Alliance one of its 1% partner nonprofit partners. This means that the TPA is one of five nonprofits nationwide that LOGE will donate 1% of their annual revenue to!

From LOGE:
“When you stay at LOGE, you play a major part in helping us protect, preserve, and enlighten in each of our locations. Thanks to our guests, we’re able to give 1% of our total revenue annually to local nonprofits that are focused on supporting the community and enriching the outdoors. We’re proud of each of our long-lasting partnerships with these meaningful groups.”

With LOGE Camps in 17 locations around the country, all of which contribute to the 1% partnership, it doesn’t matter which location you choose, when you stay at a LOGE Camp, you support the TPA!

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Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges (Moab, UT) TMP – Notice of Appeal, Petition for Stay and Declaration of Clif Koontz

Documents:

 


 

J. Mark Ward (Utah Bar No. 4436)
3004 W. Sweet Blossom Drive
South Jordan, UT 84095
Telephone: 801-783-7643
mark@balanceresources.org

 Attorney for Appellants Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Colorado Off Road Enterprise, Ride with Respect, and Trails Preservation Alliance

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR
OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS
INTERIOR BOARD OF LAND APPEALS

COLORADO OFF-HIGHWAY VEHICLE COALITION, COLORADO OFF ROAD ENTERPRISE, RIDE WITH RESPECT, and TRAILS PRESERVATION ALLIANCE,

Appellants,

v.

U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT,

Respondent.

IBLA Appeal No. 2024-       

Appeal of the Moab Field Office’s September 28, 2023 Decision Record, Environmental Assessment, and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan

DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2020-0097-EA

(COMPANION APPEAL IBLA 2024-0040)

 

NOTICE OF APPEAL

Pursuant to 43 C.F.R. § 4.411, Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Colorado Off Road Enterprise, Ride With Respect, and Trails Preservation Alliance (collectively “Appellants”) hereby provide notice that they appeal the September 28, 2023 Decision Record, Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact of the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan, DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2020-0097-EA, issued and approved on September 28, 2023 by Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt, BLM Canyon Country District Manager, who has supervisory authority over the Moab Field Office.

Appellants are adversely affected by the BLM’s decision and have the right to appeal pursuant to 43 C.F.R. § 4.410(a).

This Notice of Appeal is timely filed in the office of the officer who made the decision, within 30 days after the BLM issued its Decision Record, pursuant to 43 C.F.R.

§§ 4.411(a)(1) and 4.411(a)(2). The thirtieth day following the September 28, 2023 issuance of the subject Decision Record falls on a Saturday, October 28, 2023. The next business day is Monday, October 30, 2023, the date that this Notice of Appeal is timely filed. 43 C.F.R. § 4.22(e).

This Notice of Appeal is timely served upon the BLM officer who made the decision, Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt, BLM Canyon Country District Manager, and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of the Regional Solicitor, Intermountain Region, pursuant to 43 C.F.R. §§ 4.401(c) and 4.413(a).

Appellants submit herewith a Petition for a Stay of Decision Pending Appeal and supporting Declaration of Clif Koontz, and the Appellants will file a Statement of Reasons with the Interior Board of Land Appeals within 30 days of filing this Notice of Appeal, pursuant to 43 C.F.R. §4.412(a).

Respectfully submitted this 30th day of October 2023.

/s/ J. Mark Ward

Attorney for Appellants Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Colorado Off Road Enterprise, Ride with Respect, and Trails Preservation Alliance 

 


J. Mark Ward (Utah Bar No. 4436)
3004 W. Sweet Blossom Drive
South Jordan, UT 84095
Telephone: 801-783-7643
mark@balanceresources.org

 Attorney for Petitioners Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Colorado Off Road Enterprise, Ride with Respect, and Trails Preservation Alliance

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR
OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS
INTERIOR BOARD OF LAND APPEALS

COLORADO OFF-HIGHWAY VEHICLE COALITION, COLORADO OFF ROAD ENTERPRISE, RIDE WITH RESPECT, and TRAILS PRESERVATION ALLIANCE,

Appellants,

v.

U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT,

Respondent.

IBLA Appeal No. 2024-       

Appeal of the BLM Moab Field Office’s September 28, 2023 Decision Record, Environmental Assessment, and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan

DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2020-0097-EA

(COMPANION APPEAL IBLA 2024-0040)

PETITION FOR A STAY OF DECISION PENDING APPEAL

Pursuant to 43 C.F.R §§ 4.21(b) and 4.407(a), Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO), Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE), Ride With Respect (RWR), and Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) (at times collectively “the Petitioners”) respectfully submit this Petition for a Stay of the Bureau of Land Management Moab Field Office (BLM) September 28, 2023 Decision Record, Environmental Assessment, and Finding of No Significant Impact (collectively “Decision Record”) for the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan (“LRGB TMP”). BLM reference DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2020-0097-EA.

CONCISE STATEMENT OF REASONS SUPPORTING THE PETITION

 Petitioners rely on and incorporate herein the reasons stated in the Petition for Stay submitted on or about October 28, 2023 by the State of Utah, et al., (“Companion Appellants”) in the companion appeal, IBLA 2024-0040 (“Companion Appeal”). In addition, Petitioners state the following:

  1. Far greater harm will result to the Petitioners and their contributors from this unprecedented closure, pending appeal, of 317 miles of popular, long-used and well-established roads and trails, than will result to the BLM from leaving them open pending Petitioners and many of their members and/or contributors are losing the opportunity to use these roads and trails, forever. BLM on the other hand, stands to only wait a little longer to close them, forever. There is no remedy that will correct that wrong, besides staying the decision. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(i).
  2. The NEPA documents used by the BLM to justify the Decision Record’s unprecedented closure of 317 miles of world-class, longstanding roads and trails in a single travel management area, are so bereft of sound reason and logic, so unsubstantiated by data and experience, and so driven by factors unrelated to good recreation management and resource protection principles, that a substantial likelihood exists this appeal will succeed on the merits. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(ii).
  3. A closure of this magnitude (317 miles) in such a world-class, high-demand destination as the LRGB Travel Management Area (TMA), will severely concentrate the public’s use of the remaining roads and trails if the stay of decision is not granted, resulting in immediate crowding as well as road and trail degradation that will irreparably harm Petitioners’ investment of countless hours partnering with the BLM to improve, develop and preserve the integrity of all LRGB TMA roads and trails. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(iii).
  4. The public interest favors granting the stay of decision pending appeal. Moab, Utah’s world-class signature trail system is the LRGB TMA. Users and dozens of user groups, including the Petitioners and their contributors, rank it as unprecedented. Local area ancillary businesses (hotels, restaurants, OHV outfitters and guides, to name a few) all have an immense interest in maintaining the open status quo of the 317 miles of roads and trail slated for closure in the Decision Surely it is not too much to gear down and take time for a careful appellate review of the BLM’s actions, especially when the matter regards roads and trails that are so well established as to garner long-standing world class regard and destination. And to repeat what was stated above, Petitioners and many of their members and/or contributors are losing the opportunity to use these roads and trails forever. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(iii).

STATEMENT OF PETITIONERS’ STANDING

Petitioners rely on and incorporate herein the Standing portion of the Companion Appeal.

In addition, Petitioners state the following:

Petitioners have standing pursuant to 43 CFR § 4.410 as they will be adversely affected by the Decision Record. Petitioners have a legally cognizable interest in the subject matter and the agency’s decision will cause or is substantially likely to cause injury to that interest. See Shell Gulf of Mexico, 187 IBLA 290, 291 (2016).1

BLM’s decision directly affects and is likely to directly affect the ongoing activities of the Petitioners. Board of Pitkin County Comm’rs, 186 IBLA 288, 308 (2015) (“Pitkin”)2 citing Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 379 (1982). Due to the many route closures, there is a concrete and demonstrable injury to Petitioners activities and mission as well as a consequent drain on the organizations’ resources. Id. citing Valle de Sol, Inc. v. Whiting, 732 F.3d 1006, 1018 (9th Cir. 2013).

Recreational interests are legally cognizable as they include recreational or aesthetic use and enjoyment of the affected public lands. See, e.g. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, 188 IBLA 143, 149-50 (2016)).3

Petitioners are well established, long-standing OHV rider organizations with a long and extensive history of OHV use, by those for whom Petitioners advocate, of all of the subject routes in the LRGB TMA. Petitioners COHVCO, CORE, and TPA are Colorado Non-Profit Corporations. Petitioner RWR is a Utah Non-Profit Corporation. All are in good standing.Petitioners collectively have worked with the BLM Moab Field Office and advocated on behalf of OHV stakeholders on LRGB TMA issues for many years, including doing route development, route restoration, route signing and inventorying, and educating the public regarding OHV use best practices in the LRGB TMA. Petitioners have been involved in all of the public NEPA and other processes concerning the LRGB TMA and TMP for the past several years. Petitioners COHVCO, TPA, and RWR were signatories to and/or involved in the 2017 Court Settlement Agreement that is the foundation of the BLM’s ongoing reconsideration of the prior LRGB Travel Management Plan. Petitioners have worked countless hours on improving, developing and preserving the integrity of roads and trails in the LRGB TMA, including the 317 miles of roads and trails slated for closure in the Decision Record. See generally the Declaration of Clif Koontz, including paragraphs 1-5, 37-38, submitted herewith. (hereafter, “Koontz at   ”)

Petitioners timely submitted extensive written comments during the designated public comment time period leading up to issuance of the subject Decision Record, but the BLM failed to make changes in response to those written comments.

For these and other obvious reasons, Petitioners and the contributors and motorized riders and groups for whom Petitioners advocate, will be directly, immediately and irreparably injured by the September 28, 2023 Decision Record closing routes in the LRGB TMA. Granting this stay petition and ultimately ruling favorably on this appeal, are necessary to remedy this injury.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Petitioners rely on and incorporate herein the Statement of Facts portion of the Companion Appeal. In addition, Petitioners state the following:

  1. Within the LRGB TMA, the BLM closed 766 miles of inventoried routes in 2008, plus another couple-hundred miles of existing routes that were not submitted during the narrow window (11/1/2003 to 12/30/2003) that the BLM was willing to accept route data across the entire Moab Field Office. The 9/28/23 Decision Record now purports to close an additional 317 miles of route to motorized use, many of which are of very high value for motorized trail riding and other forms of recreation. Koontz at 6.
  2. Many of the subject 317 miles of closed routes are used thousands of times each year, and the ones that are lesser-traveled provide valuable opportunities to avoid For example, the Dead Cow Loop including Dead Cow Canyon and The Tubes is the all-time favorite trail of many motorcycle riders because it follows the flowing slickrock of quite narrow canyon bottoms with views of the Green River, an opportunity that’s incomparable to virtually any other trail. Primitive roads like Tenmile Wash, Hey Joe Canyon, Hell Roaring Canyon, and upper Mineral Canyon weave through wider canyon bottoms of Labyrinth and its tributaries. This opportunity cannot be substituted by the routes in this setting that were left open by the Decision Record, which are only the graded roads of Spring Canyon and lower Mineral Canyon. Koontz at 7.
  3. Similarly the Decision Record left open the Labyrinth Canyon overlooks that are graded roads as well as a few Easter Jeep Safari (EJS) routes, but it closes most of the overlooks, leaving most stretches of Labyrinth Canyon unviewable from above, let alone viewable from below. Koontz at 8.
  4. Across the whole LRGB TMA, the Decision Record closes routes that are themselves attractive (such as Mashed Potatoes), that provide connectivity (such as the rim of South Fork Sevenmile Canyon), that reach other points of attraction (such as the roads above Dellenbaugh Butte), and that reach many existing campsites (such as the roads above Dry Fork Bull Canyon). The value of such campsites wasn’t even analyzed prior to closing the routes. Koontz at 9.
  5. Many recreationists (including contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA) prefer the unique qualities of motorized trail riding over non-motorized recreation, while others require motorized travel due to physical limitations. Depending on its form, motorized trail riding can provide physical exercise, a mental challenge of one’s focus and skills, and a sense of flow or harmony with nature. It also provides access to remote settings that some people depend upon for their sense of well being and wholeness. The Decision Record irreparably harms these important virtues for many contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA, because of the many routes that the Decision Record closes, which are so very important for their physical and mental health. Koontz at 10.
  6. Keeping these routes open is also very important for the business health and sustainability of many local commercial establishments, (many of whom are contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA), which is far more important than any marginal benefits to be gained from the routes’ In Moab and Green River, many outfitters and events utilize some of the subject 317 miles of routes, which provide opportunities that cannot be substituted by other routes for their customers. Koontz at 11.
  7. In addition to being unique and of high quality, many of the 317 miles of routes contribute significantly to the trail system’s carrying capacity. That system carrying capacity is a unique and hard won, and hard to preserve resource value in which COHVCO, CORE, RWR, TPA and their contributors have a vital interest and stake, due to the countless hours Petitioners have spent maintaining, repairing, and improving that carrying All of that stands to be harmed quickly and irreparably from the Decision Record’s closure of the 317 miles of routes. Koontz at 12. None of that investment of time and hard work was analyzed, much less analyzed in the NEPA documents supporting the Decision Record.
  8. The resource values of roads and trails with uncompromised carrying capacity, in which so many contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA place such a high value, stand to be directly and irreparably harmed by the Decision Record’s 317 miles of closures, thus forever impacting the recreational lifestyle through overcrowding and deterioration of the remaining routes. Koontz at 13.
  9. Closing the 317 miles of routes makes it significantly harder for a variety of motorized recreationists, including the many contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA to have an enjoyable experience. Closing the 317 miles of routes will not allow the BLM to meet current demand for recreation, let alone future demand. Koontz at 14.
  10. Also in direct and irreparable harm to the values of the many contributors of COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA, the Decision Record’s looming closure of the 317 miles of routes is quite likely to drastically reduce compliance with the TMP, as frustrated recreationists travel on closed routes, blaze unauthorized routes, and travel on no route by simply going cross country. Such activity will lead to more negative impacts to soil, vegetation, and wildlife as the wildlife won’t be able to predict or habituate to patterns of human travel. Koontz at 15.
  11. The core values of COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA will be irreparably harmed further, in that closing the 317 miles of routes is also quite likely to increase user conflict as more motorized recreationists travel off of designated routes and/or develop animosity toward the types of recreation for which the routes were ostensibly closed. Such animosity could also extend to the natural and cultural resources for which the routes were ostensibly closed. This is just bad land management policy, and it is too bad the BLM did not take seriously the input of COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA in this regard. Koontz at 16.
  12. Of the subject 317 miles of routes, closing most of them to motorized use won’t significantly benefit non-motorized recreation, such as closing overlooks of Labyrinth Canyon that are 1,000 ft above the Green River, as non-motorized river runners barely see or hear people at those overlooks (much less be bothered by them). Some of the closures would actually harm non-motorized recreation because they’re used for bicycling or for driving to a parking spot in order to start a hike. Any isolated benefits to non-motorized recreation of closing the whole 317 miles of routes are dwarfed by the harm to motorized recreation of drastically reducing the quantity, quality, and connectivity of this trail system. Koontz at 17.
  13. Likewise of the subject 317 miles of routes, closing most of them to motorized use won’t significantly benefit wildlife. The boiler-plate rationale for closing many of these routes is to minimize habitat fragmentation, but these primitive singletracks and doubletracks appear unlikely to fragment habitat, even They’re far less obtrusive than modern highways, and they don’t even break up a canopy of trees as may be the case with forest roads. Many wildlife tracks can be seen across these primitive routes, and vehicle collisions with wildlife are virtually unheard of. Koontz at 18.
  14. All of these negative consequences to Petitioners and their contributors, to the natural resources, and cultural resources are likely to be immediate and long Simply put, closing the 317 miles of routes will make recreation far more difficult to manage, so it should not be rushed. Koontz at 19.
  15. In contrast, delaying closure of the 317 miles of routes until the appeal is resolved would do no significant or long-lasting harm to contrary Koontz at 20.
  16. Blatant, serious resource and land management problems abound in the Decision Record. The analysis of negative impacts from closing the 317 miles of routes is grossly inadequate. The Decision Record’s estimation that motorized recreation comprises only 6% of the recreational use in the LRGB TMA has no basis in The Decision Record cites Manti-La Sal National Forest, but the draft Land Management Plan of that forest actually states “Motorized trail activity in general is reported as a main activity for approximately 20 percent of all visitors to the Forest in 2016 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 2017) and 32 percent in 2021 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 2023).” Compared to national forests, the portion of visitation to the LRGB planning area that’s motorized trail riding is probably larger. The Decision Record also cites a 2007 study of recreation in the Moab Field Office that was designed to test the accuracy of National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) methodology of the USFS when applied to BLM lands. The results demonstrate that NVUM methodology is inaccurate especially when applied to activities such as motorized trail riding that are highly dispersed (which makes riders harder for surveyors to reach) and of a faster pace (that makes riders far less likely to voluntarily participate). These sampling biases could easily have led to motorized trail riders being underrepresented by a factor of six and, since 2007, motorized trail riding has grown faster than most other forms of outdoor recreation in the LRGB TMA. Koontz at 21.
  17. The Decision Record provides rationale for closing each route, but many of the reasons listed are completely inaccurate and unapplicable while others are generic statements such as closure “minimizes impacts to soil” without demonstrating that substantially adverse impacts have occurred or even have significant potential to occur to these routes with which Petitioners have personal knowledge. Koontz at 22.
  18. The following constitute a small sample of such inaccuracies from just one part of the LRGB TMA, which is Tenmile Point: All of Tenmile Point is in the Labyrinth Rims / Gemini Bridges SRMA, which includes the management goal of providing opportunities for “quality on-route mountain biking and backcountry driving experiences on established routes throughout the SRMA” and “Maintain the scenic character of Labyrinth SRMA to allow visitors to enjoy an unconfined ” Closing the 317 miles of routes certainly confines the opportunities of motorized recreationists. Koontz at 23.
  19. All routes north of the Trin-Alcove Bend and Tenmile Point graded roads (B377 and B336) are also in the Dee Pass Motorized Trail Focus Area, which is the only motorized trail focus area in the Moab Field Office. The 2008 RMP states “the Dee Pass Motorized Trail Focus Area is established for motorcycle and ATV use. All competitive motorized events would be directed to this area. By emphasizing and managing for specific recreation activities in these Focus Areas, recreation conflicts are Focus Areas set visitor expectations for a specific type of recreation experience, thereby reducing potential conflict. Those who choose to hike in a motorized Focus Area should not be surprised by the amount of motorized activity. Focus Areas in the Approved RMP provide opportunities for the widest range of recreational activities and attendant business opportunities.” It further states “Dee Pass Motorized Trail Focus Area (35,290 acres) for motorcycle and ATV use: This is the area for competitive motorized events…Establish a managed OHV route system with provision for ongoing management of existing single-track routes to maintain their singletrack character.” Clearly the 2008 RMP emphasizes motorized trails in this focus area yet, when it comes to Tenmile Point, the 2023 Decision Record does the opposite. The highlighted routes that fall within this focus area are listed at paragraphs 20 through 25 as well as 29 below. This focus area also abuts paragraphs 27 and 28 below. The routes are generally listed in a counterclockwise fashion. Koontz at 24.
  20. Tri Tip ATV Loop (TTIP1): The Decision Record prohibits the use of ATVs (under fifty inches in width) on this trail even though all four alternatives in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment allow such use. Therefore this prohibition falls outside of the decision space, which is why Petitioners didn’t comment on such a prohibition. Petitioners assisted the BLM in planning and implementing the construction of this route from 2013 to 2017, and have assisted in maintaining it since then. An agent for Petitioners utilized $6,750 awarded by the Polaris ‘T.R.A.I.L.S.’ Grant Program, which is specifically for projects open to use by ATVs or The route is almost entirely on slickrock and old constructed roads that are entirely suitable for ATV use. Even though most use of the route is by motorcycle, it should remain open to ATV use, as some ATV riders seek trails that are narrower than 4WD routes. Koontz at 25.
  21. Dead Cow Loop Bisect Road (D2761B): This primitive road provides views of the Green River as well as providing a bailout for riders of Dead Cow Loop. The Decision Record closes this road to all motorized use even though the route is left open in all four alternatives in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment. Therefore this closure falls outside of the decision space, which is why Petitioners did not comment on such a closure. Rationale for this closure include reducing “fragmentation in desert bighorn sheep lambing habitat and in pronghorn fawning habitat.” However, according to maps from the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan, this road isn’t in bighorn sheep lambing habitat nor pronghorn fawning habitat. Rationale for this closure also includes “minimizing potential for soil erosion” despite that no significant erosion has occurred, nor is there significant potential given the shallow bedrock along most of the route and low grade along all of the route. In short, the route has significant recreational value, and it poses no significant negative impacts. Koontz at 26.
  22. East end of Dead Cow Loop Bisect Road (DC2 northeast of D2761B): The Decision Record limits this 0.06-mile route to motorcycle use, but on the ground it is actually the east end of the Dead Cow Loop Bisect Granted, historically the alignment may have followed D2761B (south of DC2), but the Dead Cow Loop Bisect Road has followed DC2 for the past couple of decades. In fact in 2014 the BLM closed D2761B (south of DC2) and opened DC2 northeast of D2761B to full-size vehicle use (see Map 2 of Minor Travel Plan Adjustment 7, DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2013-0248-EA). Accordingly in 2015 D2761B (south of DC2) and marked DC2 northeast of D2761B were noted as open to use by full-size vehicles. Therefore the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment should have indicated via the no-action alternative that DC2 northeast of D2761B is currently open to full-size vehicle use. It also should have indicated via the no-action alternative that D2761B (south of DC2) is currently closed to motorized use. Petitioners brought these points to the attention of Moab Field Office recreation planners in 2021, but it was not corrected in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment. Petitioners reminded them of the persistent problem in 2022, but it was not corrected in the 2023 Decision Record either. Koontz at 27.
  23. Southeast end of Dead Cow Loop (DC2 southwest of D2761B): This 82-mile route is the southeast end of Dead Cow Loop, but it can also be used to ride Dead Cow Cutoff in lieu of the full Dead Cow Loop. Petitioners assisted the BLM in planning and implementing the construction of this route from 2015 to 2017, and have assisted in maintaining it since then. It was essentially a reroute of the west end of Five Mile Of Whoops, which Petitioners assisted the BLM in closing because the whoops caused trail widening. In contrast, the rerouted southeast end of Dead Cow Loop is almost entirely on slickrock, and the few sections on soil have been designed with flowing turns that drain rainwater and entice riders to stay on the trail while also encouraging slower, consistent speed to minimize the development of whoops. In other words, this route is a model of good trail design, and it is working well. Whether for accessing Dead Cow Loop or Dead Cow Cutoff, the trail is pleasing to ride and it poses no significant negative impacts. The Decision Record rationale is that closing this route will “contribute to retaining and restoring soil and vegetation cover, minimizing potential for soil erosion. Closing this route will minimize impacts to wildlife (e.g., desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn crucial fawning range) and enhance wildlife movement by reducing habitat fragmentation. Closing this route will minimize the potential for harassment of wildlife.” Actually closing the route would not significantly contribute to restoring soil and vegetation cover or minimizing potential for soil erosion because the route is on slickrock. Further, the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan. Closing it is unlikely to reduce habitat fragmentation because the route is just a singletrack on slickrock that lacks constant use like one may find on a modern highway. Closing the route is unlikely to minimize the harassment of wildlife because the type of people who harass wildlife are the type of people who ride wherever they want in the open desert. The Decision Record makes several claims in its rationale, but none of them match the reality on the ground, and there is no legitimate reason to close this text-book example of a quality trail. Koontz at 28.
  24. South half of Dead Cow Cutoff (the part of DC3A that’s between DC3 and DC2): The Decision Record closes the south half of Dead Cow Cutoff, claiming significant impacts to riparian habitat and wildlife, none of which is accurate because the south half of Dead Cow Cutoff does not traverse riparian habitat whatsoever. It does traverse a hill with steep grades on either side, but the route has exposed the underlying bedrock, so widening or deepening of the trail bed is unlikely. Even if the current alignment were to become unsustainable, the BLM could work with motorized recreation groups to realign it and reduce the grade. The south half of Dead Cow Cutoff provides a moderate challenge for riders, and rewards them with hilltop views to the Green River and beyond. In short, the trail is of significant value, and it poses no significant harm. Koontz at 29.
  25. Dead Cow Loop (DC3A except for the part that’s between DC3 and DC2): Dead Cow Loop is arguably the premier motorized singletrack in southeast Utah. Many motorcyclists visit Green River or Moab specifically to ride Dead Cow because of the narrow flowing canyons and views near the Green River, which cannot be substituted by any other routes. The slickrock base minimizes the potential for erosion or other negative impacts to soil. While Dead Cow Wash and the Tubes are riparian tributaries of the Green River, so are about a dozen other tributaries in the LRGB TMA, not to mention another dozen on the west side of Labyrinth Canyon. The 2008 TMP already closed the Low Water route to reduce exposure near the river, and agents for Petitioners spent many days particularly from 2012 to 2014 blocking off the Low Water route to all motorized use and blocking off The Tubes to use by wider vehicles. The comments Petitioners submitted last year explained more mitigation that could be accomplished quite feasibly, such as rerouting the section that’s near the river to be further east so it’s behind a long gravel deposit from the perspective of non-motorized river runners. This project could actually reroute Dead Cow Loop to avoid the lowest end of The Tubes drainage as well. Likewise the High Water section that’s up on the flats could be rerouted further east to utilize slickrock, which would avoid the development of moguls or subsequent trail And likewise this project could actually reroute Dead Cow Loop to avoid the lower end of Dead Cow Wash as well. Closing the current routes would be exponentially easier to accomplish after the new routes are in place. These additional management actions would be worthwhile since Dead Cow Loop is a “bucket list” trail for many motorcyclists worldwide. Koontz at 30.
  26. Road south of F Canyon (D2845): This spur reaches a slickrock expanse with unique overlooks of Labyrinth Canyon. Any off-trail travel could be stopped by more clearly defining the route’s end, and preferably designating an end point with a good view for the many recreationists who are unable to walk far beyond their parking spot. The Decision Record’s rationale claims that closing the route would minimize impacts to pronghorn fawning, but the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan. The Decision Record also claims that “Closing D2845 and adjacent overlooks minimizes potential for conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users.” The “adjacent overlooks” are already not designated open by the 2008 TMP, so blocking them off wouldn’t require closing D2845, as D2845 doesn’t get within a half-mile of the river. Further, even the “adjacent overlooks” are a quarter-mile away from the river, and they’re several-hundred feet above the river. Motorized use of D2845 or even use of the adjacent overlooks is simply not likely to significantly conflict with non-motorized use of the river. Koontz at 31.
  27. South Tenmile Point Road (D2840): The Decision Record makes several false claims in its rationale to close this It claims that closure would reduce impacts to crucial fawning range, but the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan. It claims that closure would help “minimizing impacts to soil cover” despite that no significant impacts to soil have occurred, nor is there significant potential given the low grade of this road. It claims closure would result “in a less redundant route network” despite that the Tenmile Point graded road which is a half-mile to the north is no substitute for this primitive road. With BLM’s coordination, in 2017 agents for Petitioners marked this road as “Tenmile Point”, a featured 4WD route to organize the use patterns of vehicles over fifty-inches wide that would not be permitted to use Tri Tip ATV Trail. This road may not be famous for 4WD recreation, but it provides a much more trail-like opportunity than the graded road, and it is key to keeping people off of the many other primitive roads across Tenmile Point that have been closed over the past fifteen years. Koontz at 32.
  28. East end of Five Miles of Whoops (DC1): Even though this ATV trail used to be the east end of Five Miles of Whoops, it’s entirely on slickrock that has a smooth, hummocky surface which is ideal for ATV and motorcycle In 2012 agents for some of the Petitioners worked with the BLM to reroute this trail to minimize cultural impacts. They also marked the route with many signs so the slickrock wouldn’t require annual painting, and agents for petitioners installed fifty-inch width limiters at each end. The Decision Record states “DC1 is closed to motorized travel. DC1 is 0.54 miles long and provides access to Ten Mile Wash, which is closed to motorized travel. Closing DC1 reduces confusion and minimizes impacts to soil, water, vegetation and desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn fawning habitat.” Actually this ATV trail is nearly a mile away from the access point to Tenmile Canyon, so the route is valuable and appropriate regardless of the status of Tenmile Canyon. Although this ATV trail is less than a mile long, it is an absolute highlight for riders because it adds slickrock undulations to the relatively flat and sandy roads nearby. In short, the trail is of significant value, and it poses no significant harm. Koontz at 33.
  29. Shortcut between Tenmile Point and Red Wash graded roads (D2863): This primitive road offers nice sweeping turns as it climbs a gentle grade, but mostly it offers efficiency for recreationists connecting Tenmile Point with Red Wash or other destinations to the north. Otherwise one must travel a mile further east only to double back on another graded road. Closing this primitive road will tempt people to go off-trail across the quarter mile or less of flat, open desert that separates the two graded roads. If the road were posing significant harm, perhaps closure would be justified, but the Decision Record’s rationale doesn’t hold up. It claims that the road is in pronghorn crucial fawning range, but the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan. The Decision Record also claims that closure would help “minimizing the potential for soil erosion” despite that the road is quite unlikely to cause significant soil erosion due to its gradual turns and gradual grade. In short, the road is serving a transportation purpose, and closing it would probably cause more negative impacts overall. Koontz at 34.
  30. Tenmile Wash – Tenmile Point Cutoff Road (Object ID 42353 / Route Plan ID 36): By omission, the Decision Record closes a Class D primitive road that shortcuts the graded roads of Dripping Spring and Tenmile Point. For reference, the primitive road lies at the northwest end of Pinnacle Trail (PINTT1). For ATV and 4WD recreationists who can’t use the singletrack of Pinnacle Trail, this primitive road is both more enjoyable and more direct than staying on the graded roads to connect Dripping Spring with Tenmile Point. The 2008 TMP designated this road as an ATV trail limited to vehicles less than fifty-inches in width, but fortunately the BLM later reopened it to full-size vehicles as shown on its TMP Map 19 dated 1/9/2017. Despite being a route currently designated open for full-size vehicles, the route was missing from the preliminary no-action alternative in 2021. Petitioners brought this route to the attention of Moab Field Office recreation planners in 2021, but it was not corrected in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment. Petitioners reminded them of it in 2022, but it was not corrected in the 2023 Decision Record either. This primitive road is useful, and poses no significant harm. Even if there were a compelling reason to close it, the road should’ve been shown in the no-action alternative of the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment, followed by a rationale for closing it and an invitation for public comment. Koontz at 35.
  31. The route closures highlighted above from just one small portion of the LRGB TMA provide a glimpse into the many unfounded claims that the Decision Record made to justify closing the subject 317 miles of routes. Koontz at 36.
  32. Petitioners have invested thousands of hours in working to help the BLM implement and refine its TMP in the LRGB TMA for the benefit of recreation, natural resources, and cultural resources alike. Unfortunately the Decision Record abruptly undermines the progress of this partnership by taking drastic actions that are not grounded in facts, conditions on the ground, nor the feasibility of gaining compliance, doing immediate irreparable damage to the important value of diverse recreation in the LRGB TMA, which is so essential to stakeholders COHVCO, CORE, RWR, TPA and their Koontz at 37.

ARGUMENT

Petitioners rely on and incorporate herein the Argument portion of the Companion Appeal. In addition, Petitioners state the following:

The foregoing detailed statement of facts demonstrate that granting a stay of the LRGB TMP Decision Record pending appeal, is justified for the four concise reasons stated above. The statement of facts show that, again:

  1. Far greater harm will result to the Petitioners and their contributors from this unprecedented closure, pending appeal, of 317 miles of popular, long-used and well-established roads and trails, than will result to the BLM from leaving them open pending Petitioners and many of their members and/or contributors are losing the opportunity to use these roads and trails, forever. BLM on the other hand, stands to only wait a little longer to close them, forever. There is no remedy that will correct that wrong, besides staying the decision. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(i).
  2. The NEPA documents used by the BLM to justify the Decision Record’s unprecedented closure of 317 miles of world-class, longstanding roads and trails in a single travel management area, are so bereft of sound reason and logic, so unsubstantiated by data and experience, and so driven by factors unrelated to good recreation management and resource protection principles, that a substantial likelihood exists this appeal will succeed on the merits. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(ii).
  3. A closure of this magnitude (317 miles) in such a world-class, high-demand destination as the LRGB TMA, will severely concentrate the public’s use of the remaining roads and trails if the stay of decision is not granted, resulting in immediate crowding as well as road and trail degradation that will irreparably harm Petitioners’ investment of countless hours partnering with the BLM to improve, develop and preserve the integrity of all LRGB TMA roads and trails. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(iii).
  4. The public interest favors granting the stay of decision pending appeal. Moab, Utah’s world-class signature trail system is the LRGB TMA. Users and dozens of user groups, including the Petitioners and their contributors, rank it as unprecedented. Local area ancillary businesses (hotels, restaurants, OHV outfitters and guides, to name a few) all have an immense interest in maintaining the open status quo of the 317 miles of roads and trail slated for closure in the Decision Surely it is not too much to gear down and take time for a careful appellate review of the BLM’s actions, especially when the matter regards roads and trails that are so well established as to garner long-standing world class regard and destination. And to repeat what was stated above, Petitioners and many of their members and/or contributors are losing the opportunity to use these roads and trails forever. 43 C.F.R § 4.21(b)(1)(iii).

CONCLUSION

Based on all of the foregoing, a stay pending appeal of the BLM’s September 28, 2023 Decision Record for the LRGB TMP, should be granted both in this and the Companion Appeal.

Respectfully submitted this 30th day of October 2023.

/s/ J. Mark Ward

Attorney for Petitioners Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Colorado Off Road Enterprise, Ride with Respect, and Trails Preservation Alliance

 

1 Shell Gulf of Mexico, 187 IBLA 290 (2016).

https://www.oha.doi.gov/IBLA/Ibladecisions/187IBLA/187IBLA290.pdf.

2 Board of Pitkin County Comm’rs, 186 IBLA 288 (2015), https://www.oha.doi.gov/IBLA/Ibladecisions/186IBLA/186IBLA288.pdf.

3 Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, 188 IBLA 143 (2016), https://www.oha.doi.gov/IBLA/Ibladecisions/188IBLA/188IBLA143.pdf.

 

 


J. Mark Ward (Utah Bar No. 4436)
BALANCE RESOURCES
3004 Sweet Blossom Drive
South Jordan, UT 84095
Telephone: 801-783-7643
mark@balanceresources.org

 Attorney for Appellants Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Colorado Off Road Enterprise, Ride with Respect, and Trails Preservation Alliance

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR
OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS
INTERIOR BOARD OF LAND APPEALS

COLORADO OFF-HIGHWAY VEHICLE COALITION, COLORADO OFF ROAD ENTERPRISE, RIDE WITH RESPECT, and TRAILS PRESERVATION ALLIANCE,

Appellants, v.

UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT,

Respondent.

IBLA Appeal No. 2024       

Appeal of the Moab Field Office’s September 28, 2023 Decision Record, Environmental Assessment, and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan

DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2020-0097-EA

(COMPANION APPEAL IBLA 2024-0040)

DECLARATION OF CLIF KOONTZ 

I, Clif Koontz, make the following declaration. I understand that this declaration will be filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, Office of Hearings and Appeals in the above captioned case, and I understand that this declaration is the legal equivalent of a statement under oath.

  1. I live in Moab, I am the Executive Director of Ride with Respect (RWR), a Utah nonprofit corporation in good standing and a defendant intervenor in this matter. I am also an agent of Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO), Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE), and Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA), all Colorado nonprofit corporations in good standing and defendant intervenors in this matter. I have been active in these capacities since 2001 for RwR, since 2016 for COHVCO and TPA, , and since 2018 for CORE.
  2. In my executive director role for RWR and my agent roles for COHVCO, CORE, and TPA, I have represented all four organizations in working with the United States Bureau of Land Management for the Moab Field Office (Moab BLM) in doing groundwork, resource inventorying, photographing, studying aerial and satellite photography, attending meetings, submitting comments, reports and other pertinent materials and input to the Moab BLM for multiple years, all in an effort to help the Moab BLM during a NEPA process to develop the Moab BLM 2023 Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan (2023 LRGB TMP) in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges travel management area (LRGB TMA) in the Moab BLM planning area. This work in which I was personally involved included engaging in and advocating for motorized recreation opportunities on the roads and trails in the LRGB TMA.
  3. In my executive director role for RWR and at all pertinent times in my agent roles for COHVCO, CORE, and TPA, I have worked with the Moab BLM to develop, implement, and refine the 2008 Moab TMP. In fact I have spent thousands of hours doing so just within the LRGB TMA alone. Further I have spent hundreds of hours doing so specifically on the 317 miles of routes closed by the 2023 LRGB This work included inventorying the routes and their characteristics with photographs in a GIS database, installing and maintaining signs, fences, kiosks, cattle guards, and width limiters at trailheads. It included performing tread work such as installing and maintaining drainage, ramp, and tread hardening structures. It included operating heavy equipment to groom whoops, which are moguls that form on trails in unstable soil. It included assisting the BLM in planning and implementing over a dozen reroutes to relocate trails away from sensitive resources. It included developing educational content for the kiosks, as well as more remedial tasks such as collecting truck-loads worth of trash and raking or blocking many off-trail vehicle tracks.
  4. I also represented and worked on behalf of COHVCO and TPA to further their interests in the negotiations that led to the approval by the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah of the 2017 Settlement regarding travel management plans to be implemented in several BLM travel management areas around the State of Utah, including the LRGB TMA. I always understood during this negotiation phase that the purpose of the 2017 Settlement Agreement was to provide the foundation and framework for developing the 2023 LRGB TMP and other BLM travel plans to be developed in other BLM travel management areas, and to provide a path forward for the BLM to approve travel plans administratively rather than tying them up in court.
  5. Now in the present IBLA matter, RWR, COHVCO, CORE, and TPA appeal the subject September 28, 2023 Decision Record, Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact of the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan, DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2020- 0097-EA, issued and approved on September 28, 2023 by Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt, BLM Canyon Country District Manager, who has supervisory authority over the Moab Field Office (collectively the “Decision Record”).
  6. Within the LRGB TMA, the BLM closed 766 miles of inventoried routes in 2008, plus another couple-hundred miles of existing routes that were not submitted during the narrow window (11/1/2003 to 12/30/2003) that the BLM was willing to accept route data across the entire Moab Field Office. The Decision Record closes an additional 317 miles of route to motorized use, many of which are of very high value for motorized trail riding and other forms of recreation.
  7. Many of the subject 317 miles of closed routes are used thousands of times each year, and the ones that are lesser-traveled provide valuable opportunities to avoid crowding. For example, the Dead Cow Loop including Dead Cow Canyon and The Tubes is the all-time favorite trail of many motorcycle riders because it follows the flowing slickrock of quite narrow canyon bottoms with views of the Green River, an opportunity that’s incomparable to virtually any other trail. Primitive roads like Tenmile Wash, Hey Joe Canyon, Hell Roaring Canyon, and upper Mineral Canyon weave through wider canyon bottoms of Labyrinth and its tributaries. This opportunity cannot be substituted by the routes in this setting that were left open by the Decision Record, which are only the graded roads of Spring Canyon and lower Mineral Canyon.
  8. Similarly the Decision Record left open the Labyrinth Canyon overlooks that are graded roads as well as a few Easter Jeep Safari (EJS) routes, but it closes most of the overlooks, leaving most stretches of Labyrinth Canyon unviewable from above, let alone viewable from
  9. Across the whole LRGB TMA, the Decision Record closes routes that are themselves attractive (such as Mashed Potatoes), that provide connectivity (such as the rim of South Fork Sevenmile Canyon), that reach other points of attraction (such as the roads above Dellenbaugh Butte), and that reach many existing campsites (such as the roads above Dry Fork Bull Canyon). The value of such campsites wasn’t even analyzed prior to closing the routes.
  10. Many recreationists (including contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA) prefer the unique qualities of motorized trail riding over non-motorized recreation, while others require motorized travel due to physical limitations. Depending on its form, motorized trail riding can provide physical exercise, a mental challenge of one’s focus and skills, and a sense of flow or harmony with nature. It also provides access to remote settings that some people depend upon for their sense of well being and wholeness. The Decision Record irreparably harms these important virtues for many contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA, because of the many routes that the Decision Record closes, which are so very important for their physical and mental health.
  11. Keeping these routes open is also very important for the business health and sustainability of many local commercial establishments, (many of whom are contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA), which is far more important than any marginal benefits to be gained from the routes’ In Moab and Green River, many outfitters and events utilize some of the subject 317 miles of routes, which provide opportunities that cannot be substituted by other routes for their customers.
  12. In addition to being unique and of high quality, many of the 317 miles of routes contribute significantly to the trail system’s carrying That system carrying capacity is a unique and hard won, and hard to preserve resource value in which COHVCO, CORE, RWR, TPA and our contributors have a vital interest and stake, due to the countless hours we have spent maintaining, repairing, and improving that carrying capacity. All of that stands to be harmed quickly and irreparably from the Decision Record’s closure of the 317 miles of routes.
  13. The resource values of roads and trails with uncompromised carrying capacity, in which so many contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA place such a high value, stand to be directly and irreparably harmed by the Decision Record’s 317 miles of closures, thus forever impacting the recreational lifestyle through overcrowding and deterioration of the remaining routes.
  14. Closing the 317 miles of routes makes it significantly harder for a variety of motorized recreationists, including the many contributors to COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA to have an enjoyable Closing the 317 miles of routes will not allow the BLM to meet current demand for recreation, let alone future demand.
  15. Also in direct and irreparable harm to the values of the many contributors of COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA, the Decision Record’s looming closure of the 317 miles of routes is quite likely to drastically reduce compliance with the TMP, as frustrated recreationists travel on closed routes, blaze unauthorized routes, and travel on no route by simply going cross country. Such activity will lead to more negative impacts to soil, vegetation, and wildlife as the wildlife won’t be able to predict or habituate to patterns of human travel.
  16. The core values of COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA will be irreparably harmed further, in that closing the 317 miles of routes is also quite likely to increase user conflict as more motorized recreationists travel off of designated routes and/or develop animosity toward the types of recreation for which the routes were ostensibly closed. Such animosity could also extend to the natural and cultural resources for which the routes were ostensibly closed. This is just bad land management policy, and it is too bad the BLM did not take seriously the input of COHVCO, CORE, RWR and TPA in this regard.
  17. Of the subject 317 miles of routes, closing most of them to motorized use won’t significantly benefit non-motorized recreation, such as closing overlooks of Labyrinth Canyon that are 1,000 ft above the Green River, as non-motorized river runners barely see or hear people at those overlooks (much less be bothered by them). Some of the closures would actually harm non-motorized recreation because they’re used for bicycling or for driving to a parking spot in order to start a hike. Any isolated benefits to non-motorized recreation of closing the whole 317 miles of routes are dwarfed by the harm to motorized recreation of drastically reducing the quantity, quality, and connectivity of this trail system.
  18. Likewise of the subject 317 miles of routes, closing most of them to motorized use won’t significantly benefit wildlife. The boiler-plate rationale for closing many of these routes is to minimize habitat fragmentation, but these primitive singletracks and doubletracks appear unlikely to fragment habitat, even They’re far less obtrusive than modern highways, and they don’t even break up a canopy of trees as may be the case with forest roads. Many wildlife tracks can be seen across these primitive routes, and vehicle collisions with wildlife are virtually unheard of.
  19. All of these negative consequences to our contributors, to the natural resources, and cultural resources are likely to be immediate and long Simply put, closing the 317 miles of routes will make recreation far more difficult to manage, so it should not be rushed.
  20. In contrast, delaying closure of the 317 miles of routes until the appeal is resolved would do no significant or long-lasting harm to contrary interests.
  21. COHVCO, CORE, RWR, TPA and their contributors see blatant, serious problems warranting IBLA attention in the overall appeal. The analysis of negative impacts from closing the 317 miles of routes is grossly inadequate. The Decision Record’s estimation that motorized recreation comprises only 6% of the recreational use in the LRGB TMA has no basis in fact. The Decision Record cites Manti-La Sal National Forest, but the draft Land Management Plan of that forest actually states “Motorized trail activity in general is reported as a main activity for approximately 20 percent of all visitors to the Forest in 2016 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 2017) and 32 percent in 2021 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 2023).” Compared to national forests, the portion of visitation to the LRGB planning area that’s motorized trail riding is probably larger. The Decision Record also cites a 2007 study of recreation in the Moab Field Office that was designed to test the accuracy of National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) methodology of the USFS when applied to BLM lands. The results demonstrate that NVUM methodology is inaccurate especially when applied to activities such as motorized trail riding that are highly dispersed (which makes riders harder for surveyors to reach) and of a faster pace (that makes riders far less likely to voluntarily participate). These sampling biases could easily have led to motorized trail riders being underrepresented by a factor of six and, since 2007, motorized trail riding has grown faster than most other forms of outdoor recreation in the LRGB TMA.
  22. The Decision Record provides rationale for closing each route, but based on my personal knowledge of each route in question having spent countless hours riding them and working to maintain many parts of them, my first-hand testimony is that many of the reasons listed are completely inaccurate and unapplicable while others are generic statements such as closure “minimizes impacts to soil” without demonstrating that substantially adverse impacts have occurred or even have significant potential to occur to these routes with which I have personal knowledge.
  23. To provide a small sample of such inaccuracies and empty claims found by myself who has first-hand knowledge of these routes, here is my testimony regarding a portion of routes from just one part of the LRGB TMA, which is Tenmile Point: All of Tenmile Point is in the Labyrinth Rims / Gemini Bridges SRMA, which includes the management goal of providing opportunities for “quality on-route mountain biking and backcountry driving experiences on established routes throughout the SRMA” and “Maintain the scenic character of Labyrinth SRMA to allow visitors to enjoy an unconfined experience.” Closing the 317 miles of routes certainly confines the opportunities of motorized recreationists.
  24. All routes north of the Trin-Alcove Bend and Tenmile Point graded roads (B377 and B336) are also in the Dee Pass Motorized Trail Focus Area, which is the only motorized trail focus area in the Moab Field Office. The 2008 RMP states “the Dee Pass Motorized Trail Focus Area is established for motorcycle and ATV use. All competitive motorized events would be directed to this area. By emphasizing and managing for specific recreation activities in these Focus Areas, recreation conflicts are Focus Areas set visitor expectations for a specific type of recreation experience, thereby reducing potential conflict. Those who choose to hike in a motorized Focus Area should not be surprised by the amount of motorized activity. Focus Areas in the Approved RMP provide opportunities for the widest range of recreational activities and attendant business opportunities.” It further states “Dee Pass Motorized Trail Focus Area (35,290 acres) for motorcycle and ATV use: This is the area for competitive motorized events…. Establish a managed OHV route system with provision for ongoing management of existing single-track routes to maintain their singletrack character.” Clearly the 2008 RMP emphasizes motorized trails in this focus area yet, when it comes to Tenmile Point, the 2023 Decision Record does the opposite. The highlighted routes that fall within this focus area are listed as paragraphs 25 through 30 as well as 34 below. This focus area also abuts paragraphs 32 and 33 below. Note that the routes are generally listed in a counterclockwise fashion.
  25. Tri Tip ATV Loop (TTIP1): The Decision Record prohibits the use of ATVs (under fifty inches in width) on this trail even though all four alternatives in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment allow such use. Therefore this prohibition falls outside of the decision space, which is why we didn’t comment on such a prohibition. I assisted the BLM in planning and implementing the construction of this route from 2013 to 2017, and have assisted in maintaining it since then. I utilized $6,750 awarded by the Polaris ‘T.R.A.I.L.S.’ Grant Program, which is specifically for projects open to use by ATVs or UTVs. The route is almost entirely on slickrock and old constructed roads that are entirely suitable for ATV use. Even though most use of the route is by motorcycle, it should remain open to ATV use, as some ATV riders seek trails that are narrower than 4WD routes.
  26. Dead Cow Loop Bisect Road (D2761B): This primitive road provides views of the Green River as well as providing a bailout for riders of Dead Cow Loop. The Decision Record closes this road to all motorized use even though the route is left open in all four alternatives in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment. Therefore this closure falls outside of the decision space, which is why we didn’t comment on such a closure. Rationale for this closure include reducing “fragmentation in desert bighorn sheep lambing habitat and in pronghorn fawning habitat.” However, according to maps from the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan, this road isn’t in bighorn sheep lambing habitat nor pronghorn fawning habitat. Rationale for this closure also includes “minimizing potential for soil erosion” despite that no significant erosion has occurred, nor is there significant potential given the shallow bedrock along most of the route and low grade along all of the route. In short, the route has significant recreational value, and it poses no significant negative impacts.
  27. East end of Dead Cow Loop Bisect Road (DC2 northeast of D2761B): The Decision Record limits this 0.06-mile route to motorcycle use, but on the ground it is actually the east end of the Dead Cow Loop Bisect Road. Granted, historically the alignment may have followed D2761B (south of DC2), but the Dead Cow Loop Bisect Road has followed DC2 for the past couple of In fact in 2014 the BLM closed D2761B (south of DC2) and opened DC2 northeast of D2761B to full-size vehicle use (see Map 2 of Minor Travel Plan Adjustment 7, DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2013-0248-EA). Accordingly in 2015 I blocked off D2761B (south of DC2) and marked DC2 northeast of D2761B as open to use by full-size vehicles. Therefore the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment should have indicated via the no-action alternative that DC2 northeast of D2761B is currently open to full-size vehicle use. It also should have indicated via the no-action alternative that D2761B (south of DC2) is currently closed to motorized use. I brought these points to the attention of Moab Field Office recreation planners in 2021, but it was not corrected in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment. I reminded them of it in 2022, but it was not corrected in the 2023 Decision Record either.
  28. Southeast end of Dead Cow Loop (DC2 southwest of D2761B): This 0.82-mile route is the southeast end of Dead Cow Loop, but it can also be used to ride Dead Cow Cutoff in lieu of the full Dead Cow Loop. I assisted the BLM in planning and implementing the construction of this route from 2015 to 2017, and have assisted in maintaining it since then. It was essentially a reroute of the west end of Five Mile Of Whoops, which I assisted the BLM in closing because the whoops caused trail widening. In contrast, the rerouted southeast end of Dead Cow Loop is almost entirely on slickrock, and the few sections on soil have been designed with flowing turns that drain rainwater and entice riders to stay on the trail while also encouraging slower, consistent speed to minimize the development of whoops. In other words, this route is a model of good trail design, and it’s working well. Whether for accessing Dead Cow Loop or Dead Cow Cutoff, the trail is pleasing to ride and it poses no significant negative impacts. The Decision Record rationale is that closing this route will “contribute to retaining and restoring soil and vegetation cover, minimizing potential for soil erosion. Closing this route will minimize impacts to wildlife (e.g., desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn crucial fawning range) and enhance wildlife movement by reducing habitat fragmentation. Closing this route will minimize the potential for harassment of wildlife.” Actually closing the route would not significantly contribute to restoring soil and vegetation cover or minimizing potential for soil erosion because the route is on slickrock. Further, the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan. Closing it is unlikely to reduce habitat fragmentation because the route is just a singletrack on slickrock that lacks constant use like one may find on a modern Closing the route is unlikely to minimize the harassment of wildlife because the type of people who harass wildlife are the type of people who ride wherever they want in the open desert. The Decision Record makes several claims in its rationale, but none of them match the reality on the ground, and I see no legitimate reason to close this text-book example of a quality trail.
  29. South half of Dead Cow Cutoff (the part of DC3A that’s between DC3 and DC2): The Decision Record closes the south half of Dead Cow Cutoff, claiming significant impacts to riparian habitat and wildlife, none of which is accurate because the south half of Dead Cow Cutoff does not traverse riparian habitat whatsoever. It does traverse a hill with steep grades on either side, but the route has exposed the underlying bedrock, so widening or deepening of the trail bed is unlikely. Even if the current alignment were to become unsustainable, the BLM could work with motorized recreation groups to realign it and reduce the grade. The south half of Dead Cow Cutoff provides a moderate challenge for riders, and rewards them with hilltop views to the Green River and beyond. In short, the trail is of significant value, and it poses no significant harm.
  30. Dead Cow Loop (DC3A except for the part that’s between DC3 and DC2): Dead Cow Loop is arguably the premier motorized singletrack in southeast Utah. Many motorcyclists visit Green River or Moab specifically to ride Dead Cow because of the narrow flowing canyons and views near the Green River, which cannot be substituted by any other routes. The slickrock base minimizes the potential for erosion or other negative impacts to soil. While Dead Cow Wash and the Tubes are riparian tributaries of the Green River, so are about a dozen other tributaries in the LRGB TMA, not to mention another dozen on the west side of Labyrinth Canyon. The 2008 TMP already closed the Low Water route to reduce exposure near the river, and I spent many days particularly from 2012 to 2014 blocking off the Low Water route to all motorized use and blocking off The Tubes to use by wider vehicles. The comments we submitted last year explained more mitigation that could be accomplished quite feasibly, such as rerouting the section that’s near the river to be further east so it’s behind a long gravel deposit from the perspective of non-motorized river runners. This project could actually reroute Dead Cow Loop to avoid the lowest end of The Tubes drainage as well. Likewise the High Water section that’s up on the flats could be rerouted further east to utilize slickrock, which would avoid the development of moguls or subsequent trail widening. And likewise this project could actually reroute Dead Cow Loop to avoid the lower end of Dead Cow Wash as well. Closing the current routes would be exponentially easier to accomplish after the new routes are in place. These additional management actions would be worthwhile since Dead Cow Loop is a “bucket list” trail for many motorcyclists worldwide.
  31. Road south of F Canyon (D2845): This spur reaches a slickrock expanse with unique overlooks of Labyrinth Canyon. Any off-trail travel could be stopped by more clearly defining the route’s end, and preferably designating an end point with a good view for the many recreationists who are unable to walk far beyond their parking spot. The Decision Record’s rationale claims that closing the route would minimize impacts to pronghorn fawning, but the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan. The Decision Record also claims that “Closing D2845 and adjacent overlooks minimizes potential for conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users.” The “adjacent overlooks” are already not designated open by the 2008 TMP, so blocking them off wouldn’t require closing D2845, as D2845 doesn’t get within a half-mile of the river. Further, even the “adjacent overlooks” are a quarter-mile away from the river, and they’re several-hundred feet above the river. Motorized use of D2845 or even use of the adjacent overlooks is simply not likely to significantly conflict with non-motorized use of the river.
  32. South Tenmile Point Road (D2840): The Decision Record makes several false claims in its rationale to close this route. It claims that closure would reduce impacts to crucial fawning range, but the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing It claims that closure would help “minimizing impacts to soil cover” despite that no significant impacts to soil have occurred, nor is there significant potential given the low grade of this road. It claims closure would result “in a less redundant route network” despite that the Tenmile Point graded road which is a half-mile to the north is no substitute for this primitive road. With BLM’s coordination, in 2017 I marked this road as “Tenmile Point”, a featured 4WD route to organize the use patterns of vehicles over fifty-inches wide that would not be permitted to use Tri Tip ATV Trail. This road may not be famous for 4WD recreation, but it provides a much more trail-like opportunity than the graded road, and it is key to keeping people off of the many other primitive roads across Tenmile Point that have been closed over the past fifteen years.
  33. East end of Five Miles of Whoops (DC1): Even though this ATV trail used to be the east end of Five Miles of Whoops, it’s entirely on slickrock that has a smooth, hummocky surface which is ideal for ATV and motorcycle riding. In 2012 I worked with the BLM to reroute this trail to minimize cultural I also marked the route with many signs so the slickrock wouldn’t require annual painting, and I installed fifty-inch width limiters at each end. The Decision Record states “DC1 is closed to motorized travel. DC1 is 0.54 miles long and provides access to Ten Mile Wash, which is closed to motorized travel. Closing DC1 reduces confusion and minimizes impacts to soil, water, vegetation and desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn fawning habitat.” Actually this ATV trail is nearly a mile away from the access point to Tenmile Canyon, so the route is valuable and appropriate regardless of the status of Tenmile Canyon. Although this ATV trail is less than a mile long, it is an absolute highlight for riders because it adds slickrock undulations to the relatively flat and sandy roads nearby. In short, the trail is of significant value, and it poses no significant harm.
  34. Shortcut between Tenmile Point and Red Wash graded roads (D2863): This primitive road offers nice sweeping turns as it climbs a gentle grade, but mostly it offers efficiency for recreationists connecting Tenmile Point with Red Wash or other destinations to the north. Otherwise one must travel a mile further east only to double back on another graded road. Closing this primitive road will tempt people to go off-trail across the quarter mile or less of flat, open desert that separates the two graded roads. If the road were posing significant harm, perhaps closure would be justified, but the Decision Record’s rationale doesn’t hold It claims that the road is in pronghorn crucial fawning range, but the route isn’t in pronghorn crucial fawning habitat according to maps in the 2016 Moab Master Leasing Plan. The Decision Record also claims that closure would help “minimizing the potential for soil erosion” despite that the road is quite unlikely to cause significant soil erosion due to its gradual turns and gradual grade. In short, the road is serving a transportation purpose, and closing it would probably cause more negative impacts overall.
  35. Tenmile Wash – Tenmile Point Cutoff Road (Object ID 42353 / Route Plan ID 36): By omission, the Decision Record closes a Class D primitive road that shortcuts the graded roads of Dripping Spring and Tenmile For reference, the primitive road lies at the northwest end of Pinnacle Trail (PINTT1). For ATV and 4WD recreationists who can’t use the singletrack of Pinnacle Trail, this primitive road is both more enjoyable and more direct than staying on the graded roads to connect Dripping Spring with Tenmile Point. The 2008 TMP designated this road as an ATV trail limited to vehicles less than fifty-inches in width, but fortunately the BLM later reopened it to full-size vehicles as shown on its TMP Map 19 dated 1/9/2017. Despite being a route currently designated open for full-size vehicles, the route was missing from the preliminary no-action alternative in 2021. I brought this route to the attention of Moab Field Office recreation planners in 2021, but it was not corrected in the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment. I reminded them of it in 2022, but it was not corrected in the 2023 Decision Record either. This primitive road is useful, and poses no significant harm. Even if there were a compelling reason to close it, the road should’ve been shown in the no-action alternative of the 2022 draft Environmental Assessment, followed by a rationale for closing it and an invitation for public comment.
  36. The route closures highlighted above from just one small portion of the LRGB TMA provide a glimpse into the many unfounded claims that the Decision Record made to justify closing the subject 317 miles of routes.
  37. I have been proud of spending thousands of hours on behalf of COHVCO, CORE, RWR, and TPA to help the BLM implement and refine its TMP in the LRGB TMA for the benefit of recreation, natural resources, and cultural resources alike. Unfortunately the Decision Record abruptly undermines the progress of this partnership by taking drastic actions that are not grounded in facts, conditions on the ground, nor the feasibility of gaining compliance, doing immediate irreparable damage to the important value of diverse recreation in the LRGB TMA, which is so essential to stakeholders COHVCO, CORE, RWR, TPA and their contributors.
  38. For the sake of protecting against this immediate irreparable harm, I believe that a stay of the LRGB TMP Decision Record is vital and necessary pending this I believe the foregoing sample analysis of routes in the TMA shows this appeal is likely to succeed on the merits. I have read the foregoing and declare under penalty of perjury that it is true and correct.

Executed this 30th day of October, 2023.

CLIF KOONTZ
Declarant

 

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Objection to GMUG RMP – CSA, COHVCO and TPA

US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region
Attn: Reviewing Officer
C/O Director of Strategic Planning 2nd floor
1617 Cole Blvd. Building 17
Lakewood, CO 80401

 RE: Objection to GMUG RMP

Dears Sirs:

Please accept this correspondence as the objections of the Trails Preservation Alliance (“TPA”), Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) and the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”) to the GMUG National Forest Resource Management Plan and related analysis and decision documents. Collectively this group of documents will be referred to in this objection as “the Decision.”  The Organizations believe it is important to note that we are largely supportive of the Decision as we have been actively participating in the development of the plan since its inception. Our objections are seeking to: address minimal data issues that have come to light since the decision was released; obtain management flexibility on issues to avoid future conflicts regarding maintenance of the opportunities provided; and more fully understand the basis and concern around route density standards in designated Wildlife areas.

Who we are.

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 ensure 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 150,000 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. CSA currently has 2,500 members.  CSA has become the voice of organized snowmobiling seeking to advance, promote and preserve the sport of snowmobiling by working with Federal and state land management agencies and local, state and federal legislators.  TPA, CSA and COHVCO are referred to collectively in this correspondence as “The Organizations.”

Objection 2. Colorado Trail Defenders and CORE objection.

The Organizations are aware that the Colorado Trail Defenders and CORE are providing a separate objection addressing RMP boundaries in several locations and possible impacts to existing trails that could result from these boundary issues.  This objection is based on site specific issues that have arisen around poor trail mapping in those areas. The Organizations are aware that the low quality of existing trail and boundary mapping was an issue that was rapidly identified in the scoping efforts and draft plan.  USFS has worked hard to address these issues, which is appreciated by everyone, but it appears our efforts on this issue were incomplete previously. We are objecting to allow for these important routes to be preserved and not lost simply due to low quality data.  The Organizations vigorously support this objection and simply have not reproduced it here to avoid duplication of efforts and documents being submitted.

Proposed resolution of objection #2

Adjacent boundary designations should be amended to reflect to correct location of motorized routes in the area to avoid closure of these routes due to conflict with management standards.

Objection 3(a). Wilderness Proposals have been overweighted in the decision as President Biden’s  2022 Camp Hale Proclamation addressing areas proposed as Wilderness.

Prior to addressing the recommended Wilderness areas in the  GMUG decision in greater detail, the Organizations would like to commiserate with USFS managers on the ongoing Wilderness discussions on the GMUG.  We are intimately familiar with the highly contentious and passionate nature of these discussions as we have been participating in these political efforts for decades. The pressure can be immense, artificial in nature and often based on exceptionally poor-quality data and research. We are also very concerned that the highly political nature of these efforts causes important components of decisions to be overlooked, such as the fact that much of the areas again proposed to be recommended Wilderness in the decision have been hard released for multiple use previously by Congress.  The value of these hard releases cannot be overlooked as exemplified by recent decisions on areas outside the GMUG that have stopped well short of Wilderness designations despite decades of Congressional efforts seeking designation of these areas as Wilderness. While we understand the Decision represents a political decision by the agency that reduces short term conflict for the agency in the management of these areas, this decision is not supported by relevant federal law.  The Organizations are also aware that while the Decision reduces short term conflict over these areas for the agency, it expands long term conflict in these areas for our Organizations. Federal law in these areas have sought to reduce ALL conflict around these areas permanently and the Decisions proposed resolution does not comply with this requirement. Planners must apply existing federal law in planning rather than proposals to amend existing federal law.

The limited value of failed Congressional actions throughout southwestern Colorado to designate areas as Wilderness was recently again exemplified.  These failures are highly relevant to our objections as often advocates for Wilderness designations comically overvalue the weight in planning that should be provided for various proposals. Evidenced of the consistent overvalue of Congressional Proposals in planning was again provided as on October 12, 2022 President Biden signed a Presidential Proclamation designating more than 53,000 acres outside Minturn, Colorado as the Camp Hale/Continental Divide National Monument.[1] In this Proclamation, summer and winter motorized usage of the area was specifically protected and no limitation on road or trail construction was mandated.  This Proclamation was a major step in protecting important recreational opportunities in Camp Hale as almost all this planning area has been proposed to be Wilderness by Congress in the last two decades.   The scale of this win is apparent after even a brief comparison of the various Legislative management proposals for the Camp Hale area include Congressional designation of most of these areas as Wilderness under the Hidden Gems Proposal[2] as far back as 2010. This map was provided as part of the original round of legislative efforts on Hidden Gems.

 hidden Gems Wilderness proposal map

Both Thompson Divide (Thompson creek/Assignation Ridge), Ten Mile  and Camp Hale have been partially or fully addressed in several versions of Congresswoman DeGette Wilderness proposal.[3]  These Proposals would have prohibited all motorized usages permanently in the Thompson Divide and Ten Mile areas.  Subsequent Legislative Proposals then sought to designate large portions of the Camp Hale Area as a National Historic Area, mandating no new trails be allowed and only recognizing snowmobile usage as a characteristic of the area.[4] Under the Proclamation, there is no cap on trail development and all forms of motorized usage are protected. This Proclamation was a major win for multiple use recreational interests as multiple use access to all these areas would have been lost if they had been designated as Wilderness.

The value of the Proclamation is further evidenced by the recent Legislative efforts also have identified more than 200,000 acres known as the Thompson Divide area for management targeting the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This generalized requirement was very concerning as motorized recreation is directly tied to the production of very small amounts of greenhouse gases.  This requirement posed a serious long-term threat to the motorized usage of the Thompson Divide area. Under the Proclamation, this threat was removed as the Thompson Divide area was excluded from oil and gas leasing  for the next 20 years instead of the permanent Legislative designation requiring mitigation of greenhouse gases as a management goal.  Again, a major win that would not be reflected if Congressional Proposals were looked at in isolation.

The value of removing these recommended Wilderness areas in reducing long term conflict is provided by the fact we will also be able to approach future Wilderness Proposals with a clear recognition from the President that previously proposed Legislative protections for recreation were insufficient to be supported by a larger group. We hope the failure of the extreme wilderness Proposals would result in more recreational benefits in the future as extreme proposals have not been supported. The win for motorized usages from the Proclamation should not be overlooked and provides a concrete example of why we are concerned about any forest planning being based on legislative proposals.  These proposals have a long history of failing and often what is finally moved forward  is FAR more favorable for recreation than any that was proposed in legislation.  Resolutions of conflicts around management of Proposed Wilderness such as those provided in the Proclamation are not furthered by a short-term reduction in conflicts such as those provided in the Decision.  When management decisions are based on failed legislative efforts, this is a problem. When a management Proposal seeks to weigh legislative proposals more heavily than existing federal law, that is even more problematic.

3(b).  Recommended Wilderness boundaries are based on inaccurate mapping of trails which has consistently been an issue on the GMUG.

The Organizations are aware that there is immense political pressure on the GMUG planners around the issue of Wilderness on the GMUG.  While we are very involved in these political efforts and discussions this is based on the immense impacts that Wilderness designations could have on our interests and public access to the forest. We are aware that many of the Proposed Boundaries for recommended Wilderness on the GMUG are asserting to be based on a corridor width for existing trails of only 20ft in width. Many of these boundaries seem to have simply been moved over from various legislative proposals.  We are aware that a corridor of this narrow width is totally insufficient to allow for maintenance of the trail, which could lead to closures in the long term.

As has previously addressed on the GMUG, corridor width for the protection of the CDNST has been set in miles, not feet.  As has previously been recognized in GMUG planning as well, often trail maps are not exceptionally accurate in their ability to reflect the actual location of trails. We have found and resolved many trails and boundary issues that were off by hundreds of feet in USFS data. Trail mapping is simply not that accurate. With the corridors that are proposed, many of the existing legal trails would be moved into recommended Wilderness simply due to boundaries not being accurately reflected in USFS data. For this reason alone, we are objecting to any recommended Wilderness Boundary that is close to an existing legal route on the Forest. We would ask that any boundaries for Recommended Wilderness be drawn to allow for lower quality data issues and to allow for maintenance of the routes.

3(c). Comically poor data quality has been exhibited throughout the Citizen Wilderness legislative process.

As we have previously noted, the Organizations welcome the changes that the Forest has undertaken to develop the most accurate application of current management boundaries in the Decision.  This has resulted in significant changes to existing management boundaries allowing recreation to continue on tens of thousands of acres on the GMUG.  This same low-quality data appears to have been applied in various legislation addressing Wilderness and often times it has been our experience that these legislative proposals have developed even lower quality data than that relied on for the forest.  We have a long history of attempting to ground truth boundaries and usage designations for decades to confirm assertions that there is no impact to existing usages from these proposals. Early in the community engagement efforts on the Wilderness proposals, our requests for information such as shape files for boundaries and areas simply went unanswered.  Once these basic requests for information were provided, our efforts to ground truth information has not given us any confidence that existing recreation has been avoided with the Proposals.

The following provisions of the objection are provided as an example of the exceptionally poor quality of data that has been used for the development of the various legislative proposals for Wilderness on the GMUG and throughout the region. This low-quality data appears to have carried through Wilderness Proposals only compounding our concerns about relying on various Wilderness Proposals as a planning tool.   Our most recent efforts to ground truth information in the Proposals has occurred on the San Juan NF  and this ground truth effort indicated major concerns remain with the accuracy of data in Wilderness Proposals. The map of our ground truth efforts around the Paradise Valley area on the SJNF are reflected below. [5]

 Paradise Valley Area map

The conflicts reflected in the map are immediately concerning as the Paradise Valley area is an exceptional snowmobile area heavily used by local riders as it is reasonably accessible and legal. Loss of a 650-acre riding area has been simply brushed aside in previous efforts but remains very concerning to us.  Further more this was an area where the Wilderness boundary was asserted to be drawn based on FSR 679 but when this was ground truthed the boundary in this small area ranged from less than 10 meters to hundreds of meters from FSR 679.   This gives us little confidence in the accuracy of any data used in various legislation and directly evidences why these Proposals may not properly be used for management decisions.

3(d). Corridor standards for trails should be consistent regardless of adjacent management.

The Organizations are also aware that many of the Congressional proposals for Wilderness are within almost unheard of distances of globally important recreational trails. Often corridors provided in Legislative Proposals around these globally significant recreational routes are only 10-15 ft in width and are based on unsubstantiated assertions of compliance with generalized existing USFS standards for management of trails and other uses near Wilderness.[6] We have been unable to substantiate where these standards came from or confirm these standards with any USFS staff and they are FAR narrower than trail corridors we are familiar with. Rather we continued to simply be provided unsigned memos without even an agency letterhead asserting general standards for trail corridors. This is simply unacceptable to us as the history of factual accuracy has been exceptionally weak around these Wilderness Proposals only making possible loss of corridor even more of a concern. This is a major concern for us as many of these boundaries in the decision appear to mirror the boundary in the various legislative proposals that have failed.

The stark difference in the USFS standards asserted to be applied in these Legislative Proposals is the fact that most trail corridors we are aware of in planning are approaching at least ¼ mile in width.  In the Decision several references to trail corridor width around the CDNST are made for corridors that are miles in width[7]. The Organizations must also object to the sole application of any generalized standard for trail management corridors adjacent to a Wilderness boundary  as this type of generalized boundary is insufficient to override the clearly identified documentation and reasoning for Congress placing particular boundaries in particular locations as often these decisions area exceptionally well documented and are driven by the Congressional determination of the site specific buffer necessary for the trail in relation to the Wilderness that was designated.

Proposed resolution of objection #3

The Decision must be returned to the forest for the development of recommended Wilderness areas that align with previous site-specific decisions currently provide in federal law.  While legislative proposals should be addressed, they are insufficient to overrule existing federal law until they are passed into law.

Objection 4(a). Many of the areas recommended Wilderness designation have been previously released for multiple use or further designation by Congress despite ongoing legislative proposals.

Our first landscape level concern involves the relationship of the site-specific inventory of much of the GMUG by Congress and the site-specific hard release of many of the same areas from further review for possible designation as Wilderness in the future by Congress.  The hard release of these areas by Congressional action is critically important to our interests and efforts, as hard release language by Congress is seen as the strongest manner that Congress can express a wish to release an area from future designation as Wilderness with. The previous site-specific release of areas by Congress from future designation as Wilderness overrides the fact that there may be legislation now before Congress to redesignate these areas in a citizen-based Wilderness proposal. These concerns are irrelevant as a matter of law until they are passed into law.  Any other conclusion lacks any basis in law or fact. If the hard release of any area by Congress was found to be insufficient to avoid redesignation as possible Wilderness in subsequent planning this would be deeply concerning for us and impact our ability to collaboratively attempt to release areas from possible designation as Wilderness in the future.

The Organizations are aware there is great pressure on land managers to recognize legislative drafts that have been before Congress, sometimes for decades, in planning. The Congressional decision NOT to designate these areas as Wilderness that actually passed Congress and became law must be properly weighted against the existence of a legislative proposal that has not passed either house of Congress and often completely lacks even a sponsor in the House of Representatives.  Any argument that a stalled legislative proposal should carry more weight than a site-specific analysis and decision that has actually passed Congress regarding the ineligibility of the area for future designation is probably lacking legal and factual basis.  The Organizations submit that many of the citizen Wilderness proposals that are currently addressing GMUG lands are not moving because they are simply badly out of balance and would designate Wilderness in areas that were released in previous Wilderness legislation.

There is a long and vigorous history of Congress specifically addressing the non-Wilderness management of public lands on the GMUG and of those protections provided outside designated Wilderness needed to be able to move land management legislation through Congress. It is troubling that many of the areas that have been specifically identified for non-Wilderness multiple use management in order to develop a balanced land management bill that would move through Congress were recommended for Wilderness. Congressional protections of multiple use on lands recommended for Wilderness include:

  1. Congress specifically finding that Non-wilderness multiple uses being identified for protection areas not designated as Wilderness;
  2. Congress specifically stating that there shall be no restrictions of usages outside Wilderness areas to create buffer areas for the Wilderness;
  3. Congress specifically crafting boundaries to protect existing usages outside the Wilderness; and
  4. Removal of primitive area designations.

While addressing issues involving legislative history may seem unnecessary, it is important as many of the areas recommended for addition to the Wilderness system have been the basis of ongoing discussions for possible Wilderness designations since well before the Wilderness Act was originally passed in 1964. As a result, the lack of success around recent efforts to add these areas is important but also the history of each Wilderness areas that were designated and also areas that were not designated is important as well.    In addition to the determinations of why these areas were found unsuitable for Congressional designation, these areas have been the basis of extensive inventory by the USGS and Bureau of Mines pursuant to §3b of the Wilderness Act as these were existing Primitive Areas when the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964.  Given the specific review and release of many of these areas from further designation by Congress, the Organizations must question how the same areas could be recommended for Wilderness in the USFS planning process, despite what has been more than 50 years of review of possible basis for designation.

Any assertion of a legal basis for management of areas recommended Wilderness in the Decision as proposed in the various legislative efforts instead of recognizing existing federal law ignores the weak legislative support for these types of proposals in Colorado.  The history of both the Continental Divide Proposal, and  earlier versions of this legislation that trace back to the original Hidden Gems Proposal and San Juan Wilderness Proposals by Senator Bennett clearly shows the lack of support for the expanded designations across larger communities. When Wilderness Proposals from Congresswomen DeGette’s Office are addressed, the failure of Congress to move on the proposed changes for management of these areas spans more than 30 years.   Rather than being a basis for management of these areas as recommended Wilderness these proposals provide a concrete basis for management of these areas in compliance with existing federal law mandating multiple use.

A brief history of the San Juan Wilderness Legislation reveals a long history of nonsupport for the proposal in Congress, as there has never been a house sponsor even named for the Proposal.[8] Even in the Senate, the San Juan Proposal has moved to hearings on several occasions and while it has gotten out of committee, the larger Senate has never even voted on this Proposal. This is a strong indication of the lack of support for the Proposal. Even more troubling is the fact that the San Juan Legislation has not even been introduced in the Senate since 2013.  The Organizations submit that the 5-year hiatus for the legislation speaks volumes to the true amount of support for the Legislation.

While the Continental Divide Legislation does not address lands on the GMUG, it provides further basis for the caution that land managers should be approaching any proposal with.  The Legislative history of the Continental Divide Legislation provides no basis for management decision as this Proposal has been submitted in various forms for almost a decade and has also not moved beyond committee hearing, and many years has been unable to even get a hearing. This Legislation was originally proposed in Congress in 2010 with claims of broad support and extensive vetting of the Proposal through the Hidden Gems based discussions.  Vetting of the proposal provided to be less than complete and many problems were immediately identified and as a result the Central Mountains version of Hidden Gems was reworked several times as exemplified by the Rocky Mountain Recreation and Wilderness Preservation Act of 2012.[9]  This did little to build community support for the Proposal.  Recently the legislative name was changed and minor changes to the proposal were undertaken, and this version again failed to move. Existing federal law must be honored until such time as it is successfully amended.

The Organizations would be remiss if the troubling legislative history of other proposals that have incorporated San Juan and Continental Divide boundaries was not addressed, such as Congresswoman Dianna DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act that was originally introduced in 1999 was not mentioned[10].  These Proposals have also failed to move beyond a committee hearing despite being introduced for almost two decades as well.  As result, managers now have a clearly identified basis to not incorporate these legislative proposals into planning as there is clearly defined track record of minimal public support for the Proposals.  The failure of these proposals in Congress simply does not create a valid basis for planning actions by Congress.

This lack of support for the San Juan and Continental Divide version of Hidden Gems, is further evidenced by the fact that while these proposals have languished in Congress for more than two decades in one form or another, other land use legislation including Wilderness designations has been developed and rapidly moved through Congress regarding Colorado public lands.  This legislation would be the Hermosa Watershed Legislation of 2013, which was developed, passed into law and subsequent planning completed in a decade less time than San Juan and Continental Divide have been languishing in Congress without larger support.  While the mandates of the Hermosa Watershed Legislation are not legally binding on the GMUG, the factual differences are highly relevant to the value of land management legislation that does not move.  In 2013, the Hermosa Watershed Legislation[11] was not even a Legislative Proposal but this legislation was developed from the ground up, passed both houses of Congress and was signed by the President while other pieces of legislation remained stalled. [12] While the Hermosa Watershed Legislation does not impact GMUG planning the rapid movement of this legislation through Congress speaks volumes to the lack of support around the other pieces of Legislation that have been in existence for much longer and simply never moved. Their value in planning is marginal at best.

While USFS policy asserts that citizen Wilderness proposals be addressed in the planning process, USFS policy cannot contradict the site-specific determinations of Congress in existing federal laws.  The Organizations vigorously assert  that even without site specific Congressional determinations for any area, the mere recognition of a Wilderness Proposal is not enough review to support inclusion of any area as recommended Wilderness in the final alternative.  The entirety of the history of these citizen Proposals must be reviewed in the planning process.  This is exemplified in the GMUG plan  as many of the recommended Wilderness areas have been the basis of citizen Wilderness Proposals since before 1980.  This is directly evidenced by the 1980 Colorado Wilderness act[13] when the boundaries of many of these areas were established and drawn to protect many of the same usages that remain in these areas to this day.  The boundaries proposed for many areas on the GMUG in planning are the same areas that Congress specifically excluded from Wilderness when the areas were designated, as exemplified by the discussions of why wilderness boundaries are in the locations they currently are as provided on page 7 of House Report 96-617 issued in conjunction with the passage of the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act.  Those provisions are discussed in greater detail in subsequent portions of these comments and a copy of this full report is attached as Exhibit 5.

The second landscape level concern around merely designating recommended Wilderness based on citizen proposals for Wilderness is a policy concern and involves a consistent position taken by land managers that the public should work together attempt to bring solutions to issues to them. When land managers are recommending areas for possible designation that have been previously released by Congress, the managers are now working against the public collaborations that were the basis for the release of the area back to non-wilderness multiple use.   If there is a consensus position regarding the management of areas that has been achieved and passed into law by Congress it should be enforced with regard to all interests, regardless of the position. Consensus positions should be supported and defended by land managers in Colorado as there has been a lot of balancing and collaboration that has gone into the Congressional action for management of public lands for decades. When land managers recommend Wilderness for areas that have been specifically inventoried by Congress and found ineligible, land managers are undermining a consensus position that was achieved. Despite insisting that collaborative efforts targeting consensus management are needed here, managers would be undermining the very consensus they seek to obtain by trying to recommend Wilderness in many areas on the GMUG. Additionally, recommending Wilderness based on these failed legislative proposals would undermine the public process as the legislation is simply badly out of balance in terms of land use and as a result has little support from the general public.

4(b)  Congressional determinations providing hard releases of areas for  non-wilderness management are not addressed in the Decision prior to recommending many of the same areas for Wilderness.

As previously noted, there is a long history of site-specific Congressional determinations around usages of lands on the GMUG and throughout Colorado.  These determinations are simply never mentioned in the decision despite the fact it is existing federal law which must be recognized in planning under basic principles of law and under Forest Service requirements for the development of Wilderness areas in planning.  Forest Service guidance documents governing Wilderness inventory specifically require federal determinations of areas for non-wilderness usages MUST be recognized as follows:

“In addition, the Team shall identify on the same map (or a series of maps), at a minimum, the following lands:

4. National Forest System lands statutorily designated for management for nonwilderness purposes. Indicate effective dates, if any.” [14]

Given the repeated decisions of Congress specifically identifying areas on the GMUG for multiple use and unsuitable for designation as Wilderness the Organizations assert strict application of the above standard has resulted in an RMP recommendation that conflicts with federal laws specifically governing these areas.

This site-specific clarity of Congressional action regarding non-wilderness usages on large areas of the GMUG and throughout the state is exemplified in the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act that created the Colligate Peaks, Raggeds and Fossil Ridge Wilderness areas. Given the high levels of relevance of this legislation to these discussions of the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act, a copy has been enclosed for your convenience as exhibit 3. The 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act specifically spoke of the need to protect non-wilderness multiple use in areas it was not designating as Wilderness as follows:

“SEC. 101. (a) The Congress finds that-

(3) the Department of Agriculture’s second Roadless Area Review and Evaluation of National Forest System lands in the State of Colorado and the related congressional review of such lands have also identified areas which do not possess outstanding wilderness attributes or which possess outstanding energy mineral, timber, grazing, dispersed recreation and other values and which should not now be designated as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System but should be available for nonwilderness multiple uses under the land management

planning process and other applicable laws……

(b)(2) The purposes of this title are to……. Insure that certain other National Forest System lands in the State of Colorado are available for non-wilderness multiple uses.” [15]

 

The desire of Congress to return non-Wilderness uses to areas not designated as Wilderness is evidenced by the fact that this desire was stated twice in the 1980 version of the Colorado Wilderness Act. Additional clarity regarding the desire of Congress to return multiple use to areas that were not designated as Wilderness in the 1980 legislation is also provided by Section 107 of the 1980 Colorado Wilderness legislation, which clearly states as follows:

“(3) areas in the State of Colorado reviewed in such Act; for study by Congress or remaining in further planning upon enactment of this Act need not be managed for the purpose of protecting their suitability for wilderness designation pending revision of the initial plans; and”[16]

Given the long history of clear Congressional action regarding the non-Wilderness management of so much of the GMUG planning area,  any assertion that these areas may be recommended as Wilderness is impermissible as it directly contradicts both federal law and Forest Service inventory requirements to recognize these area designations in the decision-making process.

Clearly these previous Legislative actions developed high levels of public participation and consensus and must be honored.  The fact that one group did not get exactly what they wanted in consensus efforts previously does not create the need for new consensus efforts without a serious change in the circumstances in the area. Also, recommendations of Wilderness in these areas must at least recognize the previous legislative determinations and explain why these determinations are not controlling for these areas any longer and why these areas may again be recommended for designation as Wilderness by Congress.

4(c). Many of recommended Wilderness areas directly violate Federal law prohibiting buffer areas around Wilderness areas on the GMUG.

As identified above there have been significant Congressional actions to address the management of many areas within the GMUG planning area for more than 50 years. The 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act specifically released all areas not designated  as Wilderness back to non-wilderness multiple use.  The 1993 Colorado Wilderness acts implemented additional protections for usages of areas outside the designated Wilderness areas with the addition of the “no buffer” concept to further protect multiple usage in boundary areas.  Congress has specifically reviewed these areas and determined where the boundaries should be located.  Fossil Ridge, Colligate Peaks, Uncompahgre, Powderhorn and Raggeds Wilderness areas were created by the 1980 and 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act, and both of these pieces of legislation specifically required no buffer requirements as the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act as follows:

“(e) BUFFER ZONES. —Congress does not intend that the designation by this Act of wilderness areas in the State of Colorado creates or implies the creation of protective perimeters or buffer zones around any wilderness area. The fact that nonwilderness activities or uses can be seen or heard from within a wilderness area shall not, of itself, preclude such activities or uses up to the boundary of the wilderness area.” [17]

While federal law is exceptionally clear on the usages that are allowed outside Wilderness areas this clarity is not addressed despite the fact that almost every Wilderness area on the GMUG is subject to these restrictions in the federal laws that designated the Wilderness.   Again, these are specific Congressional determinations that must be addressed in Wilderness inventory under USFS requirements as follows:

“5.  Evaluate the degree to which the area may be managed to preserve its wilderness characteristics.  Consider such factors as:

c. Specific Federal or State laws that may be relevant to availability of the area for wilderness or the ability to manage the area to protect wilderness characteristics;” [18]

Despite this clear mandate, many of the recommended Wilderness designations are based on the idea that such a boundary change would make preservation of Wilderness characteristics of the areas easier to manage.  Asserting such a basis for management designation would be exactly the type of buffer that is specifically prohibited under the Colorado Wilderness Act and its amendments. The complete failure to recognize existing federal law requiring “no buffers” for Wilderness is exemplified by the repeated recognition of the positive effects of an area to provide additional buffers for existing Wilderness areas in the inventory is exemplified by the following portions of the inventory. Many of these areas are now recommended Wilderness in the decision.  In the Tellurium G11 inventory provisions the buffer is recognized as follows:

“As is, this area provides an effective buffer between travel routes and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.”[19]

In the Taylor Canyon G15 inventory provisions the buffer is recognized as follows:

“As is, this area provides an effective buffer between NFSR 742 and both Fossil Ridge Wilderness and Fossil Ridge Recreation Management Area.”[20]

In the Slumgullion P5 inventory provisions the buffer is recognized as follows:

“As is, this area provides an effective buffer between NFSR 709/private property and West Elk Wilderness.”[21]

The failure of the decision to address the “no buffer” provisions for Colorado Wilderness areas currently existing in federal law is vigorously opposed by the Organizations. This situation has existed since original inventories of the GMUG for Wilderness suitability and has never been addressed and has returned in the decision.  While we understand the immense amount of pressure being applied to the USFS staff on this issue, this also does to absolve the duty of planners to comply with existing federal laws.

4(d).  A large portion of the GMUG has been inventoried as primitive areas and subsequently hard released for multiple use by Congress.

In addition to the extensive Congressional action specifically drawing many of the boundaries of Wilderness areas on the GMUG, Congress additionally reviewed the inventory of three primitive areas that were existing in the southern portions of the GMUG when the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. These three primitive areas were identified as the Uncompahgre Primitive area, Uncompahgre Adjacent Primitive area and the Wilson Mtn Primitive areas.   When the 1980 Colorado Wilderness act was passed these inventories were reviewed for possible designations by Congress and areas that were found suitable for designation were designated as Wilderness.  The remainder of these primitive areas were abolished and returned to multiple use. Again, many of the areas in the decision that are identified as recommended Wilderness are in these primitive area boundaries that have been released by Congress.

The 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act clearly abolished exiting primitive areas designations areas as follows:

“The previous classifications of the Uncompahgre Primitive areas and Wilson Mountain Primitive area are hereby abolished”  [22]

In the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act, Congress then clearly identified in §101 of this Legislation the fact that any areas not designated as Wilderness was to be released back to non-wilderness multiple use as follows:

“(b) The purposes of this title are to—

(2) insure that certain other National Forest System lands in the State of Colorado be available for nonwilderness multiple uses.”

The Organizations submit that any assertion that the primitive area designations existing on the GMUG and specifically released for non-wilderness multiple use could again be recommended for Wilderness by the USFS defies both legal and logical defense. Despite specific federal law on this issue, these previous designations are not even addressed in the decision.

These types of determinations regarding primitive areas are again clearly identified to be within the scope of the Wilderness Inventory process as follows:

“The Interdisciplinary Team shall record all lands included in the inventory on a map of the planning area.  In addition, the Team shall identify on the same map (or a series of maps), at a minimum, the following lands:

1. Existing designated wilderness and primitive areas….

National Forest System lands statutorily designated for management for nonwilderness purposes.  Indicate effective dates, if any.”[23]

While Congress has designated extensive portions of the GMUG as possible primitive areas in the past and then removed these designations with a specific requirement of using these areas for non-wilderness multiple usage in areas not designated as Wilderness, these determinations are again not addressed in the decision prior to Wilderness recommendations.

We have enclosed the complete inventory of each of these primitive areas as Exhibit 4 to allow planners to fully understand the detail and scope of these inventories and understand the scope of what was released by Congress for non-wilderness multiple use and is not addressed in the current decisions Wilderness recommendations. After a detailed review of these reports, it should be noted that many of the pre-existing usages recognized in these reports and inventory that prohibited Congressional designation of these areas as Wilderness in 1980 have existed in these areas since at least the early 1970s.  These usages and management challenges often remain in the areas that were recognized by the Department of Interior and Bureau of Mines, adding more credibility to the USFS inventories of these areas subsequently undertaken.  Again, we simply cannot understand a fact pattern where Congress could specifically decline an area for designation as Wilderness, protect the non-Wilderness multiple use and then land managers would again recommend the same areas for designation in the planning process. Such a position simply lacks rational basis in facts or law.

4(e). Specific boundaries of the Uncompahgre (Big Blue) and Mt. Sneffels Wilderness were drawn with great detail by Congress.

In addition to the release of the large primitive areas that predated the 1964 Wilderness Act and comprised a large amount of the southern portions of the GMUG, the 1980 Colorado Wilderness act addressed the specific locations for the boundaries of both the Uncompahgre and Mount Sneffels Wilderness with unusually high levels of detail.  The value of this level of detail should not be overlooked and again would draw any assertion of suitability for these areas as recommended Wilderness in the RMP into question. While Congress has provided exceptionally high levels of detail in why boundaries were placed where they are in existing federal law, this detailed information is not addressed in the decision and many of these areas are again re-recommend for wilderness designation.  These new recommended Wilderness boundaries on the southern portion of the Forests are as follows: [24]

recommended Wilderness boundaries map

Section 9 of the House Report issued for the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act provides a large amount of highly site-specific detail into the scope of analysis undertaken by Congress in developing this legislation and why boundaries are in the locations they are in. This bill memo provides:

“9. Lizard Head, Mount Sneffels, and Big Blue Wildernesses: These three separate wilderness proposals of 40,000, 16,200, and 100,000 acres, respectively, comprise what many feel is the most scenic and spectacular area in the entire State of Colorado, and is sometimes called the “Switzerland of America”. The area’s outstanding beauty and wild nature has been officially recognized since 1932 when the Wilson Mountains and Uncompahgre Primitive Areas were established by administrative regulation. In accordance with section 3 (b) of the Wilderness Act, the wilderness character of the two primitive areas was reviewed, and a wilderness recommendation on five separate tracts was forwarded to Congress in 197 4. The RARE II process resulted in further wilderness recommendations on lands contiguous to three of the five tracts. The Committee reviewed the Administration’s recommendations and determined that the 16,200-acre Mount Sneffels proposal was adequate to protect the highly scenic country north of Telluride. To the south west, the Committee proposes a 40,000-acre Lizard Head Wilderness to link up the Administration’s Mount Wilson and Dolores Peak recommendations and include the headwaters of the Dolores River plus the landmark Lizard Head and Wilson Meadows. These additional lands largely lie within the existing Wilson Mountains Primitive Area and have important wildlife values as well as superlative wilderness qualities. The Committee therefore determined that wilderness should replace the current primitive area designation.

Similarly, the Committee recommends a 100,000-acre Big Blue Wilderness to join the Administration’s Big Blue and Courthouse Mountain proposals. The Committee additions include the heart of the eastern urut of the Uncompahgre Primitive Area and such outstanding natural features as Matterhorn Peak, Wetterhorn Peak, Precipice Peak, Dunsinane Peak, Cow Creek and portions of the West, Middle and East Forks of the Cimarron River. The Committee feels the addition of these lands is vital to the overall integrity of any Big Blue Wilderness, and especially notes their outstanding scenic and watershed values. At the same time, the Committee recognizes that the public currently relies on motorized access to certain key areas, and therefore amended the bill to exclude lands in the vicinity of Nellie Creek and to excise two road corridors which extend part of the way up the Middle and West Fork Cimarron River drainages. Another boundary adjustment was made on the extreme western end of the area near Baldy Peak to exclude about 1,500 acres which are used by grazing permittees for frequent motorized access and intensive management activities associated with livestock grazing. The bill abolishes the Uncompahgre and Wilson Mountain Primitive Area designations for those residual Primitive Area lands lying outside the boundaries of the three proposed wildernesses. Most of these remaining lands are so interspersed with patented mining claims that their management as wilderness would prove infeasible.”

A complete copy of this House Report memo outlining the high levels of sight specific analysis that was undertaken by Congress is attached as Exhibit 5 to this objection for your reference.  Given that many of the uses that Congress wanted to avoid impacting are still existing in these areas and have been specifically protected by federal law the Organizations must ask why manager would ever want to violate the clear statements of Congress as to the location of these Wilderness boundaries.

When both the Mt Sneffels and Lizard Head Wilderness Areas were designated as Wilderness in 1980, the following provisions were included in the preamble of that statute:

” (3) the Department of Agriculture’s second Roadless Area Review and Evaluation of National Forest System lands in the State of Colorado and the related congressional review of such lands have also identified areas which do not possess outstanding wilderness attributes or which possess outstanding energy, mineral, timber, grazing, dispersed recreation and other values and which should not now be designated as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System but should be available for nonwilderness multiple uses under the land management planning process and other applicable laws.”[25]

The Organizations must question why areas that have been specifically released by Congress for multiple use management and consistently found unsuitable for designation as Wilderness would ever be found now available for Wilderness designation. The Congressional release of Primitive areas, such as Sunshine, Wilson Mesa, Whitehouse and Liberty Bell are highly relevant due to the proximity of many of the new proposed Wilderness Area additions to both the Mt. Sneffels and Lizard Head Wilderness and that these areas were specifically excluded by Congress from Wilderness management previously.

Resolution of objection issue #3 & #4.

  1. Planners must apply existing federal law rather than unsuccessful proposals to amend federal law in the planning process. Remove recommended Wilderness designations in areas already previously hard released by Congress and remove any recommended Wilderness designations from areas within ¼ mile of existing routes and comply with existing site-specific Congressional decisions made in these areas.
  2. Redraw recommended Wilderness Boundaries to avoid conflict with existing statutory designations and decisions regarding boundaries and concepts such as buffers around existing Wilderness areas.

Objection 5. Most areas of  Recommended Wilderness were found unsuitable for designation as Upper Tier Roadless areas in the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule Process.

The Organizations wish to highlight the repeated exclusion of many areas now sought to be identified as recommended Wilderness in the RMP from lower levels of management in previous administrative reviews.  Most recently these areas were found unsuitable for upper tier designation as part of the development of the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule. Again, USFS requirements for the Wilderness Inventory process require inclusion of this information as follows:

“The Interdisciplinary Team shall record all lands included in the inventory on a map of the planning area.  In addition, the Team shall identify on the same map (or a series of maps), at a minimum, the following lands:

    1. Areas identified in the Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation Final Environmental Impact Statement (Volume 2, November 2000), or in a Forest Service State-specific roadless rule, or identified as undeveloped or for primitive nonmotorized management in the current land management plan.”

While Roadless inventory information is specifically required in the inventory process at no point in the GMUG wilderness inventory is the conclusions of the 2012 Roadless Rule inventory for the proposed area even mentioned. Throughout the Roadless area inventory process many conclusions regarding the unsuitability of areas for recommended Wilderness were again reached in the development of the 2012 Roadless Rule.  The systemic conclusions that many of these areas were never suitable for inclusion in the Wilderness system started with the RARE and RARE 2 inventories due to the high levels of existing usages of these areas included high levels of recreational value. These areas would include the Wilson Mesa area, Sunshine, Whitehouse, Liberty Bell and many other areas.[26] While the site-specific information from the RARE and RARE 2 process is available for review if your office should desire such a discussion, these conclusions are not discussed at length in these comments as they are repetitive to the conclusions of the Colorado Roadless Rule development in 2012.  The Organizations must ask why these areas, which have never been suitable for designation as Wilderness, despite almost 50 years of inventory, would now be thought suitable for designation as Wilderness?  The question about the need for Wilderness designations becomes more concerning when Congressional action has previously returned these areas to multiple use management.

The Organizations were heavily involved in the development of the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule, where both additional management flexibility was to be provided in Roadless areas and additional protection of less developed areas was explored.  Unlike the single standard of management in the national roadless rule, in the Colorado Roadless Rule process, generally two categories of management inventory were explored, which were Colorado Roadless areas and Upper Tier Roadless areas.  In an Upper Tier roadless area, management was closer to a Congressionally Designated Wilderness and in Colorado Roadless Area management direction was moved towards higher levels of usage and flexibility. Extensive site-specific inventories of areas were again provided as part of development of the Colorado Roadless Rule to ensure that current information about any area was relied on in the inventory process.  As a result of this process, significant portions of the areas now recommended Wilderness were inventoried for possible inclusion in upper tier roadless designations under the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule development.  Similar to the RARE inventory conclusions almost every area proposed to be recommended Wilderness was found unsuitable for management as upper tier only a few years ago. The Organizations must question why the heightened restriction of Wilderness management is thought to be warranted, when lower levels of protection have already been identified as unsuitable several times. Clearly this is information that must be included in the Wilderness inventory and has not been.

In the Colorado Roadless Rule development extensive portions of public lands were inventoried for various levels of management.  Alternative 2 (preferred) the designation of Upper Tier Roadless management is reflected in areas highlighted in yellow on the map below and alternative 4 of the Proposal provided a more extensive acreage of areas for possible upper tier designation, which is reflected in the red freckled areas on the map below.[27]  The stark differences between the scope of alternative 2 and alternative 4 of the inventories are reflected in the map below:

maps showing differences in alt 2 and 4

 

 

The Organizations must note that almost EVERY area now recommended Wilderness with a HIGH designation was reviewed under Alternative 4 of the Roadless Rule EIS and found to be unsuitable for the lower level of protection and management of an Upper Tier management designation.   In the site-specific descriptions of each of these areas, a detailed discussion of the reasons for designation of these areas either as CRA or Upper Tier was provided.  The overlap of the CRA process and RARE inventories conclusions is significant and weighs heavily against the recommendation of any of these areas as Recommended Wilderness in the draft RMP.

The Organizations must object to any assertion that these areas are suitable for Wilderness recommendations in a Forest Plan, when these areas were recently inventoried and found unsuitable for the lower level of protection provided by an Upper Tier Roadless designation.  Any assertion of factual basis for such management would not be supported by the extensive site-specific inventory and review that was created as part of the Colorado Roadless Rule development. The Colorado Roadless Rule process was another administrative confirmation that these areas do not warrant heightened protections and should be managed for multiple use but such a discussion is simply not provided in the Decision.

Proposed resolution of objection #5

Redraw recommended Wilderness Boundaries to avoid conflict with existing decisions regarding the location of upper tier and Colorado Roadless areas.

Objection 6(a). Route density standards as part of Wildlife management areas.

The Organizations vigorously support the management and protection of wildlife in the planning process and recognize that the GMUG has done a commendable job of balancing all uses previously.  The Organizations are very concerned that these standards are included as the result of political pressure rather than a sound scientific and management basis for addressing problems effectively. We also vigorously support the decisions grandfathering of designated motorized trails in the designated wildlife areas. Every one of these trails has been through several rounds of site specific NEPA since the adoption of the travel management Executive Orders in 1972 by President Nixon.  These decisions have been the basis of extensive site specific NEPA and site specific NEPA is always more reliable and higher quality information and planning  than landscape level NEPA.

The Organizations would be more supportive of the decision  to apply density standards in the manner proposed if we thought this would reduce conflict between wildlife, recreation, and other forms of development over the life of the Plan. If the designation of wildlife areas could reduce conflict and streamline planning in trail development areas also designated in the Plan, that would a major step forward.  It has also been our experience that this type of balancing does not occur  as we continue to fight about wildlife in all phases of site-specific planning regardless of special designations.  We are not optimistic that the designation of these areas will have this effect and as a result believe these new designations will increase conflict rather than reduce it. This concern is since numerous Wilderness areas have been designated on the GMUG to provide wildlife habitat.  While these designations have occurred, they have really done nothing to reduce conflict on wildlife, or proposed wilderness, in other areas of the forest.

The Organizations are concerned that even with the grandfathering of these routes in the current decision, any wildlife planning area where routes are above the mile per mile route density will be put at risk of closure in any subsequent travel planning process. The Organizations are also concerned that many of the new dedicated wildlife management areas are being developed in current management areas that are permitting route density of up to 4 miles of routes per square mile. The Organizations are also very concerned that existing planning provides for standards that are largely aspirational. The decision moves these standards from aspirational to mandatory.  The decision provides no analysis to support the restriction of existing management to these lower density levels now required for the protection of wildlife.

While  we support the existing management in the areas now designated as Wildlife Management areas, the application of landscape level mandatory route density standards will result in poor management analysis in the future.  This management model is an attempt to apply landscape data to site specific concerns and this is often unsuccessful as many factors may be present on the landscape and not present on the localized area and vice versa and this disconnect can result in exceptionally bad decisions.  By comparison, statistically in the US men are about 7% taller on average than women.[28]  While this statistical confirmation is entirely accurate for addressing population level questions, this landscape level information is largely useless for predicting the if a particular man is taller than a particular woman. There are a wide range of factors that impact the particular height of every man or woman that simply cannot be captured in landscape level analysis as there are too many localized factors and issues that .

This similar situation existing with attempting to make site specific habitat quality and travel management decisions based on route density standards.  There are simply too many local variables as not all roads are created the same. Not all roads have similar levels of usage, which greatly impacts their ability to disrupt wildlife. By definition roads are significantly different than trails. Trails have wildly different levels of usage again impacting their ability to disrupt wildlife.

The application of mandatory route density standards in the decision fails to address hugely effective mitigation efforts that have been undertaken around roads, exemplified by the recent success of wildlife overpasses and fencing efforts throughout the region, which has been done in partnership with a diverse range of interests.  As an example, the State of Utah has effectively developed wildlife overpasses and large fencing projects to mitigate impacts of routes in Wildlife crossing areas.  The State of Utah in partnership with the Western Governors Association has well documented that these efforts have saved hundreds of animals of all species in every location that they have been introduced as Utah DOT has recognized as follows:

“It is estimated that a minimum of 102 accidents will be prevented each year through this collaborative effort. Utah State University will study this project over the next five years to provide feedback to the partners on the effectiveness of their efforts and to provide information on how best to design solutions to similar problem areas for wildlife and motorists.”[29]

CPW has effectively developed similar overpasses and fencing outside Kremmling Colorado with similar results, which CPW has summarized in their research brief as follows:

“The study established that the mitigation investments on SH 9 resulted in a 92% reduction in WVC crashes and a 90% reduction in carcasses. In addition to improving safety for motorists, the study demonstrated the success of the crossing structures in maintaining connectivity for mule deer across SH 9 for all age and gender classes of the population. The research documented 112,678 mule deer successful passages across the seven structures, with an overall success rate of 96%. The study also established the value of the wildlife crossing structures and other mitigation for a number of other species, including elk, pronghorn, moose, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, and other meso and small mammals.”[30]

Clearly these overpass and fencing efforts have provided direct benefits that would never be captured in the application of route density standards for management.  At best this is the horrible twisting of a hugely successful project into something largely irrelevant to land managers as this type of a success would not be reflected in a route density analysis. In addition to the above CPW research, CDOT has decades of research addressing the variable level of impacts roads have on wildlife and the evolution of management tools to address these issues. [31]

Too often route density is simply a surrogate for the identification of issues that are occurring around the route. With the decision to close or limit routes in these areas how would efforts such as this be developed or applied in these areas? The decision simply fails to address this issue and these are partnerships the decision should be facilitating rather than ignoring moving forward.

6(b).  Application of trail density of routes and trails are recommended against by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

While we are aware there is a large amount of public concern voiced around the need for route density standards, this is not the management process that CPW recommends for wildlife areas for roads or trails.  This is directly evidenced by the fact that the 2021 CPW Trails and Wildlife planning tool recommends avoiding route density analysis.[32] The 2021 Trails and Wildlife Guide outlines this conclusion as follows:

“There are two important considerations to keep in mind with route density:

  • Site-specific factors, such as topography, may influence the quality of habitat, and are not accounted for in the calculation for route density.
  • Route density calculations do not necessarily account for how trails are spatially distributed across the landscape(Figure 6).

The overarching intent of the route density consideration is to minimize habitat fragmentation and loss of habitat functionality for wildlife. It is important to note that this consideration is meant as a starting point for conversation about how to minimize wildlife impacts, and is not regulatory in nature. Also, route density only applies to specific high priority and sensitive habitats and species – there are many areas in the state where it isn’t (see Appendix B for more detail). Consultation with local agency staff and on the ground evaluation of the habitat are important to avoid any misapplications of route density. Remember that these strategies are part of a larger suite of BMP recommendations; it’s always important to consider how other strategies can be applied to minimize and/or mitigate impacts on wildlife.”[33]

As CPW has publicly endorsed a large and collaborative process for the management of trails instead of the application of hard limits on density, there is clearly a different course of management for these areas.  The application of route density standards without addressing the tools that have been found to be hugely successful and outlined in the CPW Trails and Wildlife Guide, such as seasonal closures, education of users and mitigation of other factors such as off leash dogs is again problematic as it conflicts with best available science. The Organizations must object as this entire management model is now rendered useless in favor of the application of a landscape tool that is poorly suited for the problem it is trying to solve.

6(c). Changes from existing plan to decision regarding the use of density standards are not addressed.

The Organizations must object to the inclusion of the mandatory  mile per mile route density requirement for the management of wildlife areas given the complete lack of discussion or authority to support this management standard. The decision does recognize that these new standards will impact a significant portion of the forest but fails to provide any analysis of possible impacts to other uses moving from a standard that was largely aspirational in nature to a standard that is now mandatory in these areas. Not only is the mandatory density standard poorly suited to achieve the goals it is seeking to address, the decision fails to address why there is a need to significantly restrict trails access in these areas from management levels that are currently provided.  No analysis is provided to address why the highly flexible and variable standards in the current  plan are dropped in favor of a single mandatory standard in the decision.  This decision impacts a major portion of the planning area and simply is never analyzed.

Under the existing RMP  the following aspirational route density standards are provided for:

Mile per mile in management 8b wilderness closed to moto[34]

2 miles per mile in 8c- wilderness closed to moto [35]

4 miles per mile in 2a – semi primitive moto [36]

4 miles of routes in 2b [37]

Wildlife areas had wide range of management designation under 4b, 4c, 4d, 5a, 5b and these aspirational standards have proven to be effective. The success of these voluntary management standards was outlined in great detail in our comments on the draft RMP.

While these standards have been found to be effective, these varying standards are dropped in favor of a single highly restrictive mandatory management standard in the wildlife areas. The scale of the impact of this management change is reflected in the EIS as follows:[38]

Chart showing differences in management change

The significant impact that these changes could have on public access to more than 400,000 acres of public lands is immense and not consistently applied across the forest when various maps are reviewed.  Often the impacts of these changes are disproportionally centered in particular areas that are not adjacent to other restrictive management standards such as Congressionally designated Wilderness. As an example, the existing RMP provides the following  management area map 2, on the Colorado Plateau.

 

Under the New RMP the large amounts of wildlife area management designation is reflected in the light blue designations on the map.

As noted in the decision EIS, the changes in wildlife management route density standards could impact more than 400,000 acres of land on the forest. While the Organizations welcome the summary of the scale of the impact, the decision fails to provide discussion of how moving from largely aspirational standards of route density to mandatory standards of route density on this number of acres would impact public access for a wide range of issues. This analysis must be provided and has not been.

6(d). Route density is not best available science and supported by quality data as required by NEPA.

This lack of integrity in the development and implementation of this new mandatory mile per mile standard is a direct violation of the new NEPA provisions added in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023.  These NEPA provisions are  now specifically applying generally applicable data quality standards that have historically been present to the NEPA process. While these new NEPA specific requirements are recent additions specifically to NEPA these provisions require application of statutory requirements that have been in place for decades including Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2016[39] and Data Quality Act of 2001. [40] As an example, the Data Quality Act provided the following general standards for all government efforts:

”(D) ensure the professional integrity, including scientific integrity, of the discussion and analysis in an environmental document;

”€ make use of reliable data and resources in carrying out this Act; [41]

The NEPA provisions added in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023  further clarify the applicability of existing provisions of the Data Quality Act and Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act to the NEPA process as follows:

”(3) SOURCES OF INFORMATION.—In making a  determination under this subsection, an agency—

”(A) may make use of any reliable data source; and

(B) is not required to undertake new scientific or technical research unless the new scientific or technical research is essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives, and the overall costs and time frame of obtaining it are not unreasonable.”[42]

The Organizations are unable to identify any information in the EIS that could satisfy these requirements with regard to the route density standards or the move from an aspirational management standard for route density to a mandatory and often lower route density standard. The Organizations objections extend beyond the mere impact of route densities but continue into the lack of discussion around how the density of one mile per mile was identified as necessary. The Organizations are unable to identify any research that discusses the varying impacts of moving from one mile per mile density to two miles of trail per square mile or three miles of routes per square mile.  Analysis such as this would be critical in supporting the decision to move from these higher intensity developments limits to the lower intensity development efforts.

Proposed resolution of objection #6.

The Proposal must be returned to the Forest for further analysis of route density standards in Wildlife areas to provide sufficient analysis for proposed standards or to create standards that can be supported by peer reviewed analysis.

The Organizations are generally supportive of the decision and would thank  the USFS for the years of effort that have gone into the development of the current decision. We believe the simplicity of the new decision will be a major step forward when compared to current planning documents. It has been a long road for everyone involved. We are seeking these objections to be resolved as we are concerned that the current decision will expand conflict around management of these areas on the forest.

The Organizations believe it is important to note that we are largely supportive of the Decision as we have been actively participating in the development of the plan since its inception. Our objections are seeking to: address minimal data issues that have come to light since the decision was released; obtain management flexibility on issues to avoid future conflicts regarding maintenance of the opportunities provided; and more fully understand the basis and concern around route density standards in designated Wildlife areas.

Proposed resolution of objection #2

Adjacent boundary designations should be amended to reflect to correct location of motorized routes in the area to avoid closure of these routes due to conflict with management standards.

Proposed resolution of objection #3 &4.

The Decision must be returned to the forest for the development of recommended Wilderness areas that align with previous site-specific decisions currently provide in federal law.  While legislative proposals should be addressed, they are insufficient to overrule existing federal law until they are passed into law. Planners must apply existing federal law rather than unsuccessful proposals to amend federal law in the planning process.  Remove recommended Wilderness designations in areas already previously hard released by Congress and remove any recommended Wilderness designations from areas within ¼ mile of existing routes and comply with existing site-specific Congressional decisions made in these areas.

Redraw recommended Wilderness Boundaries to avoid conflict with existing statutory designations and decisions regarding boundaries and concepts such as buffers around existing Wilderness areas.

Proposed resolution of objection #5

Redraw recommended Wilderness Boundaries to avoid conflict with existing decisions regarding the location of upper tier and Colorado Roadless areas.

Proposed resolution of objection #6.

The Proposal must be returned to the Forest for further analysis of route density standards in Wildlife areas to provide sufficient analysis for proposed standards or to create standards that can be supported by peer reviewed analysis.

The Organizations would welcome a discussion of these opportunities and any other challenges that might be facing the GMUG moving forward at your convenience.  Please feel free to contact Chad Hixon at (719)221-8329 or Scott Jones, Esq. at (518)281-5810 and his email is scott.jones46@yahoo.com.

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
CSA Executive Director
COHVCO Authorized Representative

Chad Hixon
TPA Executive Director

 

 

[1] FACT SHEET: President Biden Designates Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument | The White House

[2]

[3] A brief summary of the 2018 effort on this issue from Congresswoman DeGette office is available here:  DeGette Bill Will Save Colorado’s Remaining Wilderness Areas from Plunder at a Time When They Are Under Greater Threat | Congresswoman Diana DeGette (house.gov)

[4] See, Title III of S173 of 117 Congress – CORE Act Bennett Thompson Divide

[5] A complete copy of this map is attached as Exhibit “1” to this objection.

[6] As an example of this problematic decision making in the development process for legislation, we have attached an email and attachments from 2018 where we discussed this issue with Senator Bennett’s representatives as Exhibit 2.  Other examples can be made available but have not been included simply to avoid voluminous submissions of information.

[7] As an example, please see the discussion of the CDNST corridor starting on pg. 597  of the FEIS.

[8] More information on this Proposal is available here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/112th-congress/senate-bill/1635?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22s1635%22%5D%7D&r=1

[9] More information on this legislation is available here:  https://www.congress.gov/bill/112th-congress/house-bill/1701?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%221701%22%5D%7D&r=79

[10] More information on this legislation is available here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/106th-congress/house-bill/829?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22degette+colorado+wilderness+act%22%5D%7D&r=12

[11] A complete history of the passage of the Hermosa Watershed Legislation into law is available here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1839/text

[12] Various press coverage of the passage of the Hermosa Watershed legislation as part of the National defense Authorization act of 2014 is available here: https://www.bennet.senate.gov/?p=release&id=3209

[13] See PL 96-560

[14] See, USFS Wilderness Inventory Handbook at 1909.1271 (3)(4)

[15] See, PL 96-560 at §101.

[16] See, PL 96-560 at §107.

[17] See, PL 103-77 @ §3(2)(3).  Similar provisions are found in section 110 of the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act.

[18] See, USFS Wilderness Inventory Handbook at 1909.1271 (5).

[19] See, USFS GMUG Wilderness Evaluation at pg. 31.

[20] See, USFS GMUG Wilderness Evaluation at pg. 36.

[21] See, USFS GMUG Wilderness Evaluation at pg. 70.

[22] See, Public Law 96-560 at §102(b).

[23] See, USFS Wilderness Inventory Handbook at 1909.1271 (1) & (4).

[24] GMUG decision map – San Juan Geographic area

[25] See, PL 96-560 @ §101(a)(3).

[26] See, USDA Forest Service; FEIS Roadless Area Review and Evaluation; Appendix E; January 1979 at pg. 216  & 220.

[27] A complete electronic version of the conclusions of these inventory process for Colorado Roadless Rule upper tier designation is available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5366289.pdf

[28] Human Height – Our World in Data

[29]  A complete copy of this joint State of Utah and Western Governors research report is attached as Exhibit 6 to this objection.

[30]  A copy of this brief is attached as Exhibit 7 to this objection.

[31] A complete copy of these documents is available here for review as they are far too voluminous to attach as an exhibit. Colorado Wildlife Prioritization Studies — Colorado Department of Transportation (codot.gov)

[32] A complete copy of the 2021 CPW Trails and Wildlife Guide is available here: Colorado’s Guide to Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind (without appendices) (state.co.us)  but has not been included in this objection due to the size of the document.

[33] See CPW 2021 trails and wildlife guide at pg. 25.

[34] See 1983 RMP at pg. 228

[35] See 1983 RMP at pg. 235

[36] See 1983 RMP at pg. 112

[37] See 1983 RMP at pg. 122

[38]  See, Decision FEIS at pg. 324.

[39] See, 15 USC §3724

[40] See,  PUBLIC LAW 106–554 §515

[41] (42 U.S.C. 4332(2))

[42] 42 U.S.C. 4321

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BLM 21st Century Blueprint for Recreation Strategy & Community Engagement Strategy

BLM
Via email at blm_hq_recreation_feedback@blm.gov

RE: BLM 21st Century Blueprint for Recreation Strategy & Community Engagement Strategy

Dear Sirs:

Please accept this correspondence as the input of the above Organizations about the recently released BLM 21st Century Blueprint for Recreation Strategy (“The Recreation Strategy”) and the BLM new Community Engagement Strategy that was coreleased with the Recreation Strategy.    The Organizations have concerns across these documents that are centered around three general concepts:

  1. The limited public engagement process that has been undertaken with both Proposals;
  2. The failure of either document to address the significant staffing shortages that the BLM is currently facing as a barrier to achieving any of the goals of the strategy; and
  3. The relationship of the documents to other planning efforts was never addressed.

Our members and partners have had the opportunity to attend several of the meetings on the Recreation Strategy, and found these meetings to be somewhat disorganized and attended by a large number of persons who lacked even a basic understanding of the proposal and current efforts of partners.  Several of our members attended the in-person meeting in Las Vegas hosted by the Foundation for Public Lands around the Recreation Strategy and found the effort to be somewhat confusing and often seeking to achieve multiple goals at the same time.  We believe the consolidation of multiple initiatives into a single event was done in an attempt to create efficiency. We are concerned this model has created more problems than it resolved as often the scope of issues being addressed was confused and paths forward on particular were not clearly provided.  We are worried about the success of a public engagement strategy that fails to engage with the public in its development or after its release.

These comments are based on our Organizations partnerships with all levels of government managers in providing sustainable recreational opportunities for all on public lands for more than 50 years.  Our partnerships with all levels of land managers are unique, given the large amount of funding that our voluntarily created registration programs provide to the managers to support basic operations on public lands.  These partnerships provide between $200 and $300 million per year to all levels of managers for the benefit of all users.  Unlike most other users we often provide funding to perform the NEPA, hire BLM staff to manage the area, enforce seasonal closures to protect resources and long-term consistent funding to maintain the infrastructure that is built.  This highly advanced partnership creates significantly different challenges that most other partners are encountering.  Our hope would be that these comments allow these challenges to be addressed and allow our partnerships to continue to evolve as many of our groups have exceptional relationships with land managers that we would like to expand and adapt to current and future challenges.  We also hope that with resolution of these challenges other partners will be allowed to a far more advanced level of partnership with managers and expand recreational capacity even greater in the long run.

1a.  The Recreation Strategy needs far more public engagement.

The Organizations are very concerned that the Recreation Strategy and Community Engagement Strategy was released after very little public engagement during development and very little public engagement after its release to the public.  We are not aware of any comment periods being provided for public input before the Recreation Strategy was released. As far as we can tell there were only three meetings occurred nationally around the Recreation Strategy. This is a VERY different course of development from the efforts that have driven the USFS 10 Year Trail Strategy development and implementation. The USFS efforts have been based on years of public engagement that has remained ongoing throughout the implementation of the USFS effort.   We would recommend that the BLM adopt the general direction of the USFS on this issue as BLM efforts to date are simply insufficient for the development of any national strategy.  Failing to engage with partners to understand barriers to engagement and specific details and desires of the public which results in a Recreation Strategy that is unrelated public needs and desires.  This failure to engage also sends a negative message to the public about the value placed on their desires for management and utilization of these resources.

The highly insufficient nature of the public engagement on the Recreation Strategy and Community Engagement Strategy is directly evidenced when any comparison to other planning efforts is made. Often the development of an Environmental Assessment for a highly localized effort will have significantly larger number of public meetings to engage the public through.  This is an indication that engagement is insufficient.

1b.  Public meetings have been confusing and slightly misdirected and VERY limited in nature.

Several of our members attended the Foundation for Public Lands meetings in Washington DC and  Las Vegas, Nevada that coincided with the role out of the Recreation Strategy. We were also able to attend the virtual meeting held on October 5, 2023.  These meetings suffered from a weak foundation for engagement as most partners at the meetings were not notified that the Recreation Strategy was released prior to the meeting.  This was compounded by the fact that meeting facilitators seemed to lack an understanding of efforts already in place with land managers and many of those attending lacked an understanding of existing efforts and resources that were already in place with partner efforts.

Our members generally found these meetings to be confusing when trying to identify the goals and objectives of this meeting as often attendees did not know if they were commenting on the Foundation development or the BLM strategy. Even after the meeting it was unclear if comments that were addressing the Recreation Strategy would be compiled and submitted to the BLM or if they would be used to guide future public engagement for the Recreation Strategy or were going to be used entirely internally with the Foundation.  These are problematic challenges and questions for a document and effort that seeks to guide recreational usage of BLM lands for the foreseeable future. These problems only compound the need for an effective engagement process with the public for the BLM as exemplified by the lack of a clear next steps to be developed after the meetings.

The Organizations are unsure if partnering with fledging organization, such as the Foundation for Public Lands, that is ramping up its own development and organizational mission is advisable as exclusive means of outreach for a national strategy. We are concerned that the two efforts occurring together will confuse the public on larger engagement efforts and result in less public engagement rather than better public engagement.

The confusion of the entities and intent of the meeting creates significant immediate concerns as the message of the meeting was somewhat contradictory in nature.  Would it be proper for the BLM to be asking what can partners bring to BLM management?  This type of question is a frequent topic of discussion as alignment of resources can be a major challenge between managers and partners.   Existing partners should be leveraging and expanding efforts on BLM lands not engaging with new partners that could only serve as an additional administrative layer in projects.  This type of a question becomes problematic, with the introduction of an entirely new partner that lacks a clear mission and defined goal and objective for participation.

The confusion involved in these meetings was compounded by the fact the relationship of partners was backwards.  In our experiences new partners should be targeting input on what can the Foundation bring to the partners to facilitate and expand impacts on public lands.  Rather than leveraging resources the tone of discussions often seemed to be what can partners bring to the Foundation rather than what can the Foundation bring to assist existing partners. Foundationally these are two different questions and while each are equally important, they are very different. While BLM staff participating in these meetings were well versed in recreational usage and existing partnerships, meeting facilitators seemed to lack this type of understanding despite their history of holding highly visible positions. Often panelists provided by the meeting facilitators seemed to lack engagement with the BLM and represented very small groups or interests.  Rather than being national leaders, panelists were more aligned with a local club type level of engagement or were trying to address issues they had little background with.  While these efforts were well intentioned this created immense confusion of basic issues and frustration for those attending.  These issues only compounded other challenges such as who specifically is the group the public is engaging with. The conflicting nature of each of these questions will dilute the limited input that is provided and will also serve as a barrier to obtaining information from a targeted effort to develop input on efforts or challenges that partners may have overlooked in isolation.  We also believe that many partners simply will not engage further in these discussions.

Another frustrating factor that should be addressed in any future efforts of this nature is the fact that the BLM has access to a wide range of existing tools that could be used for public engagement of strategies such as the 21st Century Blueprint and Community Engagement Strategy.  BLM has many Recreation Advisory Councils (“RAC”) across the Country and it is our understanding that several are fully staffed and functioning.  The RAC clearly have authority to provide informal guidance to the BLM on issues such as this.  There are other partner groups, such as the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable that could have assisted as well.  The members of the ORR are reasonably versed in BLM challenges, strengths and weaknesses and clearly would have taken the opportunity to provide input on issues such as what we raise in these comments if they had the opportunity.

BLM also has a wide range of highly effective partners that have developed a wide range of tools for the BLM in the past.  An example of this would have been the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) that partnered with the BLM in development of the State motorized action plans for more than 30 years. This very concerning as most partners are immensely busy and are constantly forced to prioritize efforts and resources. Again, we must question the limited outreach and choice of a new group to undertake the public engagement. This simply must be improved.

2. Relationship of the Recreation Strategy to other planning documents must be addressed.

The Organizations are concerned that the BLM recently has undertaken a lot of various national efforts and initiatives, such as:

  • the 21st Century Blueprint for Recreation,
  • the Community outreach effort; and
  • the recent Landscape Conservation and Sustainability Proposal.

While we welcome these discussions, we are also very concerned that these are efforts that appear to be developing in a silo isolated from each other rather than a coordinated strategy for the agency to move forward with.  This is very concerning as there are large amounts of ambiguity in the relationship between these various efforts and resolving this ambiguity is often critical for the success of efforts such as these.  The Organizations are also concerned that this siloed management approach quickly leads to all efforts being prioritized as the number one priority for the agency.  This situation will cause conflict and confusion of efforts rather than leveraging each effort to achieve goals.

We are also concerned that this siloed approach creates immediate conflict between the efforts.  As we have noted in other portions of these comments, we are very concerned that the Recreation Strategy is seen VERY limited public engagement.  We have similar concerns around the very limited public engagement that occurred with the development landscape sustainability proposal as well, as often massive concepts and initiatives were buried in a single sentence in the middle of the sustainability Rule.  This situation is in direct conflict with the Community engagement initiative goals of engaging communities at all levels all the time, which is outlined as follows:

“Strategic Focus: Externally, the BLM will capitalize on its recreation brand of America’s “Backyard to Backcountry” treasure, consistently coordinating with community and regional landscape-level representatives when planning and managing recreation settings, services, and facilities; prioritize recreation areas that provide the most significant public benefits; and leverage financial resources through community partner organizations to ensure that top-priority sites and services are maintained.”[1]

The failure of the Recreation Strategy to achieve this goal is problematic, leading us to questions about why these goals would not be aligned better, as the efforts were being developed at the same time.   These are questions that are uncomfortable for us as partners to have to be asking after documents have been released and undermine our confidence in any of the efforts.  As these efforts move forward, we are concerned that many other groups will ask many of these same questions and this will erode public confidence and support for these efforts even further.  This is disappointing at best.

We are also concerned that throughout the engagement efforts strategy there is no recognition of the highly effective partner efforts that are currently in place and how those efforts will be addressed moving forward.  This is very concerning again as many of the efforts and partners with BLM have already addressed goals such as updating planning documents in relevant areas.  We are aware that there are large areas of BLM managed lands that have management plans that are horribly out of date, but there are also large areas of BLM lands that have newer plans in place.   How does the community engagement effort relate to those areas? Again, this is another example of why these various efforts must be aligned with each other.

While partners are generally addressed in the Community Engagement strategy, these are often very generalized and abstract references.  While these references are passing and generalized, this distinction is critical as many NGO partners can effectively address issues in manners that BLM or local government simply cannot.  Often BLM is the direct recipient of these benefits, making these indirect relationships highly valuable to the BLM.  A recent example type of interaction would be the recent successful requests from our Organizations, and a limited number of State partners, to the Federal Highways Administration for the issuance of waivers of Buy American/ Build American provisions in the Infrastructure Bill for the Recreational Trails Program.  The RTP program provides $84 million in funding to support all forms of recreation and in states with BLM lands, a large amount of this funding flows to the BLM for a wide range of programs. With the new BABA requirements, these funds would have become largely unusable but with the waiver program now in place these funds will continue to flow to BLM managed lands.  These are minor distinctions that can have major implications to land managers.

3. Existing staffing challenges for BLM must be recognized in one of the strategic efforts.

The Organizations are very concerned that the relationship of these various plans to each other is never discussed and without basic alignment of the efforts, multiple plans may repeatedly address a single issue while other critically important issues may be overlooked. The Organizations are concerned that one of the foundational challenges we are seeing at all levels of BLM efforts is a horrible shortage of employees.  This problem has only compounded and expanded since the events and challenges experienced since 2020 as most offices are only at 50% staff levels and many of staff that is in these offices is either acting or filing multiple roles. Too often our members are the constant in office or issue and the ever-changing agency staff is the variable. The reversal of relationship presents major challenges to any management effort as partnerships and collaboration require high levels of trust and carry through on planning.  Without addressing these basic issues, success will be very difficult for any planning effort no matter how well intentioned.

Our concerns around the failure to address staffing shortages is compounded as the community engagement strategy fails to mention staffing challenges as a concern.  Even more concerning is the fact the community engagement plan appears to be taking the position that staffing is not an issue as there are broad goals for community engagement outlined and appear to assume sufficient staff is in place to achieve these goals.  We would vigorously disagree with that assumption.  The Organizations believe it is important to recognize that we are referring to currently open positions within the agency and not positions that are aspirational in the future.

Is this staffing shortage an issue that another strategy is addressing?  Based on our years of partnerships with land managers, we can state that staffing challenges are the single largest barrier we have to working with all land managers. Prior to 2020 staffing levels had eroded and since 2020 staffing levels have simply collapsed.  Too often our local members are trying to engage with offices that may have a position to engage with our members but that position has not been filled for years.  Even if the position is filled, the person filling the position is in an “acting” role, and as a result has limited authority and is often trying to cover multiple positions. We are aware that acting staff is successful if they achieve some headway on one project.  It is becoming FAR too common for our local members to adopt a position of waiting until the position is permanently filled before trying to engage on issues, as it is simply less stress that trying to educate an acting person on the effort.  Engagement of managers over the long term is the single largest intangible resource needed to achieve success on projects or initiatives and this requires each partner trust each other.

The Organizations believe the recognition of staffing challenges in the Recreation Strategy or in a consolidate manner across all planning efforts will also allow systemic barriers to be more effectively addressed.  One such barrier would be the USAJOBS website and unified hiring processes.  Generally, USAJOBS is difficult to work with and requires immense amounts of information that is unrelated to the position being sought. It has been the Organizations experience that often lower GS level positions are filled through local efforts and engagement of land managers in the local community and centralizing hiring processes are a major barrier to this type of engagement.  Too often hiring windows on centralized platforms are open for short periods of time and during times of the year that are unrelated to the position being hired.  Too often positions are offered months before the position can be filled and potential employees have taken other positions available sooner by the time the position can actually be started. These are barriers that could easily be resolved, but if these challenges are not recognized they will never be fixed.

Also, the failure to recognize staffing challenges in the Strategy sends a message to partners that are working hard to address this issue already.  We are aware of numerous partners working with local or state BLM offices to address staffing challenges by adapting their partnership to leverage the comparative value of moving from a GS type position to a wage/hr. type of position and moving from a pure seasonal employee to a permanent seasonal type employee. Many partners are working to understand basic questions on federal hiring issues such as: Is the private sector more effectively addressing staffing challenges than the public sector?; what effect does salary have hiring? Are land managers seeing more of a challenge than other government branches, such as Internal Revenue Service?; are state or local agencies having more success in hiring than federal partners? Addressing questions and challenges such as this will not be successful if BLM does not want to address the lack of staffing.  That is a concern.  We are also concerned that failing to recognize staffing as an issue at all, sends a message to partners, and that message is not positive about their efforts.  Again, this is a concern.

Conclusion.

The Organizations would vigorously request that far more public engagement be developed for each of these Proposals as high quality engagement with the public will develop better goals and objectives for moving forward.  The Organizations also urge the BLM to use existing resources to achieve this public engagement rather than developing entirely new resources for this effort.   High quality engagement can be achieved with current resources.  The Organizations also believe that integration of each of these multiple planning efforts with each other must be achieved to ensure that critical shortfalls in achieving these efforts, such as the critical lack of staffing currently being experienced, do not delay successful implementation of the integrated planning efforts. The Organizations and our partners remain committed to providing high quality recreational resources on federal public lands while protecting resources and would welcome discussions on how to further these goals and objectives with new tools and resources If you have questions, please feel free to contact Scott Jones, Esq. (518-281-5810 / scott.jones46@yahoo.com) or Fred Wiley (661-805-1393/ fwiley@orba.biz).

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
United Snowmobile Alliance (USA) Vice Chairman, CSA Executive Director, COHVCO Authorized Representative

Fred Wiley
ORBA President and CEO

Elexis Nelson
One Voice, Chairwoman

Steve Egbert
United 4 Wheel Drive, Chairman

Chad Hixon
Executive Director, Trails Preservation Alliance

Marcus Trusty
President, Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE)

Matthew Giltner
Executive Director, Nevada Offroad Association

Sandra Mitchell
Executive Director, Idaho Recreation Council (IRC)
Authorized Representative, Idaho State Snowmobile Association (ISSA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See, BLM Community Engagement Plan; Pg 2.

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2023 Colorado 600 Article in Upshift Magazine

Colorado 600 – Trails Awareness Symposium

Written and Photos by Chad de Alva
Republished with permission from Upshift Online: Issue 86 – October 2023

5 riders on motorcycles crossing a golden field in Colorado

The story of off-road motorcycle riding in the western United States is typically told using words like closed, managed, and re-designated. Veteran riders all have their stories about how we used to be able to ride here, or there used to be a trail that connected there, and trails that used to be for dirt bikes that are now closed to motorized use. These stories are usually followed by discussions of how motorcycle advocacy has almost always been a game of defense: we’re constantly on our back foot, holding up our figurative shield against the onslaught of those who close our trails. The game has been to minimize damage to our riding opportunities, but over the years we’ve lost quite a bit of ground. Yet a Colorado based non-profit organization called the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA), has been working to change our stance from defense to offense. The TPA has been supporting local clubs and advocating for off-road riding opportunities in Colorado and the surrounding states. The TPA hosts the Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium, a five-day riding and advocacy symposium that was held in South Fork, CO for 2023. At the 600, TPA shared their history, current state, and future plans for motorcycle advocacy – and it’s something you need to be a part of.

The Trails Preservation Alliance is unique in the world of off-road motorcycle advocacy. While local clubs are the boots on the ground, engaged with their local land managers and working on issues in their respective back yards, the TPA exists to support the efforts of local clubs and advocate for off-road riding on a state-wide level. Whether a new club needs support to get up and running, or an established club needs help with a fight to keep their backyard trails open, or additional support to make projects go, the TPA has the resources to help. This combination has proven to be quite effective, and off-road motorcycling would be in a better place if a TPA existed in every state. A recent example of the impact of the TPA’s efforts was just announced in south-western Colorado.

Colorado 600, image by Chad de Alva

The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest, which encompasses 3.2 million acres of land in western Colorado just released their draft Record of Decision (ROD) on the first forest plan that they’ve completed in 40 years. Forest plans are supposed to be completed every ten to fifteen years, so the impact of this decision is that much more significant. What’s exciting about this draft ROD, is that out of all the proposed alternatives that the forest could have chosen, they chose the one that creates a minimal amount of wilderness and could allow for more motorized recreation op- opportunities (read: new trails) when the forest starts their next round of travel management. The draft ROD specifically states that the forest planners received “a large number” of helpful comments that were advocating for motorized recreation on the proposed alternatives, and these comments were submitted by the TPA, local clubs, and many other motorized users.

In Upshift 62 the feature story on 2021 Colorado 600 specifically mentions the GMUG being in the planning process for this forest plan, and the importance of commenting on the process. Two years later, the results of those advocacy efforts have paid off. Instead of taking another hit to the number of motorized trails in the GMUG inventory, effective comment submittals by motorized users have contributed to a win: a forest plan that allows for more motorized recreation opportunities.

The TPA has also been working on what they call the Colorado Off-Road Motorcycle Strategic Plan. By working with GIS specialists, biologists and other subject matter experts, they’ve been able to capture a comprehensive picture of the current inventory of trails in Colorado, and what potential opportunities exist for improving motorized recreation. According to COTREX data, there are 2,273 miles of motorized single track currently in Colorado. Note that many of these trails have seasons and are only open for a few months out of the year in many cases. There are currently 23,661 miles of non-motorized trails in Colorado, but if a trail is designated as motorized, any other user group can use it. If you sum up the total mileage of motorized single track, 50-inch ATV trails, and non-motorized trails, you get 28,351 miles of trail for non-motorized recreation. Motorized single track is 8% of the total trail mileage in the state.

The Strategic Plan also identifies a number of opportunities for improving off-road motorcycle recreation in Colorado. Objectives such as more trails, youth and beginner trails, connecting existing systems, and creating loop routes were just a few of the concepts mentioned. Looking at the map of where all of these new opportunities could go is exciting – there is so much potential out there for new riding.

If we as off-road motorcyclists want to protect the trails that we have today, and to create new trails to ride in the future, WE ALL need to get involved today. Riders cannot just assume that trails will continue to exist for our enjoyment and that someone else is going to make this happen. Make no mistake about it, there are well organized, very well funded user groups out there that would love to get dirt bikes off our public lands. This fight is ongoing, and every rider needs to get in the game.

Here is what you need to do: join your local trails club. This should be standard practice for every off-road rider. Ideally that means going to some club meetings and participating in events like trail work days, but at the bare minimum, you need to pay to be a member. Clubs are not service providers, so become an active member, not just a subscriber.

Support the local clubs anywhere you travel to ride. Determine who cares for the trails where you’re going and find out what you can do to help. Become a member of that club and treat the trails you’re riding on like they are your local trails. If you come across a tree that’s down or some other thing that needs attention while you’re out riding, either fix it yourself or let the club know. Respect gets respect, and caring for the trails you’re using will get you respect from anyone else you run into while out riding. Working on a trail also wins you all the good will with other user groups, especially non-motorized users.

Get involved with land managers and their management processes. The fact of the matter is that land managers take time to make decisions, so we need to exert what the TPA calls hydraulic pressure by being vigilant, patient, and contributing constructively at every step of the process. The GMUG ROD is a great example of how fast (read: slow) this process goes, but it’s also a great example of how engaging in the process can result in favorable outcomes.

The 2023 Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium was empowering. Over the course of four days, we got to learn about exactly what the TPA has been doing, is currently doing, and is planning on doing in the future. Each day started with a presentation over breakfast, and then we spent the balance of the day riding everything from adventure bikes to dirt bikes on some of the best single track in the state. When you learn about something during a presentation, and then get to experience it firsthand by riding on it, the combination is quite moving and thought provoking.

What if there was a TPA in every western state? What if all of these states had a Strategic Plan that painted a data-driven picture of what our current and potential riding opportunities are? What if every local club had a TPA backing them up at the state level, and bringing additional resources to bear when needed? How many more riding opportunities could we create by doing these things?

The only way to find out is to get involved and put in the work. If you’re already part of a club and involved in making the world a better place to ride, then good on you. If you’re not, you know what you need to do. Call out your riding buddies that aren’t involved as well. Off-road motorcycle advocacy is building momentum toward a better riding future, and getting more riders involved will only help produce better results. Events like the TPA’s Colorado 600 are a great way to learn more about the world of off-road riding advocacy, and a great way to see firsthand the trails that are worth protecting, and the trails we can work to create in the future.

For more information on the Trails Preservation Alliance, visit coloradotpa.org
For more information on the Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium, visit colorado600.org

The Colorado 600 wouldn’t be possible without support from the following companies: Rocky Mountain ATV/ MC, Motion Pro, KLIM, MotoMinded, Texas Sidewinders MC, Billet Racing Products, Apex Motorsports, Centura / St. Anthony Pre-hospital Services, Doubletake Mirrors, AMA, KTM, Upshift Online, Dunlop, Stuck Nutz, Kate’s Real Food, Tomichi Creek Trading Post, Dave Mungenast Motorsports, Slavens Racing, TBK Bank, and Monarch Investment Group.

 


For more great articles like this, check out Upshift Online!

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2023 Colorado 600 was a Huge Success!

The 2023 Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium (our annual fundraising and educational event) was hugely successful! Despite the rainy and cool weather, we got some great rides in, and attendees said it was the best one ever!

If you’ve never been to a Colorado 600 check out the article (written and photos by Chad de Alva) about this year’s Colorado 600 in Upshift Magazine October, Issue 86 – see page 52! Also, have a look at this year’s photos! https://tpa.smugmug.com/2023-Colorado-600/

THANK YOU to everyone who attended, sponsored, and volunteered!

The TPA would like to extend a huge thank you to the participants, event coordinators, volunteers, medical staff, special guests, Chad de Alva (photos!), Sunflour Bakery, LOGE Wolf Creek, Town of South Fork, and all the 2023 Colorado 600 Sponsors for making the TPA’s largest fundraising event of the year a major success!

SAVE THE DATE!

2024 Colorado 600 – September 11th – 15th, South Fork, Colorado.

The Colorado 600 is an excellent opportunity to support the TPA and the mission and meet more like-minded individuals passionate about riding off-highway motorcycles. We are already in the beginning stages of planning for the 2024 event, so stay tuned for details!

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USFS Climate Sustainability Proposal Comments

US Forest Service
Att: Director-Policy Office
201 14th St SW
Mailstop 1108
Washington DC 20250-1124

RE: Climate Sustainability Proposal – RIN 0596-AD59

Dear Sirs:

Please accept these comments as the support of the above Organizations with regard to the Climate Sustainability Proposal RIN 0596-AD59 (“The Proposal”). The Proposal seeks to expand sustainability on USFS lands through the larger scale management of timber harvesting to address poor forest health and mitigate risks of wildfire to the ecosystem, which the Organizations recognize as a major threat to sustainability of USFS lands generally. The Organizations support the balanced direction of the Proposal, as it seeks to address and protect existing multiple uses while expanding management efforts to improve the sustainability of public lands. We would also ask the USFS to continue on the current direction of management that applies smaller changes over time rather than seeking to make large leaps forward to meet artificially inflated goals or concerns.

It has been our experience that timber and fuels management can occur in the same areas at the same time with other multiple uses with minimal planning and coordination. The Organizations would ask that USFS continues planning and coordination efforts with Partners to ensure that: 1. Recreational opportunities are as fully maintained as possible during timber management; and 2.  Local infrastructure that might be created in the ramping up of timber management activities be completely reviewed for recreational value in the area prior to removal of these resources. The motorized community is often uniquely situated to make improvements to infrastructure such as this by adding  toilets, signage and hardening of trails or parking lots.  Unlike almost every other user group we have the resources to partner on these efforts after timber efforts are completed. While the motorized community has these resources, leveraging or consolidating NEPA efforts significantly reduces the costs of these efforts and lets them be developed far faster in the long run.

1. Who we are.

Prior to addressing the specific input of the Organizations on the Proposal, we believe a brief summary of each Organization is needed.  The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”) is a grassroots advocacy organization representing the OHV community seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado. COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations. The TPA is an advocacy organization created to be a viable partner to public lands managers, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of motorized trail riding and multiple-use recreation. The TPA acts as an advocate for the sport and takes the necessary action to ensure that the USFS and BLM allocate a fair and equitable percentage of public lands access to diverse multiple-use trail recreational opportunities. Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) was founded in 1970 to unite winter motorized recreationists across the state to enjoy their passion. CSA has also become the voice of organized snowmobiling seeking to advance, promote and preserve the sport of snowmobiling through work with Federal and state land management agencies and local, state and federal legislators telling the truth about our sport. CORE is a motorized action group dedicated to keeping motorized trails open in Central Colorado and the region. Idaho Recreation Council (“IRC”) is comprised of Idahoans from all parts of the state with a wide spectrum of recreational interests and a love for the future of Idaho and a desire to preserve recreation for future generations. The Idaho State Snowmobile Association (“ISSA”)is an organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting snowmobiling in the great state of Idaho. Our members may come from every corner of the state, but they all share one thing in common: their love for snowmobiling. Ride with Respect (“RwR”) was founded in 2002 to conserve shared-use trails and their surroundings. RwR has educated visitors and performed over twenty-thousand hours of high-quality trail work on public lands most of which has occurred on BLM lands. Over 750 individuals have contributed money or volunteered time to the organization. The Alaska Snowmachine Alliance(“ASA”) supports snowmachining throughout the State of Alaska and all snowmachine activities including racing and vintage, snowmachine trails, the SnowTRAC program and it’s funding, snowmachine Search and Rescue and the betterment of snowmachining throughout the State of Alaska.  Nevada Off Road Association (NVORA) is a non-profit Corporation created for and by offroad riders. NVORA was formed to specifically fill the void between the government managers and the rest of us who actively recreate in the Silver State. NVORA does this by maintaining a consistent, durable, and respected relationship with all stakeholders while facilitating a cooperative environment amongst our community. Collectively, TPA, NORA, CSA, CORE, IRC, RwR, ISSA, ASA and COHVCO will be referred to as “The Organizations” for purposes of these comments.

The motorized community has provided between $200-300 million a year for the management of recreational opportunities and resource protection across the country for decades as a result of their voluntarily created OHV/OSV registration programs. OHV/OSV manufacturers provide hundreds of millions of dollars in additional project specific funding for efforts on public lands.[1]  As an example, the California OHV grant program provided $85 million in grants last year, and over the life of the program has funded more than $750 million in direct funding to public land managers.[2] The benefits of the California OHV program are outlined as follows:

  • Through our USFS partners, over 18,000 miles and 269,000 acres are available for OHV Recreation.
  • Through our BLM partners, over 18,000 miles and 478,000 of acres are made available for OHV Recreation.

As another example, Colorado’s voluntary registration programs put almost $9m annually in grants back on public lands, and over the life of this program this has now provided more than $100m in funding for public lands to maintain sustainable high quality recreational  opportunities.[3]  This Program funds more than 60 maintenance crews throughout the state of Colorado in addition to equipping and often training them to.  Most states that USFS owns lands in have similar programs that provide similarly high levels of funding but these programs extend well beyond just federal public lands and many states have OHV/OSV programs but have little to no federal public lands.

These programs are often used in partnership with the USFS in manners that are nontraditional and are directly occurring on the ground. As an example, the Colorado OHV program has contributed more than $1m over the last several years to repair the impacts of the East Troublesome fire which impacted more than 190k acres largely on BLM’s Kremmling FO and Arapahoe/Roosevelt NF.  Initial efforts targeted restoring basic access to the area to allow restoration efforts to even start and we anticipate planting a large number of seedlings and monitoring the area to conclude these efforts.[4]  This is a type of project that commonly occurs within our OHV/OSV programs  and are the type of projects like to see more of in the future as in many locations motorized access to public lands is limited in nature and often times is simply overwhelmed with visitors. These are the type of projects where possible planning for sustainability and recreation may overlap.

The efforts of the motorized community extend well beyond landscape level efforts and often are targeting much smaller scale areas on an on-going basis. Many of our local volunteer clubs work with land managers have executed “adopt a trail” or “adopt a road” type agreement for large portions of routes in some areas.  These clubs often partner with managers on very small acre projects and efforts to address impacts of illegal shooting or dumping in areas with clean up days.  These efforts have been highly effective in mitigating impacts of illegal activities while increasing the sustainability of these areas. The end result of all the various types of collaboratives is that our efforts are largely sustainable. This is important as no matter how perfect a trail or trailhead design and construction may be it will need maintenance and oversight and these are efforts we are uniquely situated to partner on.

2. The economic contribution of motorized recreation is overwhelming for communities.

The motorized recreational community is already an important partner with land managers in providing sustainable opportunities under multiple use mandate requirements  These efforts drive the significant economic contributions to local communities that are currently provided from these motorized uses.  NEPA analysis has been in place on most multiple uses of federal public lands and these economic engines  have been balanced through the development of resource management plans for these lands. Again, the advanced level of analysis in place for motorized usages means that our interests are somewhat uniquely situated to leverage resources from other efforts. We have 50 years of history in balancing resources and recreation that no other user group can claim.

The Organizations are aware that the economic benefits from recreation are often not fully understood or balanced in partner efforts. The Department of Commerce through their Bureau of Economic Analysis (“BEA”) research continues to identify the significant contribution of outdoor recreation to the US economy and the overwhelming portion of outdoor recreation that would be classified as motorized in nature for USFS management purposes.  The research identified that outdoor recreation accounted for 2% of the GDP or more than $454 Billion in spending annually and that this value was steadily increasing since research started.  This research further concluded that motorized spending was the dominant portion of spending for recreational activity, and almost exceeded all other spending sources combined. The BEA research provides the following breakdown of the total recreational spending:

[5]

The Organizations submit that a full understanding of this economic contribution and its components is critical to satisfying the full mandates of various Executive Orders driving the planning effort and existing multiple use mandates.   Not only is this information critical to these obligations, this balance is critical to the survival of the smaller communities that are commonly found in and around USFS planning areas that no longer have other revenue streams available to them.  While the Proposal seeks to expand the economic contributions and activities from the timber industry, the expansion of the timber activities should not come at the expense of recreational opportunities.  Rather we hope that these efforts can be leveraged to expand the benefits to communities from each effort and expand sustainability at the same time.

3(a). Alignment with the current BLM sustainability proposal must be avoided.

The Organizations cannot overlook the proximity of time between this Proposal and  the BLM Sustainability Proposal. After reviewing each Proposal, the Organizations must express some level of surprise at the strikingly different paths forward that each Proposal is taking. As a result of this proximity in time and widely different visions of sustainability from each agency, we have to believe there will be significant pressure to align the two efforts especially during public comment process.  Several of the questions the USFS Proposal seeks input on would open the door to discussions such as this.  We would ask that if this type of discussion does occur, the USFS Proposal is seen as the model to conform to and not the other way around.  The BLM Proposal is fraught with foundational problems and failures and we doubt lacks basic legal authority to even move into implementation. While many interests are asserting that the BLM Proposal is highly visionary in nature, we would assert it is delusional rather than visionary and is generally insulting to partners. The BLM proposal  will create huge amounts of conflict before any work could ever be done on the ground and as a result, we have vigorously opposed the BLM effort.

The Organizations must address a foundational flaw in the BLM effort, which is it failed to engage with existing partners before determining the path forward to achieve goals. Some of these failures are absolutely foundational in nature and might have been resolved if BLM had desired to engage with existing partners.  The BLM failure to engage resulted in a Proposal that was highly abstract in how it would be implemented and failed to develop a process that avoided unintended impacts and minimized administrative burdens to partners already working in the area. The failures of the BLM to engage with Partners resulted in huge foundational failures in the BLM Proposal, and these warrant a brief discussion in these comments.   While our Organizations and users have partnered with BLM managers for decades on projects that could easily generate both conservation and carbon credits, the BLM Proposal seeks to allocate credits based on the concept of a lease. This basic decision simply does not work in the scope of our partnership at all.  This basic decision has resulted in numerous conflicts with our partnerships as the concept of a lease does not align well with the multiple use mandate as a lease is generally providing exclusive use of an area.  The application of a lease also results in a large amount of redundant paperwork and administrative burden that will underline any benefit from the action to our interests.

The Organizations are raising this concern, as the large-scale leasing of public lands concept appear to be occurring outside the alignment in time of the two Proposals.  Specifically, the concept of a conservation lease appears to be entering the planning discussion with the USFS, as well as the BLM,  as we are aware the 2023 version of Americas Outdoor Recreation Act has provisions to provide the statutory authority to create Pay for Performance leases.[6] The possible overlap of the concepts in the legislation and the BLM Proposal cannot be overlooked and we are raising this concern in these comments out of an abundance of caution.  Our Organizations and members have a desire to engage with managers to develop and expand resources in a manner that works for all partners and actually creates benefits on public lands. While a lease may appear to be an easy method of development and implementation of this concept, the concept of a lease really fails to align with the multiple use mandate on public lands, existing management applied to partner efforts and would result in large amounts of administrative barriers for current efforts with little additional benefit on the ground.

3b. USFS compliance with 30×30 has already been achieved.

The Organizations and our members are also aware that the 30×30 concept appears to be an issue driving a significant portion of analysis and public comment. The Organizations must express concern over any asserted need of the USFS to comply with the requirements of the 30×30 initiative as part of this planning effort.  Based on a cursory review of the current levels of protections and Congressional designations, such as Congressionally designated Wilderness that covers 36 million of 192 million acres of USFS managed lands[7] and Roadless Areas 60 million acres of 192 million acres under USFS management,[8] which results in USFS lands already being approximately 50% protected.  Given this situation, any assertions that additional acreage being needed for compliance with 30×30 initiative is misplaced factually. We would be concerned about possible restrictions being put in place under the Proposal in an effort to achieve compliance with a goal that has already been complied with.

4(a) The Organizations request USFS to continue to meaningfully work with partners and fully utilize existing resources.

Our first substantive comment on issues that the USFS Proposal has specifically asked for input regarding is that the USFS effort MUST engage partners and avoid unintended impacts to ongoing activities with partners already working  on the forests. Our Organizations and user interests are passionate about trails and trail maintenance largely for the recreational benefits that result.  We are aware that recreational access is critical to other operations such as search and rescue efforts,  and wildlands firefighting.  It has been our experience that these indirect benefits of recreational access are often overlooked if public engagement is not undertaken. We are aware of recent firefighting efforts that have flown in hotspot crews from all over the country to then use those crews to clear trails on districts, simply to provide access for safe firefighting.  This type of limited access impacting emergency response is an issue our efforts and programs have been able to assist with.  The Ranger Districts in question now have maintenance crews funding through OHV grants to help ensure that basic access such as this is provided by the OHV maintenance crews and Hotshot crews are used to engage fire rather than clear trails.  Relationships such as this may not grab headlines but they are effective and have many benefits to all interests, but these benefits are only understood with good engagement. Recreational partners should be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem and our interests have worked hard to foster these partnerships throughout the country.

We are also urging the USFS to continue to view recreation as a partner in this sustainability effort, which is a significant difference from the direction that BLM has taken.  We were disappointed when the BLM proposal identified that recreation was a landscape level threat to public lands.  While we are not going to contest there are areas where recreational management is a challenge and may be impacting resources in the short term, but these areas are isolated and completely insufficient to raise to the level of a landscape or national level threat. The Organizations vigorously support the current USFS 10 Year Sustainable Trails Strategy development, as we believe this is a major step towards the integration of recreation with other management efforts. No single management effort occurs in isolation from other uses on public lands.

The Organizations would request that the implementation of any changes under this Proposal be undertaken  on a limited scale before a full rollout of any efforts on a national level.  This could be achieved through a Pilot program to ensure that impacts and engagement is accurate and effective.  Many USFS offices are horribly short staffed or staffed with USFS employees that may be new to their position, which we are sure will create unique and new problems.  Understanding these problems and how to effectively mitigate possible challenges from the staffing challenges must be resolved prior to rollout of any large-scale efforts. While we are aware of several forest and regional level efforts that would appear to be working towards the sustainability the Proposal seeks to achieve, and have done so with minimal impacts to recreational access we cannot confirm this relationship and as a result we are being somewhat cautious in our position.  As a result we would like to explore a pilot program or developing greater understanding of efforts that may be in place already.

4(b) Federal Highways recognition of trails as emergency response and a benefit towards sustainability efforts at the landscape level aligns with the direction of the USFS Proposal.

The Organizations would also like to draw USFS planners awareness to the recently released publication from Federal Highways Administration outlining the roles that all forms of trails have in the climate situation, emergency response and the often critical role that trails play in addressing sustainability. [9] The alignment of the FHWA report and the direction of the USFS Proposal cannot be overlooked and the FHWA report identifies many of the indirect benefits of recreational access and effective partnerships that we have discussed in these comments. The Organizations believe documents such as this, coming from agencies and efforts that are unrelated to the Proposal can be highly effective in mitigating  public pressure to use the USFS in other directions or to align the USFS manners to the direction of the BLM Sustainability Proposal.

5(a).  Executive Orders requiring an expansion of recreational opportunities issued by President Biden should continue to be accurately addressed in the Proposal.

Numerous actions over the last decade by Congress and the Executive Branch have been directly targeting landscape level planning requirements and improving multiple use benefits from public lands.  The Organizations are pleased to see that these efforts are reasonably reflected in the Proposal. This is will allow the Proposal  to foster the trust with local communities and acknowledge the history of success that the agency has had with existing management tools. While the Proposal does balance and reflect these efforts accurately, we would ask that these reasonably clear goals and objectives be addressed in any analysis for the Proposal to ensure that resources are leveraged fully now and into the future.

The recent issuance of Executive Order # 14008 by President Biden on January 27, 2021 would be an example of a decision that is accurately summarized and applied in the Proposal.  EO 14008 specifically requires the following:

“Executive Order 14008: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad calls for quick action to build resilience against the impacts of climate change, bolster adaptation, and increase resilience across all operations, programs, assets, and mission responsibilities with a focus on the most pressing climate vulnerabilities. Section 211 of Executive Order 14008, calls on Federal agencies to develop a Climate Action Plan.”[10]

EO 14008 specifically addresses the requirement of expanding recreational access and economic benefits five different times, giving this requirement a prominent position in the EO. §214 of EO 14008 clearly mandates improved recreational access to public lands through management as follows:

“It is the policy of my Administration to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters. The Federal Government must protect America’s natural treasures, increase reforestation, improve access to recreation, and increase resilience to wildfires and storms, while creating well-paying union jobs for more Americans, including more opportunities for women and people of color in occupations where they are underrepresented.”

The clear and concise mandate of the EO to improve recreational access to public lands is again repeated in §215 of the EO as follows:

“The initiative shall aim to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

§217 of EO 14008 also clearly requires improvement of economic contributions from recreation on public lands as follows:

“Plugging leaks in oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned mine land can create well-paying union jobs in coal, oil, and gas communities while restoring natural assets, revitalizing recreation economies, and curbing methane emissions.”

The Organizations are aware significant concern raised around the 30 by 30 concept and climate plans that are memorialized in EO 14008. While the EO does not define what “protected” means, the EO also provided clear and extensive guidance on other values to be balanced with.  The fact that large tracts of USFS land are Congressionally designated or managed pursuant to Executive Order or managed under various USFS Roadless Area designations far exceeds any goals for EO 14008. Any attempt to expand protections to address public concerns on the 30X30 concept would erode the balancing of multiple uses that is required by EO 14008.

Approximately one year after EO 14008 was issued, President Biden issued a second EO again reflecting the need to address climate change and recreation with the issuance of EO14072 on April 22, 2022.  EO 14072 is also referenced numerous times in the Proposal and again this EO specifically recognizes and protects recreational usages as part of the effort to develop sustainability and climate resilience.  This balance is specifically identified in EO 14072 as follows:

“Section 1. Policy. Strengthening America’s forests, which are home to cherished expanses of mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands, is critical to the health, prosperity, and resilience of our communities….We go to these special places to hike, camp, hunt, fish, and engage in recreation that revitalizes our souls and connects us to history and nature. Many local economies thrive because of these outdoor and forest management activities, including in the sustainable forest product sector.”[11]

EO 14072 specifically addresses recreational issues and opportunities as a factor to be addressed in the planning process as follows:

“Sec. 2. Restoring and Conserving the Nation’s Forests, Including Mature and Old-Growth Forests. My Administration will manage forests on Federal lands, which include many mature and old-growth forests, to promote their continued health and resilience; retain and enhance carbon storage; conserve biodiversity; mitigate the risk of wildfires; enhance climate resilience; enable subsistence and cultural uses; provide outdoor recreational opportunities; and promote sustainable local economic development….”[12]

EO 14072 continues to recognize the need to protect recreational access and related economic benefits as follows:

“(d) The Secretaries, in coordination with the heads of other agencies as appropriate, shall within 1 year of the date of this order: (iii) develop, in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce, with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, and with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and the scientific community, recommendations for community-led local and regional economic development opportunities to create and sustain jobs in the sustainable forest product sector, including innovative materials, and in outdoor recreation, while supporting healthy, sustainably managed forests in timber communities.”[13]

The Organizations are supportive of the balanced nature of these EO and the importance of protecting and expanding recreational access that is required in these Executive Orders. The Organizations would be concerned that any major change in direction for the Proposal would disrupt the balance that is provided currently. Effective engagement with partners will continue to carry the balance of these EO and the Proposal more generally into on the ground implementation, and this goal must be a priority moving into implementation.

5(b) Secretarial Order 1077-044 also reflects a balance of climate concerns and recreational access and economic benefits from recreation to communities.

The Organizations would also identify that the balancing of multiple uses, more particularly the value of recreational access and its economic benefits, are also recognized in the Secretarial Order 1077-044 issued by Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack on June 23, 2022. This Secretarial Order recognizes the need to balance and improve recreational access as follows:

“(6) Outdoor Access and Recreation.
Develop recommendations for supporting climate-resilient community well-being, jobs and economic opportunity through equitable access to the outdoors and the outdoor recreation economy. Recommendations should reflect wildfire and climate-related risks to recreation infrastructure and assets and opportunities for integrating recreation outcomes into wildfire risk-reduction and restoration projects, where appropriate.”[14]

The Organizations are supportive of the balanced nature of this Secretarial Order and the importance of protecting and expanding recreational access that is required in this Secretarial Order. The Organizations would be concerned that any major change in direction for the Proposal would disrupt the balance that is provided currently. Effective engagement with partners will continue to carry the balance of this Secretarial Order and the Proposal more generally into on the ground implementation, and this goal must be a priority moving into implementation.

6. Our input on the Climate Risk Viewer.

The Proposal seeks input regarding a new planning tool called the climate risk viewer, which is outlined as follows:

“c. Specifically for the Forest Service Climate Risk Viewer (described above),what other data layers might be useful, and how should the Forest Service use this tool to inform policy?[15]

Despite our best efforts, we could not get this tool to display any of the various layers that appear to be present.  As a result, our input and review of this planning tool has been limited.

7. Our request.

The Organizations support the direction of the Proposal as we are aware  that improving forest health on public lands will be a significant step towards achieving the sustainability goals and that this goal can be achieved while improving recreational access.  Large scale timber efforts have historically provided basic infrastructure for recreational access after the timber project is completed.  The Organizations are also seeking recreational access of any infrastructure that might be developed for the expansion of timber cutting as many times this type of infrastructure can be easily improved for use as a long-term recreational resource. Logging headers are easily transformed into parking areas, roads hardened for log trucks can provide safe sustainable access for decades for recreation and our voluntary registration programs are uniquely situated in the recreational community to partner with managers on these types of projects.   These types of projects are also goals that have been identified in numerous Executive Orders and Secretarial orders as goals to be advanced in partnership with expanded sustainability of USFS lands.

The Organizations are expecting significant public input seeking to strengthen the USFS protections for other concerns on public lands, such as preservation of resources. We would be opposed to any change in that type of a direction, as we believe the Proposal strikes a good balance of factors to be addressed.  The Organizations are also opposed to any effort to bring the current USFS Proposal into alignment with the direction of the BLM sustainability Proposal, which is currently under development.  The Organizations are very concerned that any attempt to align USFS efforts with BLM efforts would magnify the immense failures of the BLM efforts.  This must be avoided.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact Scott Jones, Esq. (518-281-5810 / scott.jones46@yahoo.com), Chad Hixon (719-221-8329 / chad@coloradotpa.org), or Clif Koontz (435-259-8334 / clif@ridewithrespect.org).

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
CSA Executive Director, COHVCO Authorized Representative

Chad Hixon
Executive Director, Trails Preservation Alliance

Marcus Trusty
President, Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE)

Clif Koontz
Executive Director, Ride With Respect (RwR)

Michele Stevens
Alaska Snowmachine Alliance

Sandra Mitchell
Executive Director, Idaho Recreation Council (IRC)
Authorized Representative, Idaho State Snowmobile Association (ISSA)

Matthew Giltner
Executive Director, Nevada Offroad Association

 

 

[1] As an example of these programs: Polaris Trails grants are outlined here: T.R.A.I.L.S. Grant Program Application | Polaris;  Yamaha Access Initiative Grants are outlined here, Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative (yamaha-motor.com); and Ford’s Bronco wild grant program is outlined here Ford Bronco™ Wild Fund

[2] Welcome to the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division’s Grant Programs (ca.gov)

[3] Colorado summer program is outlined here https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Trails/OHVGrantProgramAwards.pdf Colorado winter program is outlined here.

[4] A summary of video of these efforts to date is provided here: OHV Final on Vimeo

[5] See, Department of Commerce; Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, U.S. and States, 2021 New statistics for 2021; 2017–2020 updated; Full release and tables  pg. 5. A full copy of this report is available here:  orsa1122.pdf (bea.gov)

[6] §137 of S873

[7] By the Numbers | US Forest Service (usda.gov)

[8] 2001 Roadless Rule

[9] See, FHWA; Trails and Resilience; Review of the Role of Trails in Climate Resilience and Emergency Response; March 2023.

[10] See, Proposal at pg.  19587

[11] See, EO 14072 at §1

[12] See, EO 14072 at §2.

[13] See, EO 14072 at §2(b)(1).

[14] See, USDA Secretarial Order pg. 6.

[15] See, Proposal at pg. 24502.

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Penrose Commons RAMP Comments

United States Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
Royal Gorge Field Office
3028 E. Main Street
Cañon City, CO 81212

SUBJECT: Public Comments, Penrose Commons Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) and Environmental Assessment (EA), DOI-BLM-CO-F020-2023-0001-EA

Please accept these comments from the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA), our partner motorcycle clubs, the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO), and Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE) jeep club per the BLM’s request for comments concerning the Penrose Commons Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) and Environmental Assessment (EA), DOI-BLM-CO-F020-2023-0001-EA.

The TPA is a Colorado based 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy organization whose primary mission is to preserve the opportunities for motorized single-track riding on public land.  We routinely partner with land management agencies to ensure that a fair and equitable amount of public land is available for motorized recreation.  For this specific action at Penrose Commons and in preparing the enclosed comments, the TPA has partnered with the Chaffee County based motorcycle club, Central Colorado Mountain Riders (CCMR), the El Paso County based motorcycle club, Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association (CMTRA) and the Douglas County based motorcycle club, Rampart Range Motorized Management Committee (RRMMC), and the state of Colorado organizations COHVCO and CORE who represent full-size OHV interests and jeeping interests.

We appreciate the opportunity to engage with this process and recognize the issues that are challenging the Royal Gorge Field Office (RGFO) in the Penrose Commons area and causing resource concerns associated with all forms of recreation currently ongoing in Penrose Commons.  The TPA is committed to helping the RGFO find reasonable solutions to provide high-quality recreational opportunities for motorcycles at Penrose Commons.

The TPA along with our partners have several concerns about this proposed project and the process that the RGFO is currently proposing for this project.  Our concerns have been based on documents prepared by the RGFO and posted to the project website (https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2012291/510).

1.   General Comments:

The TPA and our partners must spotlight the inequity and unbalanced amount of singletrack opportunities available to non-motorized users versus motorized users/motorcycles.  Although our statistics may not be completely accurate, the order of magnitude certainly exists.  We contend that within the RGFO’s Area of Responsibility over 297 miles of singletrack opportunity exist exclusively to non-motorized users while only approximately 10 miles of singletrack is available to motorized users, and these 10 miles are generously shared and available for use by any non-motorized users.  This inequity and lack of opportunity should be addressed by the RGFO and the Penrose Commons RAMP provides an excellent opportunity for the RGFO to collaborate with the motorized community, the TPA, and our partners and begin to correct this unbalanced availability of an underserved and unique recreational opportunity.

The TPA and partners had hoped this EA would be an opportunity for the RGFO to engage with motorized users and proactively address challenges at Penrose Commons. As the RGFO planning efforts have demonstrated, there is a strong interest from all types of motorized users in motorized opportunities in the RGFO. This was clearly demonstrated in the 2015 Recreation Survey that was performed as part of the Royal Gorge RMP update, which provided the following summary of responses:

The high levels of motorized usage in the area were clearly identified by the fact that more than 50% of respondents identified some form of trail based motorized usage as a usage they participated in.  Despite the RGFO providing no motorized singletrack at the time of the survey, 10% of the respondents identified motorcycle riding as their activity of choice.  Despite the strong interest of all forms of motorized recreation in opportunities in the Field Office, motorized usage was not addressed in the Draft RMP.  Our concerns on this issue we raised and meetings occurred in the hope that more SRMA type designations could be created given the growing populations in the area and continued strong demand. Those concerns were never addressed.

In meetings between managers and OHV users that were undertaken to develop a better understanding of the desires of the motorized community, there was discussion that everyone wanted the Penrose area to become a management success such as the Rampart Range area in the South Platte Ranger District. In these discussions, users confirmed that opening areas for access was a critical component of the success of the management of Rampart Range.  Unfortunately, that management direction was not adopted in the Proposal.  The Organizations are very concerned that the Penrose effort is another effort that fails to deal with the growing population along the Colorado Front Range and their strong demand and desire for recreational opportunities in all forms. We are very concerned that this direction of management will result in growing conflicts between users and managers, and that these conflicts could be avoided.

  1. The RGFO must fully utilize resources available from existing “Friends” groups before seeking or creating additional “Friends” groups
    While a “Friends” group could in theory be easily established in the short term, the development of and requirement to establish a new “Friends” group is a significant burden – e.g., tax returns, administrative oversight, etc.  The value of any “Friends” group would be greatly impaired if other users and interests are not fully and completely engaged in the effort.  It has been our collective experience that “Friends” groups only work if they are convened by the agency or a local government interest.We are collectively concerned that existing “Friends” groups continue to be underutilized by the Office.  The CPW OHV grant program is a substantial “Friends” group to numerous agencies and other partners across the state that remains underutilized by the RGFO.  We would contend that existing programmatic OHV grant resources are not being utilized to the fullest extent by the RGFO.  In this proposal, the RGFO seeks to require long-term funding commitments from the motorized community along with additional funds for the Penrose area. We are concerned about this request as the RGFO has not been able to fully use the existing funds provided. We are also very concerned that obtaining funding as proposed in the EA would commit state funds in a manner(s) that violates state law and would be pre-decisional.While we cannot enter into discussions that would guarantee funding for any project, the motorized community has frequently seen strategic planning being developed for areas that generally outline how management will occur.  These types of basic strategic plans have been successful in elevating scores and increasing the odds of receiving funding for the project.
  2. Why would previous options not be considered or included?
    While the actual levels of visitation applied between levels of usage in the 2004 Gold Belt Travel Plan are not clearly identified, we are forced to assume that current levels of visitation to the area are at or beyond the levels of visitation that were used to develop the alternative of the Proposal.  The “High-use alternative” option from 2004 had several single-track options and a 50-inch trail that could be reduced in width to provide an additional recreational single-track riding opportunity.  None of these options appear to have been considered or reconsidered here or as part of this project.
  3. The TPA and our partners are concerned that the Proposal suggests illegal or ill-advised requirements of the RGFO’s recreational partners.
    Within the Proposal, some of the activity sought to be undertaken is likely illegal.  For example, the repeated concerns about OHV usage impacting “dirt roads” in the area and the need for local motorized users to grade/maintain roads that are under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the County or BLM.  Maintenance of any municipal road by the general public is illegal under Colorado Revised Statutes[1] and cannot be a requirement of the BLM’s recreational partners.
  4. Underutilization of existing resources to address demand.
    OHV recreational users have worked hard to provide resources to the RGFO/BLM for maintenance and so far, this resource has been under-utilized by the RGFO.  For more than a decade, maintenance crews across the state have had approximately $85k available annually through the CPW OHV program while the RGFO has typically only utilized $45-50k of this funding. Our concerns are compounded when reviewing the visitation trend to Penrose Commons. Over the same period of time that the RGFO staff asserted monies provided for management and maintenance of motorized facilities could not be spent, visitation had been consistently increasing:This information has been available for more than a decade but appears not to have been used to address some of the issues that have been developing in the management area. This confirms our concerns about the inability of funding previously provided being utilized to address the expanded visitation. In addition, when the Gold Belt Travel Plan is reviewed and it outlines the previous assumptions about increased visitation have yet to be addressed.[2] This is problematic considering this usage increase was identified as a management concern less than 10 years after the completion of that plan and, as predicted, visitation started to consistently grow yet there has been no meaningful response by the RGFO. [3]While the RGFO has used partner resources for efforts in other areas with some success, their success in using existing funds and partnerships falls short when compared to other BLM offices in Colorado.
  5. Illegal camping and homelessness in the Penrose Commons area.
    The TPA and our partners are aware that the planning area has seen a marked increase in illegal camping and people residing in the area.  While we are concerned about this issue, Illegal camping is not a “public enforcement” or “educational opportunity” as these issues can present major barriers to enforcement or education by laypersons. The public cannot deal with medical waste, possible claims of invasions of privacy from people living there illegally, and other criminal activity. While there are often good people in bad situations in their lives using public lands in this manner, we are also aware that there are many far more nefarious reasons for this type of behavior.  Any sort of citizen involvement with this type of challenge has been actively discouraged by land managers in other planning areas.We would also support addressing camping issues in the Proposal and endorse going to designated dispersed sites that are sufficient to support visitation to the area. Beginning with developed fire rings and perhaps eventually transitioning to fully designated sites.  We again expect this type of legal camping activity to continue to be sought out in the area and include some type of guidance for the public to be using when legally camping in the area that would reduce impacts and challenges from this use in the future.  Not only would this provide enhanced management for this area, but also would provide resources for users of other recreational opportunities in the area as well.

2.  Specific Comments:

  1. Page 2, last paragraph, the sentence: “Although all motorized routes in Penrose allow single track motorcycles, none of the routes are specifically designed or designated for singletrack motorcycles”
    1. Inconsistent use of the terms single track versus singletrack
    2. Motorcycles are not designated or designed as “single track motorcycles”, they are off-road or off-highway motorcycles and there is not a specific motorcycle exclusively designated as a singletrack motorcycle.
  2. Page 10, Action Item a: Agree that limiting dead-end route designations is a good, reasonable, and proper action and that loops should absolutely be provided.  However, that action should apply consistently and fairly to ALL route designations and NOT just full-size vehicle route designations.
  3. Page 10, Action Item c., vii: Commend the staff’s conclusion that “Optional routes around advanced skill level obstacles are provided where possible to allow for skill progression and accommodate multiple skill levels…”
  4. Page 11, Action Item c., ix: The development of a small motorcycle skill development area for rider progression [and training] should absolutely be an immediate action and in no way contingent on a vague and arbitrary condition that “designated singletrack proves successful”. Areas to train and educate new riders, children, etc. is an immediate need and will only serve to help the BLM in instructing new and impressionable riders on proper techniques, ethics, stewardship, and good behavior.  This important and needed facility, especially in the Front Range, must be pursued with vigor and in no way should be contingent or conditionally identified based upon “if” and only if a very arbitrary and subjective condition of “successful singletrack use” is achieved.
  5. Page 11, Action Item d: The condition to only designate motorcycle singletrack is unreasonable, vague, subjective, and disingenuous to one single user group.  To only consider designating motorcycle singletrack IF a “Friends” group is well established is despondently unfair and prejudicial only to motorcyclists.  This condition is flawed because:
    1. The adjective “strong” is completely subjective and undefined.
    2. This condition depends on participation by “all user groups” in which the motorcycle community has absolutely no control or influence over other users.
    3. The definition of “all user groups” is undefined, unclear, and prone to be open to subjective interpretation.
    4. To require a myriad of different and undefined user groups to assist in the day-to-day management of the site is completely unreasonable since any availability of volunteers is unpredictable, sporadic, and simply cannot be planned and programmed.
    5. It is the BLM and RGFO’s “mission” to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
    6. ONLY the motorcycle community is held captive to the actions of all other, unrelated user groups BEFORE motorcyclists can even begin to realize their desire and needs for even the hint of any singletrack trails. This is abhorrently prejudicial, unfair, and discriminatory.
    7. The proposal to single out motorcycle recreation and hold it captive and hostage to unreasonable conditions at Penrose Commons breaches the BLM’s own Vision, “To enhance the quality of life for all citizens through the balanced stewardship of America’s public lands and resources.”
  6. Page 12, Management Object 5. A.: WHY must the Trials motorcycle community wait an arbitrary period of five years to identify any potential riding areas for what is essentially a very low impact riding discipline?  Trials riding is a completely separate and unique type of motorcycle and a type of riding unrelated to singletrack or any other form of motorcycle or OHV use.  The consideration of trials riding opportunities should be, and must be separate from any other form of recreation and surely not dependent upon the actions or behaviors of any other user group.  In all fairness and equality, consideration of trials opportunities should begin immediately, not be delayed for any length of time, and certainly NOT be conditionally based upon other riders staying on designated roads and trails. Similarly, any condition to only designate a trials riding area if a strong partnership and Friends group is established is once again outrageously unreasonable, vague, subjective, and disingenuous to this single user group.  To only consider designating trials opportunities IF a Friends group is well established is unfair and prejudicial to trials riders.  This condition is flawed because:
    1. The adjective “strong” is completely subjective and undefined.
    2. This condition depends on participation by “all user groups” which the motorcycle community has absolutely no control or influence over.
    3. The definition of “all user groups” is undefined, unclear, and prone to be open to subjective interpretation.
    4. To require a myriad of different and undefined user groups to assist in the day-to-day management of the site is completely unreasonable since any availability of volunteers is unpredictable, sporadic, and simply cannot be planned and programmed.
    5. ONLY the motorcycle community (including trails motorcyclists) is held captive to the actions of all other, unrelated user groups BEFORE motorcyclists can even begin to realize their desire and needs for even the hint of any singletrack trails or a trials riding area. This is abhorrently prejudicial, unfair, and discriminatory.
  7. Page 13, Section 3. Administration, Action Item a: The action item to work with OHV groups and grants to provide sufficient consistent funding… is impractical and the requirement to be “consistent” is very likely to be an unrealistic condition. Motorcycle clubs and motorcycle advocacy groups are among some of the most successful and energetic entities currently participating in the CPW OHV grant program.  In addition to competing for grants limited by annual funding ceilings, these same groups invest hundreds of volunteer hours to trail maintenance in the Front Range and throughout the State to include the RGFO’s area of responsibility.  Any funding from OHV grant funds administered by CPW or other OHV fund sources is competitive and relies upon an annual evaluation process. Each grant is scored independently and is based upon the individual grant application’s value to the program and benefits to both the OHV user community and the   Consistency and any predictability of recurring funding just cannot be assured and it is improper to assume or infer that an OHV group might be able to influence the process and scoring outcomes. Restrictive conditions that single out motorcycle use, as proposed in this RAMP, are counter-intuitive to support for competitive funding sources and opportunities.
  8. Page 14, Administrative Objective 6: Stating that “Group sizes of approximately 50 people or 25 machines…” is vague, arbitrary, and lacks definition.  Suggest being specific, eliminate the word “approximately” and perhaps consider being consistent with other land management agencies (e.g., 75 persons).
  9. Pages 18 & 19, Section 5. Monitoring: In the table/matrix, specifically under the heading of “Trigger”, a trigger of “more than 1 violation” is used at least twice in the OHV Use portion of the table/matrix.  No timeframe is provided for the single violation in the OHV Use portion of the table/matrix like in other portions of the table/matrix (e.g., 1 violation in a week, etc.).  Once again this appears to be, and is indeed prejudicial and discriminatory exclusively to the OHV user groups.  Also, this Trigger allows for a volunteer to identify a single violation.  Volunteers can often be uninformed, simply unfamiliar with, and or biased and should not be allowed to have the authority to determine if a single (1) violation has been made or not.  Within the OHV Use portion of the table/matrix, staff is acknowledged for the inclusion of the positive language: “Depending on cause, consider if a short connector or loop is needed or if a trail or hill climb practice area closure is warranted to address impacts to resources that are occurring”.
  10. Page 20, Section 5. Monitoring: Soils and Vegetation Impacts: Indicator: Long term increases in erosion, bare ground, and compaction from increased recreational [consider eliminating the term recreational] use. Other uses besides recreation (i.e., livestock grazing) can also cause increased erosion, soil compaction and loss of vegetation.  Action: …Management options such as: closing areas for restoration,… Recommend considering “temporary restrictions” and not exclusively “closures” for restoration.
  11. Page 21, Prioritization and Timing, bullets 7 and 8: WHY, are motorcyclists the only user group to be needlessly singled out for specific conditions, and additional scrutiny? WHY must only their desired recreational opportunities be contingent upon the behavior of all other users, and especially upon the actions of others beyond the motorcycle community’s control before they, motorcyclists, are able to even begin to realize their specific and unique recreational needs and desires for singletrack trails and an area to ride trials motorcycles?  Restrictive conditions on motorcycle use and specifically the motorcycle user group are counter-productive to building a collaborative and cooperative partnership that benefits the BLM, the RGFO, especially the Penrose Commons area, and multiple-use recreation.

3.  Summary

  1. To only consider designating motorcycle singletrack if and after a Friends group is well established is unfair and prejudicial to motorcyclists. Singletrack opportunities should be pursued immediately and not be conditionally contingent upon the possibility that a Friends group is successfully established.
  2. The development of a small motorcycle skill development area for rider progression and training should begin immediately and not be contingent on a vague and arbitrary condition that future “designated singletrack proves successful”.
  3. Development of trials opportunities (i.e., a trials riding area) should begin immediately, not be delayed, and not be conditionally based upon actions or behaviors of other users.
  4. Restrictive conditions that single out motorcycle use, as proposed in this RAMP, are simply discriminatory, unjust, and counter-productive in supporting partnerships and the pursuit of competitive OHV funding sources and opportunities.

4.  Conclusion

The TPA and our partners thank the RGFO for reviewing and considering our comments and suggestions.  Together we look forward to continuing to work with and partnering with the RGFO to develop a reasonable and achievable plan for the Penrose Commons area.  A Plan that provides recreational opportunities for off-highway motorcycles, enhances the recreational experiences of motorcyclists, sustains the health and productivity of the Penrose Commons area, and most importantly provides opportunities within the RGFO’s area of responsibility that simply do not exist or are grossly underserved today.

Sincerely,

Chad Hixon
Executive Director
Trails Preservation Alliance
chad@coloradotpa.org
Scott Jones, Esq
Vice Chair
COHVCO
scott.jones46@yahoo.com
\ signed\

Bob Daniel
President
Central Colorado Mountain Riders
centralcoloradomountainriders@gmail.com

Marcus Trusty
President
Colorado Off Road Enterprise
marcus@keeptrailsopen.com
\signed\

Leah Hendricks
Trails Subcommittee Chair
Technology & Marketing Chair
Executive Committee Member at Large
Rampart Range Motorized Management Committee
leah@leahhendricksfineart.com

 

\signed\

Mark Miquelon
President
Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association
miquelon15@yahoo.com

[1] See, CRS 30-11-107

[2] 2004 EA at pg. 17

[3] 2023 RAMP pg. 3

 

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Comments on BLM Conservation and Landscape Health Proposal

DOI: Bureau of Land Management
Att: Director (630); 1004-AE92
1849 C St NW, Room 5646
Washington DC 20240

RE: Conservation and Landscape Health Proposal

Docket # 1004-AE-92

Dear Sirs:

Please accept these comments as the vigorous opposition of the above-named Organizations with regard to the Conservation and Landscape Health Proposal Docket #1004-AE-92 (“The Proposal”). Our Organizations represent a broad spectrum of motorized recreational interests from snowmobiling to four-wheel drive vehicles, ATVs, UTVs, motorcycles and more.  The Organizations are concerned that the Proposal appears to be more of a jumbled planning wish list to benefit conservation interests than a coherent revision to planning efforts that aligns with multiple uses. While our motorized recreational interests have been the subject of more than 50 years of NEPA analysis and planning to protect resources, this effort is not addressed at all in the Proposal. We are opposing to any trail loss resulting from conservation leases, ACEC expansions or other efforts that do not recognize the decades of analysis already in place on these routes and areas.

Executive Summary.

The Organizations comments are as comprehensive as possible and include responses to specific sections of the BLM rulemaking and more systemic concerns not specifically addressed in the Proposal. The Organizations are not entirely opposed to monetizing the method of conservation, however we are skeptical about the corresponding value of the effort and very concerned about the corresponding threat that is posed to other legitimate land uses.  As will be discussed in greater detail below the United Nations, through the UN Environment Programm- World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) has provided significant guidance on the role of governments in creating conservation credits, how to equitably allocate credits and avoid other pitfalls through the issuance of high-quality analysis and planning documents.  None of this guidance or issues identified in the guidance are addressed meaningfully in the Proposal but rather the Proposal falls into every pitfall warned against by the UN.

It is important to note that the motorized trails community as through our voluntary registration programs developed with various states, has provided between $200-300 million a year for the management of recreational opportunities and resource protection across the country for decades. Off-Highway Vehicle and Over the Snow Vehicle manufacturers provide hundreds of millions of dollars in additional project specific funding for efforts on public lands, and we are sure would also like to discuss how marketable credits could be obtained to expand the impact and benefit of these programs.[1]  A significant portion of these projects could be the basis for the motorized community to obtain access to conservation credits.  Given our decades of working partnerships with public land managers, the Organizations believed this would have warranted some type of discussion with public lands managers.  Apparently, it did not.  We contend the Proposal should address participation in the allocation of conservation credits by all interests engaged in conservation including the motorized recreational motorized community.

While the motorized trails community certainly is player in these efforts already, the Organizations are frustrated by the methodology adopted throughout the Proposal, which appears to avoid any meaningful discussion of issues.   Foundational questions such as the following simply are not addressed. Question 1. What statutory basis is relied on for many of the provisions? Question 2.  Is a lease the proper tool to be used to create conservation credits? What are other manners to allocate credits?  Question 3.  Who are the entities working with BLM on conservation efforts, and who might be interested in capturing credits for those existing efforts? Question 4. What is the relationship between ACEC processes proposed to be expanded and conservation lease creation?  Question 5.  What are the perceived deficiencies in the current ACEC processes? Question 6. How do any of these concepts relate to multiple uses and existing efforts?  Basic information, such as statutes supporting a concept or idea would be highly valuable to the public in analyzing questions like this, as it would enable stakeholders to infer some type of structure to the effort.

The Organizations vigorously assert that generalized conservation leasing cannot be a vehicle or tool that would lead to the loss of multiple uses in any area temporarily or more permanently by mandating a particular management prescription. In our previous experiences, mission creep of previous conservation efforts has led to unresolvable challenges more than 50 years after areas were inventoried for conservation possibilities. If safeguards against this type of management creep cannot be provided this is a major concern.  In fact, the issue extends beyond conservation leases as it has been our experience that ACEC proposals from the public are commonly submitted in the RMP development process.  These Proposals often encompass large portions of a planning area, rendering any assertion of the ACEC standard not being applied in planning, factually problematic.   It has been our experience that many of these citizen inventories lack factual accuracy on the ground such as proposing to designate areas for protection that have already been found unsuitable for protection for the same reasons in other efforts.  This commonly found with critical habitat for ESA species. We would support efforts to update BLM planning documents, but these efforts must comply with planning regulations.  The Proposal fails to provide any input on issues such as this.

Even when questions are addressed, the information falls well of providing anything of substantive value.  Rather than meaningfully addressing foundational questions such as “Would the Proposal would create a carbon offset lease or a conservation lease?” This basic issue is relegated to one line in a 22-page Proposal. These are two entirely different concepts and should be clearly addressed in the Proposal as these distinctions are going to be critical. Creating a common starting point for discussion and analysis is critical as every interest will be approaching large scale planning with significantly different levels of technical expertise and understanding of the Proposal’s various components.  A commonly understood starting point is essential for success.

Another example of how the Proposal avoids meaningful discussion and input from partners is provided in the woefully inadequate Economic Analysis, which asserts that there will not be a significant economic impact to communities or the BLM from the Proposal. If this is accurate, why would the Proposal be brought forward? It is our understanding that the Proposal seeks to develop an entirely new revenue stream for conservation on public lands and this is a major economic benefit that warrants analysis and meaningful discussion. We have no idea why this type of discussion would be avoided. Understanding the scale of new resources would be a major tool in creating public support for the process and effort and success in the long term.

These types of failures of analysis continue far beyond these cited examples and cumulatively create a Proposal that is very difficult to comment on in a substantive and meaningful manner. Rather than collaboratively working with existing partners and interests to determine the best method for implementation of a conservation credit capture system, that could benefit everyone who has partnered with public lands managers for decades, the Proposal simply starts from a position that large scale leases are the best tool for creation of conservation credits.  We are also concerned that a poorly defined credit program will create immense mistrust between managers and existing partners and eventually be struck down as legally insufficient.

The Organizations are also concerned that the Proposal fails to recognize the fact that BLM is significantly short staffed in most areas and is working with many Resource Management Plans that are more than 40 years old. Even recently updated RMPs do not have any analysis of areas that might be highly suited to development of conservation credit programs.  Rather than addressing these basic issues to develop a balanced and effective model on the ground, the Proposal fails to recognize the huge new layers of data and analysis to be addressed in the planning process. Generally, there needs to be significantly more information provided on the various resources to be applied and how these various resources will be targeted to issues and this will result in an immense new planning burden on offices that are already short staffed.  Our concern is many of these offices have projects moving that we have funded and would like to see completed and these should not be stopped to accommodate a new national planning process.  The Organizations vigorously assert that no current public access should be lost after these opportunities have been through more than 50 years of highly detailed NEPA analysis and found sustainable after site specific Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statements.  No current or future site specific NEPA efforts should be delayed to implement the Proposal that is be supported by a categorical exclusion that is to be created at some point in the future.

1(a)(1) Who we are.

Prior to addressing the specific input of the Organizations on the Proposal, we believe a brief summary of each Organization is needed.  The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”) is a grassroots advocacy organization representing the OHV community seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado. COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations. The TPA is an advocacy organization created to be a viable partner to public lands managers, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of motorized trail riding and multiple-use recreation. The TPA acts as an advocate for the sport and takes the necessary action to ensure that the USFS and BLM allocate a fair and equitable percentage of public lands access to diverse multiple-use trail recreational opportunities. Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) was founded in 1970 to unite winter motorized recreationists across the state to enjoy their passion. CSA has also become the voice of organized snowmobiling seeking to advance, promote and preserve the sport of snowmobiling through work with Federal and state land management agencies and local, state and federal legislators telling the truth about our sport. CORE is a motorized action group dedicated to keeping motorized trails open in Central Colorado and the region. Idaho Recreation Council (“IRC”) is comprised of Idahoans from all parts of the state with a wide spectrum of recreational interests and a love for the future of Idaho and a desire to preserve recreation for future generations. The Idaho State Snowmobile Association (“ISSA”)is an organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting snowmobiling in the great state of Idaho. Our members may come from every corner of the state, but they all share one thing in common: their love for snowmobiling. Ride with Respect (“RwR”) was founded in 2002 to conserve shared-use trails and their surroundings. RwR has educated visitors and performed over twenty-thousand hours of high-quality trail work on public lands most of which has occurred on BLM lands. Over 750 individuals have contributed money or volunteered time to the organization. The Alaska Snowmachine Alliance(“ASA”) supports snowmachining throughout the State of Alaska and all snowmachine activities including racing and vintage, snowmachine trails, the SnowTRAC program and it’s funding, snowmachine Search and Rescue and the betterment of snowmachining throughout the State of Alaska.  Nevada Off Road Association (NVORA) is a non-profit Corporation created for and by offroad riders. NVORA was formed to specifically fill the void between the government managers and the rest of us who actively recreate in the Silver State. NVORA does this by maintaining a consistent, durable, and respected relationship with all stakeholders while facilitating a cooperative environment amongst our community. Collectively, TPA, NORA, CSA, CORE, IRC, RwR, ISSA, ASA and COHVCO will be referred to as “The Organizations” for purposes of these comments.

1(a)(2). BLM has benefited from decades of successful partnerships with the motorized community.

An important component of any successful planning effort and conservation project has always been the recognition of the history of the management issue and previous successes in the area. The Organizations are intimately aware of the challenges in managing healthy public lands and the exceptionally limited resources that the agency has available. The Organizations must also recognize that these voluntary state registration programs are actually implementing the full range of goals and objectives identified in multiple use statutes and as identified in EO 14008 and EO 14072 issued by President Biden. As a result of these efforts, recreational opportunities are improved, economic benefits to local communities area expanded and resources are protected for the future. As discussed in more detail subsequently, we are concerned these mandates are not provided for in the Proposal.

Nationally, the OHV community provides between $200-$300 million dollars into public lands management every year as a result of their voluntarily created OHV/OSV registration programs. As an example, the California OHV grant program provided $85 million in grants last year, and over the life of the program has funded more than $750 million in direct funding to public land managers.[2] The benefits of the California OHV program are outlined as follows:

  • Through our USFS partners, over 18,000 miles and 269,000 acres are available for OHV Recreation.
  • Through our BLM partners, over 18,000 miles and 478,000 of acres are made available for OHV Recreation.

Clearly efforts at the scale of these voluntarily created programs warrant inclusion in the discussion of conservation credits.  As another example, Colorado’s voluntary registration programs put almost $9m annually in grants back on public lands, and over the life of this program this has now provided more than $100m in funding for public lands to maintain and protect all forms of resources.[3]  This Program funds more than 60 maintenance crews throughout the state in addition to equipping and often training them to.  Most states that BLM owns lands in have similar programs that provide similarly high levels of funding but these programs extend well beyond just federal public lands and many states have OHV/OSV programs but have little to no federal public lands.

Understanding this partnership and its benefits for recreation and conservation would have avoided erroneous statements in the Proposal, such as assertions that recreation is a landscape level threat to public lands, closures for the benefit of conservation and assertions that conservation leases should result in subsequent conservation management standards.   Recognition of the benefits of multiple use restoration efforts in protecting the future of multiple uses in the area could have been highly valuable, but was not even mentioned in the Proposal.

While portions of these funds from voluntary registration programs are used in manners that may not be the basis for a conservation credit, many of the projects are efforts that could generate conservation or carbon credits from efforts directly occurring on the ground. As an example, the Colorado OHV program has contributed more than $1m over the last several years to repair the impacts of the East Troublesome fire which impacted more than 190k acres largely on BLM’s Kremmling FO and Arapahoe/Roosevelt NF.  Initial efforts targeted restoring basic access to the area to allow restoration efforts to even start and we anticipate planting a large number of seedlings and monitoring the area to conclude these efforts.[4]  This is a type of project that commonly occurs within our OHV/OSV programs and would clearly be a project that could generate both carbon and conservation credits throughout.  These are the type of projects we would be concerned about slowing down if there was a leasing component that would need to be complied with to create or capture credits from the project.  Why would a partnership such as this not be highlighted and targeted for future planning efforts?

The efforts of the motorized community extend well beyond landscape level efforts and often are targeting much smaller scale areas on an on-going basis. Many of our local volunteer clubs work with land managers have executed “adopt a trail” or “adopt a road” type agreement for large portions of routes in planning areas.  These clubs often partner with managers on very small acre projects and efforts to address impacts of illegal shooting or dumping in areas with clean up days.  These efforts have been highly effective in mitigating impacts of illegal activities. The picture below represents one clubs single day efforts cleaning up an illegal dumping site on BLM lands in partnership with managers.

Trucks and people hauling away trash from illegal dumping site on BLM lands

The Proposal provides no discussion at all on how efforts such as this would be addressed if these areas were also subject to a conservation lease.  How would this be recognized and unnecessary impacts to these programs be avoided?  The Organizations believe it is critical to note that all these efforts are occurring within the scope of existing BLM regulations. This situation forces us to ask why there would be any desire to provide leases and other tools for these efforts, when existing resources can do the work that is sought to be done with conservation leases? This conflict raises a concern that maybe the asserted goals and objectives of the Proposal are not well aligned with the actual discussions occurring as issues with existing efforts would have been immediately apparent.

2(a) Recreation is a landscape level threat to public lands?

The Proposal adopts a model of analysis that fails to recognize existing contributions or partners already working in the conservation space, and address how efforts would be incorporated in the development of the conservation credit program and any new planning efforts.  The Organizations hope this is the result of urgency to implement the Program but this urgency in development of the Proposal has led to landscape level conclusions in the Proposal that are factually problematic and could be barriers to the implementation of a program moving forward and its long-term success.

One such example of a factually problematic conclusion that will not speed implementation of the Proposal is the determination that recreation poses a landscape scale threat to public lands which is outlined as follows:

“The BLM implements this mandate through land use plan designations, allocations, and other planning decisions that conserve public land resources and seek to balance conservation use with other uses such as energy development and recreation. The BLM also implements this mandate in other decision making and management actions by promoting conservation use, limiting subsequent authorizations when incompatible with conservation use, and mitigating impacts to natural resources on public lands.”[5]

This conclusion is not only shocking but also highly frustrating to partners in the recreational community who has worked with the BLM for decades on a wide range of projects.  While the Organizations are aware that recreational impacts might be heightened to a level that is impacting an area at the local level, any assertion that these impacts are occurring at a landscape level is factually challenging at best.  Assertions such as this will create significant conflict with existing partners when implementation of the Proposal is attempted.

The Organizations are also very concerned that other foundational positions for the entire Proposal are only questionably accurate and highly conclusory in nature, such as the following provision:

“Ensuring resilient ecosystems has become imperative, as public lands are increasingly degraded and fragmented due to adverse impacts from climate change and a significant increase in authorized use.”[6]

The Organizations would note that the reports cited in the Proposal to support these conclusions were not the basis of significant scholarly review during their development and have not been the subject of public comment until now. Public comment on these reports is not aided by the fact the Proposal does not consolidate these area specific reports into a national report related to the effort.  The public is then left to theorize how these various documents and management models will be coordinated after learning of these underlying reports in the Proposal comment period. Any assertion of sufficient time being provided to review the Proposal and the previously unreleased documents would be tricky to defend.

The limited number of scholarly reviews of these foundational reports appear to call the conclusions of this management model into question and recommend a basic course of action other than what the agency is now currently proposing, despite the implementation or subsequent utilization of these reports being unclear. Several journals were released specifically addressing issues and concerns in the accuracy of the reports.[7] We must believe that these reviews would be much larger scale and narrower in scope after the Proposal provides context on the usage of these reports.  A sampling of the reviews is problematic for the basic direction of the Proposal as one reviewer summarized the relationship of natural forces and management ability to perform work as follows:

“The emergy input and output of ten ecosystems demonstrate pronounced differences under the same environmental conditions in one county in the agro-pastoral ecotone in China. This analysis enables us to understand the development of ecosystems under anthropogenic influences. Natural resource emergy input is the basic power to maintain ecosystems; purchased emergy input is the direct cause of the development of the ecosystems under the same environmental conditions….how to make policy decisions and use rare natural resources impartially, correctly, and in a well-planned manner will be critical issues in the future for protecting the ecological environment and for the safety of food production” [8]

Other European Union researchers outlined their concerns around an ambiguous and vague foundational planning position creating significant problems when implementing planning decisions as follows:

“The timing in clarifying and operationalize ecosystem services classification and measurements has never been more critical. As ecosystem services become integrated into policy instruments, the need to standardize definitions is essential for monitoring and comparing policy outcomes following different scales of investment (Bennett et al., 2015; Guerry et al., 2015). Our intention in this article is to provide some clarity to address issues related to ecosystem services definition and conceptualization highlighted by others(Boyd and Banzaf, 2007; Fisher and Turner, 2008; Fisher et al.,2009; Wallace, 2007).”[9]

The direct overlap between the recommendations of EU researchers to avoid problems in planning and the problems that are systemic in this Proposal simply cannot be overlooked. The Organizations are familiar with the critical need  for accurate analysis in defining the success or failure of the planning effort subsequently and conclusions such as recreation is a landscape level threat is factually problematic.  This is also tricky as a starting point for any planning effort.

The ramifications of  the Proposal’s factually problematic starting position expands when the decades of governmental efforts towards conservation are addressed.  Including the passage of time into the discussion causes the factual accuracy of any assertion to collapse as BLM has managed lands for decades for conservation.  Many of these conservation efforts have only resulted from Congressional action after the initial management of lands by BLM. When BLM started managing lands there were no conservation type statutes even in existence. Over the life of the BLM, numerous designations explicitly limit the scope and scale of activity on large portions of federal lands, such as Congressionally designated Wilderness areas, Roadless and Wilderness Study Areas, and other designations generally within the NLCS program make any assertion of landscape level impacts from recreation even more factually problematic. Given that BLM management efforts commenced decades before any of these legislative efforts occurred, we must ask what timeframe was used to come to these determinations?  Not only is such a conclusion lacking entirely factual accuracy, it is overly inflammatory to those in the recreational community, and overly inflammatory assertions such as this will prove to be problematic during implementation of  the Proposal and undermine any possibility of long-term success.

2(b). Basic information on what the scope and applicability of the Proposal are simply never provided.

Concerns around the foundation for the Proposal extend beyond basic planning assumptions and conclusions, as the Proposal fails to provide any meaningful information or basic clarity on the basic direction of the Proposal.  The entry of the federal government into a market seeking to create conservation/carbon offset credits is far more than a conservation leasing program.  Foundational issues and questions like “Why wouldn’t the federal government manage this type of a program internally and capture a larger portion of the profits from these credits?” are simply never addressed.  These types of questions are far too removed for comments such as these or a few pages in the Federal Register. While many questions about the role of the federal government in the creation of a carbon credit market are far too large for these comments, there are many questions that are highly relevant to partners that basically are never addressed as well.

When the BLM was formed in 1946, concepts and requirements such as Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, the Endangered Species Act, Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act and Federal Lands Policy and  Management Act and the wide range of Congressional protections for resources were still more than 20 years in the future. Any assertion that these landscape level changes entirely for resource protection and conservation have not been major successes in achieving these goals is problematic both factually and legally. Understanding how these existing designations will be integrated into a conservation credit process or expanded ACEC designation process is a basic need.  Will efforts in these designations receive a higher level of credits or the same?  How will expanded costs of working in these areas be addressed? These are basic pieces of information that should be provided for the motorized community as many of our efforts should be worthy of credit awards already.

The multiple use mandate is clearly defined in the statute and has been refined by thousands of court cases since the passage of these pieces of legislation. Overall, the requirements of multiple use statutory requirements and the general scientific requirements for planning for conservation credits are highly similar in terms of scope and standards. The Organizations assert aligning the Proposal with the legal foundation is problematic both factually and legally as there are volumes of works identifying the huge steps towards conservation that each of these legislative efforts have provided.

As an example of the basic information simply never provided in the Proposal, the relationship of this effort to other agency efforts is never clearly addressed, as the Proposal seems to focus on conservation leases and planning but never defines the relationships that these concepts have to the sale of carbon credits.  The concept of a conservation lease is far wider in scope and possible applicability than leases to create carbon capture credits and these differences are exemplified by the fact the US Fish and Wildlife Service already is already allowing conservation credits to be developed and used by the party developing the credit.[10]  The USFWS effort use tools such as land swaps in the conservation efforts and exists as part of a decades long effort that has engaged the public and involved multiple Congressional approvals. The USFWS credits are driven by project type efforts with willing property owners on private lands over a rather long period of time instead of immediate credits being developed on public lands at a large scale.   The Organizations are reasonably familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of this type of model as we have participated in panel discussions on this issue with the Western Governors Association. The Organizations have also explored the applicability of USFWS credits in an endangered species reintroduction situation as well. The USFWS effort use tools such as land swaps in the conservation efforts and exists as part of a decades long effort that has engaged the public and involved multiple congressional approvals.  The Organizations are also aware that California Air Resources Board has been providing carbon offset credits for conservation efforts for a period and we must ask how this effort would be integrated with the CARB program. These collaborative efforts of CARB and USFWS stand in stark contrast to the Proposal in almost every way possible.

Clearly describing what is being proposed and its relationships to other efforts is going to be critically important to the success of this effort and many others. The relationship the proposed conservation credit leasing program to the existing USFWS program is an example of this type of problem.  Is the desire to have BLM administer carbon credit leases and USFWS will expand their existing private lands credit program to create a general conservation credit program on federal public lands? This is a major concern as our efforts should not have to face expanded administrative burden to obtain these credits. Clearly having to obtain carbon-based credits from the BLM and wildlife-based conservation credits from USFWS and other credits from other agencies will create a significant administrative burden for all involved.  The possibility of negative impacts to existing partnerships from this type of model is only compounded by the fact the BLM simply cannot hire enough staff to support current efforts.

While clearly defining these two concepts  and how they would be integrated with new efforts was not included in the Proposal, clearly defining these concepts is critically important to our interests given the wide range of projects and efforts our community is involved with on public lands.   This lack of clarity would be problematic on projects such as moving a trail network outside a drainage that was recently identified as habitat for an endangered species of fish. Clearly a project such as this would be within the scope of a generally applied conservation credit, but would a project such as this would probably not be sufficient to support a carbon offset credit. Failing to address basic questions such as this puts any planning effort on a weak foundation and is detrimental to any possible long-term success.

2(c). Definitions of foundational terms in the Proposal are often not provided or are overly broad and ambiguous which will prohibit implementation of the Proposal.

Throughout the Proposal foundational terms and concepts simply are never defined or meaningfully addressed and the Proposal appears to create distinctions that exist only on paper to further the Proposal.  As previously noted, EU researchers have specifically advised against conservation efforts at this level without clear, concise and accurate definitions as they found definable definitions in any project is critical to its long-term success. Without clear and identifiable terms in definitions this entire process will simply become another reason or tool to push uses a certain group does not support off the landscape. This will create immense conflict between interests that may be collaboratively addressing issues currently.  This portion of the comments is provided not as an exhaustive list of all poorly defined terms but rather as examples as there are too many terms with vague or incomplete definitions to address.  This is compounded by the fact that often terms and their usages are changed simply to suit certain a particular portion of the Proposal. This is a problem that again directly undermines the possibility of long-term success of the Proposal as any implementation of these concepts in subsequent NEPA would be almost impossible.

Organizational concerns around poor definitions and the varying scope of the Proposal start from the position that after reading the proposal several times, we are unable to clearly state if the Proposal seeks to create a conservation lease or a carbon offset lease.  These are inherently different concepts that are simply not interchangeable. While all carbon credits may generally be a conservation credit, not all conservation credits are carbon based. An example of why this type of clarity is critical would involve a project repairing or remediating habitat for an endangered species. While this effort is worthy of a conservation credit, it might negatively impact carbon emissions in the area in the short term, as exemplified by the fact heavy machinery may be used for to obtain the conservation credit. The Proposal should address these types of possibilities and how they would be resolved.  Would a project such as this need a carbon credit to proceed in obtaining a conservation credit?  Would a project like this simply be provided less conservation credits?  Providing this type of basic clarity to the effort is important to the success of the program and avoiding unintended impacts. The failure to provide guidance on the basic scope and direction of the Proposal expands as the Proposal fails to address how any credits would be allocated or developed, which will be critical in any NEPA efforts occurring in implementation.

Concerns over the varying scope of the Proposal are compounded by the fact that when a  definition is provided it is horribly open ended and arbitrary.  The provisions defining causal factor for the conservation effort and discussing application of §6103.1-(2)d is a perfect example of this situation.[11] Rather than an activity to be addressed with the lease being THE causal factor of the problem believed to be occurring and the issue for the lease, the conservation effort only needs to establish that the issue is A significant causal factor to the issue being managed. Clearly the Proposal could provide general guidance that a causal factor must be at least 50% of the factors creating the problem to be addressed.  The Proposal provides no discussion as to what “significant” really means or how this would limit the scope of the lease actions in relation to multiple uses operating in the area. This type of open-ended definition could be applied to any issue at any location at any time, and as a result functionally results in a definition that could be applied anywhere and fails to reflect multiple uses.  While these concerns may seem remote currently, these will be unresolvable barriers in subsequent NEPA efforts and collaboratives.  Efforts like protecting critical habitat for an endangered fish may only be addressing a watershed of a few thousand acres but benefitting an endangered species immensely.  How would this be comparatively valued to a restoration in a burn scar impacting hundreds of thousands of acres?

The arbitrary nature of the Proposal and any definitions provided is compounded by the fact the Proposal seeks to apply horribly circular analysis to critical processes for the development of the planning process. Often these circular analyses are applied to existing programs and efforts, causing us concern for the engagement of existing efforts in any conservation leasing program.  Again, the Proposal really provides no information or insight into the question being presented for public comment.  This problem is exemplified by the following provisions:

“The proposed rule also addresses restoration of degraded landscapes. It offers a new tool, conservation leases, that would allow the public to directly support durable protection and restoration efforts to build and maintain the resilience of public lands. These leases would be available to entities seeking to restore public lands or provide mitigation for a particular action. They would not override valid existing rights or preclude other, subsequent authorizations so long as those subsequent authorizations are compatible with the conservation use. The proposed rule would establish the process for applying for and granting conservation leases, terminating or suspending them, determining noncompliance, and setting bonding obligations.”[12]

Basic questions such as: “What is a degraded landscape?” or “How the multiple use mandate would be integrated into the identification of degraded landscapes?” or “What relation new efforts would have to existing management?” simply is never mentioned. These types of questions are critical to public understanding of the Proposal and any subsequent implementation yet the Proposal fails to provide any guidance on “range of management” actions that might be available to protect intact landscapes.  We are forced to assume that the “range of management” action under the lease would be subject to different requirements when applied to a Congressionally designated Wilderness in comparison to a Congressionally designated Special Recreation Management Area for motorized recreation. While our example is comparing Congressional designations, existing management has a wide range of other designations that compound problems understanding the limits of the “range of management” applied in remediation and future management of the area.  Would management of motorized recreational opportunities be allowed in an ACEC designated to manage issues completely unrelated to motorized usage, if that area was now subject to a lease or now within a landscape to be protected? The Proposal fails to provide any guidance on questions such as this that will be critical to the successful implementation of the Proposal.

The immediate failures of basic definitions and consistent scrutiny of terms in the Proposal results in guidance for public comment that is entirely circular in nature or is so lacking  in context it fails to stimulate public comment. The astonishingly cyclical nature of this problem is exhibited by the fact that the Proposal is seeking input on how a relationship would be developed or applied on the ground but provides no guidance on basic terms and concepts. Without guidance on how these concepts would be related to existing efforts, how can any discussion subsequent have any value at all? In a timelier concern to the Proposal, how is the public even supposed to begin to comment on a concept such as this.  While this “range of management” type guidance is critical to success on the ground, it is never addressed and as a result the public cannot comment at all.

The failure to provide a solid foundation for management decision making creates immense problems beyond stimulating public comment when processes are moved slightly further into any subsequent  NEPA planning process. The conflict that results from moving further into a NEPA type analysis simply cannot be overstated. Once the process for creation of credits or new ACEC is established, questions such as who would decide what are and are not within an acceptable “range of management”  actions or other authorizations that might conflict with conservation values must be addressed. Without a foundation of analysis, decisions such as this are impossible to make for any local managers.  This type of ambiguity can have significant long-term impacts like the challenges we continue to have with areas that were at one time inventories for wilderness characteristics and found to be unsuitable for a variety of existing usages.  These WSA areas were never suitable for designation but continue to be managed as if they were more than 50 years after the original inventory. This is not a position we want to see repeated for any issue in the future.

As an example of a foundational definition that simply is not provided would be the concept of an “Intact landscape” which is defined as follows:

“Intact landscape means an unfragmented ecosystem that is free of local conditions that could permanently or significantly disrupt, impair, or degrade the landscape’s structure or ecosystem resilience, and that is large enough to maintain native biological diversity, including viable populations of wide-ranging species. Intact landscapes have high conservation value, provide critical ecosystem functions, and support ecosystem resilience.”[13]

Candidly, the Organizations are simply not able to apply this definition to any situation that has been identified to allow for an even generalized understanding of the concept sought to be defined.  Is an intact landscape a standard that would be applied on a species-by-species basis or averaged for multiple species? How would this relate to modeled but unoccupied habitat for a species? What is a disruption of an ecosystem? While this definition is critical to any NEPA or planning implementation in the future, no guidance is given.

Another example of the poorly identified and generally vague use of definitions in the Proposal that will hugely impact implementation is provided by the definition of “Unnecessary or Undue degradation” means

“harm to land resources or values that is not needed to accomplish a use’s goals or is excessive or disproportionate.”[14]

Again, the definition provides no hard standards of comparison and could be applied on almost any acre of BLM owned lands, making the value and effectiveness of the definition questionable.

The overly broad and generally diverse nature of the Proposal immensely expands our concerns around definitions, as we are unable to identify a particular component of the Proposal that the definition will apply to.  Is this a definition a new definition to be applied for ACEC development or is this a definition to be applied for conservation leases? What are the relationships of this definition to various statutory definitions? Again, these are foundational problems that must be resolved in the Proposal before any meaningful public comment can be obtained.  This is disappointing as there are concepts that could be of value for the motorized community.

Implementation problems for managers attempting subsequent NEPA analysis are compounded by the confusion of basic well understood terms by the Proposal. The concept of a “lease” is largely inapplicable to many of the efforts we undertake and probably many other multiple uses that are performing conservation already and many existing management designations.  Proposal concepts like “large” are not even tied to a concept to be defined,  so we must ask if it is large site-specific project or a large intact landscape or if the concept is limited to BLM lands only or public lands or public and private lands in the planning area.  Providing any meaningful comment on implementation of these definitions is made even more difficult as the public is unsure if we are commenting on a conservation credit or a carbon credit or a new ACEC or conservation as a use of public lands.

While no guidance is provided on new issues like conservation credits that are outside existing planning, these are critical to understanding how the intact landscape requirement would be applied to carbon and conservation credits.  This is important for us as many of the projects we fund and support are not landscape level efforts but are targeting more localized concerns that provide concrete identifiable benefits to a species or resource. These are critical questions that must be addressed as clarity on these types of problems will avoid significant unintended consequences moving forward. The Organizations would be remiss in not recognizing the fact we are still fighting over the concept of untrammeled by man more than 50 years after that management concept was introduced.  This type of problem must be avoided.

The failures of proposed definitions greatly complicates understanding how these new standards would be applied across various existing management prescriptions. There simply is no guidance on how existing management determinations would relate to subsequent management decisions if an area has been subject to unnecessary or undue degradation.  Automatically assuming this determination can be supported by a single management standard, such as an ACEC, would be premature at best.  Active management response to serious problems may be impaired by a designation of an ACEC or similar designation, and these conflicts will create nothing but massive conflict in NEPA efforts during implementation while creating little to no benefit. Efforts like protecting critical habitat for an endangered fish may only be addressing a watershed of a few thousand acres but benefitting an endangered species immensely.  How would this be comparatively valued to a restoration in a burn scar impacting hundreds of thousands of acres? The public needs basic guidance to comment on equitable allocation of credit issues such as this and that has not been provided.

2(d)(1). Conservation has been defined by Congress through the Endangered Species Act and applied to all public lands for decades.

The Proposal further impairs the ability of the public to meaningfully comment on the effort by making assertions that simply are completely incorrect and conflicts with decades of Congressional actions and case law. This problem is exemplified by assertions in the Proposal that appear to seek to redefine conservation into an entirely new concept outside existing Congressional definitions,  The Proposal provides the following outline of this concept:

“To ensure the resilience of renewable resources on public lands for future generations, the proposed rule promotes ”conservation” and defines that term to include both protection and restoration activities…… To support efforts to protect and restore public lands, the proposed rule clarifies that conservation is a use on par with other uses of the public lands under FLPMA’s multiple-use and sustained-yield framework” [15]

The immediate conflict of this position and the legal requirements for public lands management is exhibited by the fact Conservation has been defined by Congress since 1973 as part of the Endangered Species Act.  The ESA provides the following definition of conservation:

” (3) The terms “conserve“, “conserving“, and “conservation” mean to use and the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this chapter are no longer necessary. Such methods and procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated with scientific resources management such as research, census, law enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise relieved, may include regulated taking.”[16]

The immediate problem with the Proposal that is unresolvable is the ESA is one of the few statutory requirements that elevates conservation above multiple uses and is fully applicable on every acre of land that BLM managers. The application of the ESA in this manner was again clearly and directly stated by the USFWS in their June 28, 2023 final regulations governing the designation of experimental species populations as follows:

“The purposes of the Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) are to provide a means to conserve the ecosystems upon which listed species depend, to develop a program for the conservation of listed species, and to achieve the purposes of certain treaties and conventions. Moreover, the ESA states that it is the policy of Congress that Federal agencies shall seek to conserve threatened and endangered species and use their authorities to further the purposes of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531(c)(1)).”[17]

It is certainly not unreasonable to ask that the two agencies within the DOI align on foundational points such as if conservation is a use of public lands. That clearly has not happened. Every BLM NEPA analysis must go through a Section 7 consolation to ensure conservation of the species under the ESA is achieved before multiple uses are even thought about. The application of the ESA is a “use of public lands” in every sense of the concept despite the repeated assertion that conservation is not a use.  Not only is conservation a use of public lands, this is the ONLY use that is elevated above other multiple uses for protections.

The public is simply unable to comment on any assertion of the Proposal that conservation is not defined and is not a use on public lands as Congress has specifically elevated conservation above multiple uses in numerous situations. Rather than providing insight on how would these interpretations of conservation be aligned, the Proposal simply moves past this challenge, resulting in another elephant of an issue being relegated to a mouse hole. The Organizations doubt that the Proposal is seeking to alter the application or scope of the ESA or USFWS management authority. While the ESA definition of conservation largely aligns with the generally understood definition of conservation, this is again a foundational problem which is created by the Proposal seeking to twist existing concepts and legal mandates to achieve its goals. Again, this conflict may appear minimal in the Proposal, it will be an unresolvable barrier to NEPA or further implementation of the Proposal. The public cannot substantively comment more on this conflict than to identify it in our comments.

2(d)(2). Conservation has been mandated by Congress for decades through the Congressionally created NLCS program.

Even disregarding the failure of the Proposal to address the conflict of its provisions and the ESA, throughout the Proposal contradictory positions are taken and distinctions are asserted to be present that simply cannot be defended when commonly known definitions and understood terms such as “conservation” are used.  As noted previously many of these conflicts are simply moved past and when the Proposal chooses to address previous Congressional mandated management requirements this only compounds previous ambiguities we have addressed.  Despite not clearly defining conservation in FLPMA or the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, Congress has mandated conservation on all public lands for decades outside the ESA and has used a wide range of tools to address these goals with the designation of Wilderness areas, National Conservation Areas, National Recreation Areas, National Preserves, authorization of monuments and through site specific designations such as the California Desert Conservation Area.[18] While conservation may not be specifically defined in these legislative efforts, it is occurring as based on commonly understood definitions of the term and concept.

Historically Congress has chosen to apply the generally understood concept of conservation through their designations and requirements seeking to avoid possible confusion of the term and its application on the ground.  Similarly, much of what the Proposal seeks to accomplish falls within the common definition of conservation, which is:

“1a careful preservation and protection of something especially planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect

water conservation or wildlife conservation

2the preservation of a physical quantity during transformations or reactions”[19]

There can be no factual argument that everything in the Proposal is conservation when applying the commonly understood and applied definition. Rather than addressing the common definition of conservation in manner consistent with existing Congressional efforts, the Proposal moves to a convoluted discussion of conservation under various programs.  This is an immense problem as failing to use commonly understood terms like this will create vast problems in implementation.

An example of Proposal twisting of previous legal mandates would be in the discussion of the National Landscape Conservation System (“NLCS”) which by Congressional definition, does conservation.  Again, these are foundational problems that must be addressed. If the desire is to allow conservation mitigation credits, then the Proposal should say that and define how this new concept is outside the traditional conservation definition. For reasons that are never explained, the Proposal asserts that conservation within the NLCS is somehow different than conservation outside the NLCS.  This distinction is simply not supported in any manner by the history of Congressional efforts around the NLCS. NLCS efforts were originally created more than 20 years ago by Secretarial Order from Secretary Bruce Babbitt.  This Office’s mission was formalized by Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 which mandated the following mission for the NLCS as follows:

“(a) ESTABLISHMENT.—In order to conserve, protect, and restore nationally significant  landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations, there is established in the Bureau of Land Management the National Landscape Conservation System.”[20]

Here Congress chose to identify and expand on the existing understanding of Conservation by requiring these areas to conserve, protect and restore these areas. Again, this is problematic to any assertion conservation is not a use of public land and opens the door to an actual reduction in the protection of these areas. The conflict between the Proposal and the NLCS requirements expands when the NLCS national strategy is reviewed. The NLCS  National Strategy is organized around four major themes: 1) Ensuring the conservation, protection, and restoration of NLCS values; 2) Collaboratively managing the NLCS as part of the larger landscape; 3) Raising awareness of the value and benefits of the NLCS; and 4) Building upon the BLM’s commitment to conservation. [21] This strategy clearly states as follows:

“All NLCS units are designated in keeping with an overarching and explicit commitment: to conserve, protect, and restore natural and cultural resources as the prevailing activities within those areas, shaping all other aspects of management. To provide for uses that are compatible with landscape and resource values, NLCS managers will: • Focus on conservation as the primary consideration in planning for and management of NLCS lands, consistent with designating legislation. • Develop baseline information on NLCS lands through assessment, inventory, monitoring, evaluation, and scientific study. • Base planning and decision making on a scientific foundation using next generation management tools. • Promote the NLCS as an outdoor laboratory and demonstration center for new and innovative management and business processes. • Provide for compatible uses consistent with the legislation designating each unit and in collaboration with surrounding communities and interest groups. • Plan and manage NLCS facilities with an eye to protecting resources, serving the public, and supporting local communities.[22]

This is by definition conservation and there are benefits to these efforts beyond mere on the ground management.  It has been the Organizations experience that the NLCS designations allow managers to obtain more internal funding to protect and improve resources within the NLCS areas.  Often times the NLCS designation also allows outside funding to be more accurately targeted to these values as well. Indirect benefits of these efforts could be greatly impacted by the Proposal and again simply are not even mentioned.

The failure of the Proposal to provide calculation and recognition of the success of NLCS program in conservation efforts is problematic for other provisions of the Proposal, such as assertions of large-scale expanding impacts to public lands. This problem is not resolved by assertions NLCS efforts are not conservation but rather by developing a Proposal that accurately discusses what the effort is seeking to develop and how it would relate to existing efforts and planning.

The successful conservation efforts under the NLCS program are not even accurately reflected in the Proposal but rather are overlooked and a second new poorly defined processes is found to be necessary for future planning. This second concept the inclusion of land health standards.  The Proposal provides no information on land health standards and how this would relate to the range of management actions now available rather the Proposal states something very different as follows:

“The proposed rule provides a framework to protect intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat, and ensure wise decision making in planning, permitting, and programs, by identifying best practices to manage lands and waters to achieve desired conditions. To do so, the proposed rule applies the fundamentals of land health and related standards and guidelines to all BLM managed public lands and uses; current BLM policy limits their application to grazing authorizations.”[23]

The describing the relationship of the new concept of a land health standard and existing conservation is immensely important for implementation.  Rather than trying to resolve this problem, the Proposal then seeks to create a distinction between NLCS conservation and conservation under the Proposal as follows:

“Section 2002 of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (16 U.S.C. 7202) legislatively established the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), to include public lands carrying certain executive or congressional designations and set parameters for the management of lands within the system. NLCS lands are subject to regulatory requirements like other BLM-managed public lands. The regulations proposed here define the term ”conservation” in a way that is distinct from the use of the term in section 2002. Here, ”conservation” is a shorthand for the direction in FLPMA’s multiple-use and sustained-yield mandates to manage public lands for resilience and future productivity. ”Conservation,” as the term is defined in these regulations, is part of the BLM’s mission not only on lands within the NLCS, but on all lands subject to FLPMA’s multiple-use and sustained yield mandates. At the same time, these regulations also would support the BLM’s execution of the statutory direction in section 2002 to ”manage the [NLCS] in a manner that protects the values for which the components of the system were designated” (16 U.S.C. 7202(c)(2)).”[24]

The inclusion of a second planning concept in this discussion of conservation only creates more confusion and ambiguity. We are unable to understand what the basic direction and intent of the land health provision is or how we could ever assert there was success in achieving this goal. Would we agree that NLCS lands are no longer multiple use? Yes, as often certain activities are not allowed on Congressionally designated lands managed under the NLCS process. We would also agree that NLCS lands may have a heightened emphasis on conservation as other activities are prohibited. This is conservation under the commonly understood definition of conservation. We are unable to understand how these conclusions align with the desire to include new planning tools in BLM management moving forward.

Despite assertions that conservation under the Proposal is different than previous conservation efforts, the Organizations are unable to understand how conservation under NLCS and conservation under Proposal are any different from the generally accepted definition of conservation. While they may be comparing to a slightly different baseline, the efforts are still conservation. The arbitrary and highly variable definition of conservation in the Proposal is directly conflicting with the understanding of conservation in almost every other statutory action to date.  The confusion and ambiguity of the Proposal on the conservation issue is compounded with the integration of the new concept of land health standards which compounds confusion as  the relationship of land health standards to existing planning is never addressed. This is highly frustrating to partners that have worked hard for the success of conservation and recreation efforts on numerous NLCS parcels and also failures to accurately describe the basis of the effort provides an exceptionally poor foundation for a new planning effort.

2(e). FLPMA has woven conservation throughout the planning process with the ACEC development process.

The failure of the Proposal to define terms and concepts consistently and accurately has led to assertions and distinctions that make no sense for implementation efforts. The impact that these failures have on our ability to substantive comment on the Proposal are immense. The impact of these failures is exhibited by the discussion of the ACEC process in the Proposal and assertions that conservation under the ACEC process is different than conservation under the NLCS process or conservation under other statutory requirements such as the ESA. The only difference we are able to identify in the NLCS process and the ACEC process is the fact that ESA driven conservation and NLCS designations are generally provided by Congressional action and ACEC designations are created through the RMP development process as required by Congressional actions that have been passed into law. These are distinctions that exist on paper only.

The failure of the Proposal to even address problems such as paper only distinctions  is exhibited in the following provisions:

“Finally, the proposed rule would amend the existing ACEC regulations to better ensure that the BLM is meeting FLPMA’s command to give priority to the designation and protection of ACECs. The proposed regulatory changes would emphasize ACECs as the principal designation for protecting important natural, cultural, and scenic resources, and establish a more comprehensive framework for the BLM to identify, evaluate, and consider special management attention for ACECs in land use planning. The proposed rule emphasizes the role of ACECs in contributing to ecosystem resilience by providing for ACEC designation to protect landscape intactness and habitat connectivity.”[25]

The Organizations are very frustrated at the amazingly narrow explanation of the planning process that is provided in this Proposal.  Under BLM processes, any member of the public can propose an ACEC on any portion of BLM lands for any reason during the creation of an RMP. The nomination process simply cannot be broader than this. Through the RMP process, many of these citizen-based proposals are not moved for a variety of legal and factual reasons and often this analysis can span hundreds of pages of highly site-specific analysis in the EIS. While the Organizations have participated in thousands of these planning efforts, we have never seen this type of site-specific planning analysis not address a citizen proposed ACEC on the basis that BLM lacks authority to do conservation or that conservation is not a use of BLM lands.  Any landscape level assertion to the contrary undermines the highly site-specific analysis of these proposals that has already occurred.  While the ACEC planning process is very open ended, we do not contest that in many areas RMPs are horribly out of date and need to be updated.  This problem is simply never mentioned in the Proposal and we are very concerned that the Proposal will compound the impact of staffing shortages rather than ease these issues.

For the BLM, there can be no better foundational starting point than understanding the existing  statutory  management requirements for conservation efforts primarily using the ACEC process which are:

Ҥ1701. Congressional declaration of policy

(a) The Congress declares that it is the policy of the United States that—

(8) the public lands be managed in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values; that, where appropriate, will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural condition; that will provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals; and that will provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use;

(11) regulations and plans for the protection of public land areas of critical environmental concern be promptly developed;” [26]

Legally, conservation has always been included in every step of planning in the FLPMA legislation and specifically required in development of various planning documents.  Any assertion to the contrary would ignore thousands of pages of site specific NEPA analysis of the ability of areas to be managed for ACEC characteristics.  Any assertion of ACEC designations being underused ignores the fact that including the ACEC concept in FLPMA in 1976 was a significant change for the BLM management,  as prior to FLPMA the need for conservation on BLM lands was significantly reduced. The Proposals attempts to redefine the scope of the regulations appears to be an exercise that leads to nothing other than repeating existing authority and attempting to create distinctions that exist only on paper. Any assertion that conservation is not a use of the lands outside of ACEC designations, is simply off point as conservation is a concept that has been woven throughout almost every planning statute in modern time. Again, this is an effort to create a planning distinction without any actual difference.  This lack of a distinction is exemplified by the failure of the Proposal to identify the differences between the conservation efforts provided by an NLCS designation and an ACEC designation and how these are different from conservation under the ESA. These are distinctions on paper only.

In the implementation of FLPMA planning requirements,  ACEC inventory efforts often spans hundreds of pages of site-specific analysis in planning efforts. BLM regulations specifically outline how Field Offices must be fully inventoried and a robust public process is provided for in the development and management of ACEC designations in the development of an RMP.  ACEC designated areas have always been areas where conservation is the use of these lands, which makes any assertion of a need to elevate conservation as a use in the proposal problematic.   BLM regulations explicitly outline the ACEC process as follows:

“02 Objectives. ACEC designations highlight areas where special management attention is needed to protect, and prevent irreparable damage to, important historic, cultural, and scenic values, fish, or wildlife resources or other natural systems or processes; or to protect human life and safety from natural hazards. The ACEC designation indicates to the public that the BLM recognizes that an area has significant values and has established special management measures to protect those values. In addition, designation also serves as a reminder that significant value(s) or resource(s) exist which must be accommodated when future management actions and land use proposals are considered near or within an ACEC. Designation may also support a funding priority

  • 03 Authority. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) provides for ACEC designation and establishes national policy for the protection of public land areas of critical environmental concern. Section 202(c)(3) of the FLPMA mandates the agency to give priority to the designation and protection of ACEC’s in the development and revision of land use plans. The BLM’s planning regulations (43 CFR 1610.7-2) establish the process and procedural requirements for the designation of ACEC’s in resource management plans and in plan amendments”[27]

Again, the Organizations must question any legal assertion that conservation is not a use under the multiple use mandate requirements, as the ACEC designation is clearly a use of public lands.  Conservation efforts are not just limited to the designation of ACEC areas but are woven throughout the planning process and further supplemented by the Section 7 consultation process required under the Endangered Species Act. Understanding and clearly reflecting existing requirements on public lands will be a critical component of any conservation leasing effort and the allocation of conservation credits for services already provided. Any discussion of issues such as this would have led to identification of problems in implementation such as is this a carbon credit conservation lease or a more generalized conservation credit program.  If this is a more generalized conservation credit discussion, does this mean that existing USFWS credit programs will be expanded?  If these basic issues are not accurately addressed in the planning process, interested parties will be overlooked and unintended impacts will be immense. Again, this is completely unacceptable to the Organizations.

2(f). Executive Orders requiring travel management processes and the development of the minimization criteria are conservation.

The obligations to perform conservation efforts on BLM lands is not just statutorily created, as significant conservation has been required by Executive Orders(“EO”). It is again problematic that the Proposal assert to be applying mandates of several EO in the development of the Proposal, but fail to provide any summary of existing mandates created by other EO. Understanding the multiple basis of conservation will be integral to the relationships between various interests under the Proposal. Without basic understanding of why decisions have been made will be critical in avoiding repetition of efforts and reducing unintended consequences of any action.  An example of existing obligations to perform conservation on ALL BLM lands related to a particular use in place for more than 50 years is the minimization review for travel planning mandated by EO 11644  originally issued by President Richard Nixon in 1972. Executive Order  11644 specifically provides as follows:

Sec. 3. Zones of Use. (a) Each respective agency head shall develop and issue regulations and administrative instructions, within six months of the date of this order, to provide for administrative designation of the specific areas and trails on public lands on which the use of off-road vehicles may be permitted, and areas in which the use of off-road vehicles may not be permitted, and set a date by which such designation of all public lands shall be completed. Those regulations shall direct that the designation of such areas and trails will be based upon the protection of the resources of the public lands, promotion of the safety of all users of those lands, and minimization of conflicts among the various uses of those lands. The regulations shall further require that the designation of such areas and trails shall be in accordance with the following–

(1) Areas and trails shall be located to minimize damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, or other resources of the public lands.

(2) Areas and trails shall be located to minimize harassment of wildlife or significant disruption of wildlife habitats.

(3) Areas and trails shall be located to minimize conflicts between off-road vehicle use and other existing or proposed recreational uses of the same or neighboring public lands, and to ensure the compatibility of such uses with existing conditions in populated areas, taking into account noise and other factors.

(4) Areas and trails shall not be located in officially designated Wilderness Areas or Primitive Areas. Areas and trails shall be located in areas of the National Park system, Natural Areas, or National Wildlife Refuges and Game Ranges only if the respective agency head determines that off-road vehicle use in such locations will not adversely affect their natural, aesthetic, or scenic values.”

Again, this type of a requirement in planning is conservation by definition. The Organizations repeat our concerns around the accuracy of any assertion that the agency lacks authority to undertake conservation actions as this is another example of how conservation is woven throughout the planning process. As we have outlined in other portions of these comments, the motorized recreational community has proceeded well beyond a minimalist interpretation of compliance with this mandate.  Rather our programs have sought to avoid as many issues as possible and as a result could be generating credits already through these efforts. This is conservation efforts in balance with recreation working to improve both on the ground.

Understanding the relationship of various Statutory requirements, Executive Orders and other existing planning efforts is important to avoiding conflict as well as it appears many of the interests that seek to enter the conservation credit market are unfamiliar with the multiple use mandate of federal lands as they have not done projects on federal lands previously.  Leaseholders should be able to understand that closing public access to perform conservation under a lease conflict with other planning that has specifically found the route sustainable.  The leaseholder should not be allowed to violate those travel planning decision by asserting that closing the route, even temporarily, is a benefit to conservation. Understanding these issues and multiple processes addressing conservation on the ground will allow accurate allocation of conservation credits across existing efforts and avoid unintended impacts to parties outside of any lease.

3(a). Use of public lands management as a saleable commodity must be done equitably and undoubtedly requires Congressional approval.

The Organizations cannot view the proposed concept of a Conservation Lease and conservation as a use of public lands in the isolation of the Proposal, given that there are numerous legislative Proposals pending that would create and expand this concept on public lands.[28] As an example is the provisions of §137 of America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, which would provide similar leasing authority to the USFS as is proposed here.  This is not a coincidence and indicates that the Proposal is the first step towards monetizing public lands management to develop conservation or carbon credits that can be bought and sold by the holder of these credits. We are not opposed to this concept being applied on the use of public lands for the development of conservation credits as we can see benefits to the OHV community from this type of effort. However, we assert any credits must be equitably allocated across all efforts and not just those seeking to sign leases.

As previously mentioned, USFWS already has a conservation credit market in place for endangered species efforts, which is not addressed in the Proposal.  There are also many State led efforts which could easily be expanded allowing the public to capture conservation credits for efforts they have undertaken on federal lands.  An example of this type of program would be the credit program existing with the California Air Resources Board, which we must believe could merely be expanded to include projects on federal lands. This type of benefit would have to be achieved through a program that is legal and equitable for all efforts that could be creating conservation credits. We are concerned that conservation leasing is simply not a model or vehicle for the creation of conservation credits on public lands we can support as it is not equitable to all interests that might be performing work deserving of credits. The Proposal entirely fails to provide any guidance on how credits would be created and allocated in long term projects or across multiple management agencies.  The Proposal also fails to address how provisions of the lease that are proposed would be managed, which is a major concern for us as third-party lease holders will have no incentive to comply with multiple use mandates other than public pressure and litigation as BLM entirely lacks staff for this type of effort. The public should not be forced to sue a third party to keep access to federal public lands.

The Organizations are also concerned that an effort of this type of scale is probably not best vetted through a small provision of an agency planning effort. This is a huge initiative and needs to be meaningfully discussed with all participants. The carbon credit trading market appears to be driven to monetize conservation efforts in an effort to increase funding and possibly use credits to offset other impacts in other areas. Our research indicates that just the carbon credit market estimated to be an $850 billion global market and rapidly growing in size. The sheer size of the interests involved in this effort is concerning as it will put many interests of hugely disproportionate size in conflicting uses on federal public lands.   For purposes of these comments, we are referring to these efforts as a “conservation credit program.” The primary nonpublic conservation credit program we are aware of is the Nature Conservancy’s Naturevest effort, which is a conservation effort driven by JPMorgan/Chase through the Nature Conservancy. The Organizations believe the change from a quasi or entirely governmentally run conservation credit program is significantly different than one largely run by a private entity on lands without a multiple use mandate.  While there are other players and entities working in the conservation credit sector, Naturevest is simply the privately based program we are most familiar with and able to locate the most information regarding. We are referring to the privately run conservation credit model as the Naturevest model simply for clarity of efforts.

Naturevest is a partnership formed in 2014 which now claims more than $2.5 billion spent in last decade in a global effort that largely focused on carbon-based credits.  The conservation credit programs appear to be predominately a for-profit effort partially seeking to create carbon credits to sell through expanded “protections” on landscapes.  Based on our investigations it appears the Naturevest model program does not focus on any actual on the ground benefits and the creation of conservation credits appears to be very theoretical in nature. As an example, the Naturevest effort identifies several major international debt restructuring efforts for countries, such as their efforts in Belize where JPMorgan efforts to restructure of national debt generated protected aquatic habitat. Very little information is provided on how the protection functions or the benefits that are achieved from these protections, making any comment on how these benefits interact with other interests impossible. Another highlighted project was the protection of forests in Pennsylvania from timber harvest which creating credits by “protecting” trees in State Forest.  Subsequently the State of Pennsylvania stated that were never proposed to be cut in the first place.  The accuracy of any asserted benefits has been the topic of significant debate as many analysists are concerned around the foundational assumptions of the credit effort in general.[29]  This type of foundational concern should be resolved prior to any conservation lease initiative being moved forward.  If conservation benefits are claimed, they should be accurately calculated, provide protection in perpetuity and be equitably available.

While the long-term viability of conservation benefits may be a weakness of the Naturevest model of conservation credits, it is a strength of statutorily created programs like the OHV efforts.  As a result of these statutory basis the long-term benefit of any effort is far more identifiable and consistent as grant program funded efforts can provide maintenance for these benefits almost indefinitely moving forward. Not only are benefits more identifiable and sustainable, State OHV programs investments exceed the value of contributions from efforts like Naturevest at the national level. Annually State OHV/OSV programs are providing $200-$300m for public lands and access across the nation and are overwhelmingly funded by voluntarily created OHV registration programs.  These are programs where the primary funding is the result of legislation was passed by the users to self-tax themselves to protect resources and access and are unique to the motorized trails community.  Global annual spending of Naturevest is roughly similar in size to benefits of voluntary motorized registration programs across country over the same time.

While OHV efforts are primarily associated with recreation, significant portions of the funding are protecting resources that should be the basis for some type of credit. These programs provide benefits that are very different than the abstract benefits of the conservation credit programs as we focus on tangible on the ground improvements rather than speculative benefits that may never occur.  As an example of the projects we undertake to protect resources, our crews build bridges, install culverts and harden trail tread to protect resources.

Crews of people and tractors working on trails

Our crews also proactively address drainage issues from weather impacts to protect aquatic resources and habitat on public lands in partnership with BLM managers after NEPA analysis is completed.

soil eing replaced/moved by tractor

Our clubs and crews install educational signage to avoid impacts before they happen and width restrictors to ensure that larger vehicles are not traversing narrow trails and possibly causing impacts.

images of signage at trails

The crews that the OHV programs fund, along with partner clubs cut thousands of fallen trees from trails to allow these routes to provide recreational opportunities. These routes also protect resources as managers can use these routes to respond rapidly and safely to wildfire outbreaks in the area.  The following picture represents our efforts in one location.

before and after photos of trail with felled trees, then cleaned of all

These are concrete benefits for conservation and sustainability that we also provide ongoing funding for maintenance and monitoring of.  If these improvements are impacted by unusually severe weather or other issues, they can be repaired quickly unlike benefits that are abstract or remote from conditions on the ground. The highly valuable nature of these types of efforts was recently highlighted in a 2023  publication from Federal Highways Administration outlining the roles that all forms of trails have in the climate situation and the often-critical role that trails play in addressing sustainability. The FHWA states this conclusion as follows:

“In terms of specific vulnerabilities, future research could focus on the vulnerability of trails to wildfires, particularly on the role the vegetation along the trail may play as fuel for wildfires in urban and semiurban areas. In geographic areas at risk from wildfires, trail designers, planners, and managers will benefit from understanding how trail design and vegetation can be adapted to reduce trail vulnerabilities to the frequency and/or severity of wildfire events.

Additionally, given the recognition that maintenance and management play an important role in reducing trails’ vulnerability to extreme weather, future research could address how those practices should change, now and in the future, to ensure trails’ resilience to increasing and shifting natural hazards.” [30]

Given that Federal Highways has already recognized the benefit of access and trails to climate sustainability, our concerns about the benefits of trails to BLM conservation efforts is well placed.

This foundational differences of these efforts with Naturevest type efforts should be cause for discussion as basic equity of those performing conservation must be provided across different models achieving conservation. The Proposal simply does not provide this type of equity but rather create the situation where existing local efforts developing actual on the ground conservation benefits could be allocated to entities simply holding a least unrelated party to the local effort. The Proposal further allows the situation where a third party could come into an area, execute a conservation lease and then leave without addressing maintenance.  Managers would then be forced to use other resources for this, such as an OHV grant, and that grant program might be precluded from obtaining a similar credit-based benefit.  This is unacceptable.

OHV concerns around conservation credits created with conservation leases extend beyond mere equity in allocation of credits but are far more foundational.  Those participating in the conservation credit market currently do not appear to be working in any market managed under a multiple use mandate on public lands. Our research indicates that the conservation credit market previous efforts have targeted state or private lands that lack a multiple use mandate. This is a major concern as there are no best management practices or other guidance that can be provided to local land managers who are exploring the application of this type of lease in the planning process.  This is going to cause a lot of problems and conflicts as managers have never done this type of effort before. We are hesitant to adopt a trial by fire type learning model in this process as we will lose access and many other will be impacted by unintended consequences of the effort. The Organizations are even more concerned that the Proposal states that “temporary” closures to access would be allowed.

Our decades of experience undertaking huge projects that may be subject to creation of a conservation or carbon credit also allow us to understand that many large projects focused on large tangible benefits on the ground are not funded by a single source but are rather a collaboration of many interests, some governmental and others not. Given the common nature of this collaborative model of moving large projects forward, the Proposal must also address if the conservation credits could be allocated across multiple funding sources based on the funding and other resources provided for the project.

3(b)(2). Is the Proposal seeking to create a conservation lease or a conservation permit program?

The introduction of a Naturevest type effort into the management of federal public lands management is an entirely new effort as previous conservation leases have focused on lands without the multiple use mandate. Moving the Naturevest private model to public lands gives rise to another basic question that is not addressed in the Proposal. What public lands management concept most aligns with the desired program and benefits? The answer to type of question may be a conservation permit not a conservation lease.  Again, these foundational terms are not identified in the proposal, so the Organizations must use standard definitions of these concepts for our discussion.  A lease by definition means:

“Any agreement which gives rise to a relationship of landlord and tenant (real property) ot a lessor and lessee(real or personal property). A contract for the exclusive possession of lands, tenements or hereditaments for life, for a term of years at will, or for any special interest than that of a lessor, usually for a specified rent or compensation. Contract wherein one lets to the other a certain space, property, or building for a specified unit of time, generally a week, month or year. Agreement under which the owner gives up possession and use of his property for valuable consideration and for a definite term and at the end of the term the owner has the absolute right to retake control and use of the property.”[31]

Concepts necessary to create a lease, such as exclusive usage and other legal requirements, simply do not align with the Proposal and protecting multiple uses already in place well at all. What other options might have been looked at as a vehicle to allocate credits with and how was the leasing concept identified as the proper vehicle for this effort to move forward with are simply never addressed. Clearly there are other models available to perform this function.

While the Proposal to review possible options for allocation of credits, making meaningful public comment is difficult to create, the Organizations are able to identify other options for the allocation of credits that are worthy of discussion.  The efforts that seem to be reflected in the Proposal are more accurately reflected in the legal concept of a permit rather than a lease, and the permit concept aligns better with the multiple use mandate of public lands. By definition a permit is:

“In general, any document which grants a person the right to do something. A license or grant of authority to do a thing. A written license or warranty issued by a person in authority empowering the grantee to do some act not forbidden by law but not allowable without such authority.  A license or instrument granted by officers of excise(or customs) certifying that duties on certain goods have been paid or secured and permitting their removal from some specified place to another.”[32]

While the legal concept of a permit aligns far better with the efforts being undertaken, for reasons that are unclear, this type of option is not discussed in the Proposal. A major benefit of the permit model for conservation efforts when compared to the conservation lease model, is the fact that most permits do not allow exclusive possession of public lands which the permit is issued for.  Again, failing to provide definitions and meaningful discussion into basic concepts in the Proposal make it very difficult for us to substantively comment on the Proposal. While a permit might align better with the effort, a large amount of discussion still needs to occur to ensure multiple uses and existing planning are addressed and protected before the Organizations could support even the concept of a permit being the proper vehicle for implementation.

3(b)(2). Best available science also questions if a lease even the correct tool to be used for environmental credits?

One of the foundational conclusions that appears to have been made before the Proposal was released was the determination that a lease was the correct tool for capturing the environmental  benefits for any efforts that could arise from the program.  This is a major concern for our interests as a lease could actually create a barrier to the efficiency and effectiveness of our efforts moving forward.  This is very concerning to us. The determination of the proper tool to be applied for the capturing of possible conservation benefits is generally far from resolved with researchers addressing this question.  Rather researchers seem to be involving more and more concepts into efforts to capture benefits to strike the proper balance of credits and efforts. Researchers have recently been summarized as follows:

“To be effective, habitat exchange program must achieve at least no net loss of habitat for target species (zu Ermgassen et al., 2019). Yet data generally are not collected to rigorously assess outcomes. Few habitat exchange programs have been evaluated formally (but see Calvet et al., 2019; Robertson & Rinker, 2010), and the collective ability of habitat exchange programs to offset ecological impacts and achieve conservation objectives has not been assessed. Furthermore, many challenges for biodiversity offsetting programs more broadly are applicable to habitat exchange programs.”[33]

Not only is the basic structure to allocate credits far from resolved scientifically, other questions such as timing of credits being provided and efforts being concluded remains a completely unresolved question. These are challenges we face every day just under a different management structure as our programs must balance the desire to construct a new facility with the ongoing need to maintain existing structures that are already in place. While these are entirely different management models, the challenges are very similar and highlights a VERY different path towards resolution.   The Proposal adopts a model that provides no insights regarding the balancing of credits being derived from a third-party leaseholder effort who has ZERO incentive to maintain any of their efforts in the long term under the current Proposal.  In stark contrast,  our funding programs are statutorily created through state legislative efforts, which means our resources are available to perform the original effort creating the benefit and to ensure that the benefit continues to be provided indefinitely into the future. This situation has plagued those seeking to sell or buy credits, which researchers have outlined as follows:

“This notwithstanding, there is an important critical debate in the scholarly literature. Overall, a main critical argument is that the goal of no-net-loss is rarely reached (Gardner et al., 2013; Levrel et al., 2017) and that monitoring and evaluation of implemented offsets is poor Again the Organizations must insist that foundational questions of equity around the basic structure and performance of any conservation credit market (Vaissiere et al, 2017).”

These foundational challenges to basic equity and long-term success of any conservation credit effort that may be developed must be resolved before implementation begins.  This can help avoid profound impacts on existing partnerships, multiple uses more generally and ensure that benefits are maintained in the future.  These types of concerns are neither abstract or remote to our concerns, as resolution of these questions must reflect the strengths and weakness of efforts into an equitable allocation of any credit that may be developed or sold.  Basic questions must be resolved before implementation to ensure the party funding and performing the mitigation effort is the one that is receiving the credit.  Credits should not be being provided to a third party that is simply holding the lease and doing nothing on the ground. The Organizations would like to avoid having to maintain or fix poorly developed mitigation efforts that were performed by third parties who are no longer interested simply to maintain our access to these areas. This is patently unfair.

3(c). Does BLM even have the statutory authority to enter into conservation leases?

While there is no question that BLM has been required to perform conservation in all phases of management for decades, this existing statutory authority does not appear to include utilizing leases to achieve these benefits. The Proposal fails identify even arguable statutory authority for BLM to enter into a lease of this type. By law, BLM does not inherently have the authority to enter into any lease but rather this authority is provided to the BLM  by Congress.  Often these grants of authority come with clear goals and objectives for a lease and a mandatory public process to be complied with to ensure the multiple use mandate is complied with. BLM authority for the issuance of mineral leases is authorized by 1920 Mineral Leasing Act which requires NEPA.  BLM issuance of grazing leases is authorized by FLPMA, which again requires significant planning and public engagement efforts under NEPA. While there are several other provisions that allow disposal of lands by the BLM to generate funds for reinvestment, they are not addressed here as the Proposal does not mention the disposal of public lands

BLM is also authorized to undertake various land disposals and leases under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act of 1926, which again requires NEPA and compliance with numerous other provisions, such as the identification of lands for leasing in the development of an RMP.  As the conservation credit effort clearly is not a mineral extraction effort or involves grazing cattle, we must assume the effort is thought to be a public purpose. While BLM appears to assume that a conservation lease is a public purpose conceptually, it does not fit with the definition of a public purpose in the CFR.  This definition is:

“Public purpose means for the purpose of providing facilities or services for the benefit of the public in connection with, but not limited to, public health, safety or welfare. Use of lands or facilities for habitation, cultivation, trade or manufacturing is permissible only when necessary for and integral to, i.e., and essential part of, the public purpose.”[34]

The Organizations do not contest that the concept of a conservation lease may be a public purpose, the Organizations also submit that a conservation lease simply does not fit that definition well at all. It is against the scope of a statute that is more than 100 years old the Organizations must raise serious concerns over the application of this statute in the manner proposed by BLM.  Courts have approached this question with growing scrutiny as last month the US Supreme Court again reaffirmed their position on the ability of an agency to expand and alter their Congressionally provided scope of authority on any issue as follows:

“But “construing statu­tory language is not merely an exercise in ascertaining ‘the outer limits of a word’s definitional possibilities… and here, “only one . . . meanin[g] produces a substantive effect that is compatible with the rest of the law,” We have often remarked that Congress does not “hide elephants in mouseholes” by “alter[ing] the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions.”[35]

The Organizations vigorously assert that asserting jurisdiction to allow the large-scale leasing of public lands in the manner proposed would be just such an elephant in a mousehole that the Court again has said is unacceptable. It is unfortunate that the Sackett Court application of these basic legal canons reflects a legal position that is well settled.  The US Supreme Court has specifically stated this in 1988  as follows:

“In ascertaining the plain meaning of the statute, the court must look at the particular statutory language at issue as well as the language and design of the statute as a whole.”[36]

More than 150 years earlier the US Supreme Court clearly mandated this position as follows:

“The enlightened patriots who framed our constitution and the people who adopted it must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense and to have intended what they have said.”[37]

This long history of Courts requiring clear statutory authority for agency action is a basic canon of statutory interpretation, so we must question why such an issue was not addressed in the Proposal.  Failing to provide basic information negatively impacts the publics’ ability to understand what is being proposed and how it relates to existing planning and statutory authority.  We submit this type of a conceptual problem is why we are asking for a larger engagement be performed around the development and implementation of the use of the conservation lease on public lands managed for multiple uses. We are also asking for this engagement to occur before any site-specific planning to ensure that the tools provided for site specific planning can equitably and accurately benefit all parties functioning in this area. This is simply an unprecedented usage of these lands and could impact many interests. Once issues such as this are resolved we can see no reason why conservation lease concept would not receive Congressional authorization.

3(d). Conservation leases cannot obstruct existing legal usages.

The proper application of existing legal and statutory authority is critical to mitigating unintended impacts from the Proposal, as the Proposal states conservation leases can stop existing legal activities on the ground.  The Proposal also provides no process to address if closures are even necessary as part of any conservation effort.   A vigorous and thorough public process is critical to identifying interests in the area that must be addressed in planning. Engaging partners on basic questions such as the necessity of closures for a project or how the project would minimize restrictions and closures are simply never addressed. Under the Proposal, parties that could be injured by illegal closures do not even have clearly identified statutory process to seek a remedy to this type of issue available to them.   Collaboration prior to a conservation effort should address how the public and partners are engaged on these issues must be clearly and directly provided for.  They have not been.

Moving forward with implementation of the Proposal without clear guidance on issues like legal public access could have disastrous impacts on existing partnerships and economic benefits that flow to local communities from recreation. Negotiations on foundational positions such as who monitors lease holder activity can be very heavy burdens on local groups that are largely volunteer and involvement can be heavily impacted by basic issues such as the timing of meetings.  Most volunteer lead groups are led by members of the public that work traditional jobs and could not attend collaborative meetings during the day. This type of indirect impact from the Proposal is unacceptable. Rather than providing meaningful analysis of possible impacts to existing legal usages many possible impacts are simply not valued at all in the Proposal. What the Proposal would summarize as “causal usage” of legal roads and trails in an area that may be leased for conservation are often highly valued recreational opportunities on public lands that have been through numerous rounds of NEPA analysis. This is another example of an elephant trying to be hidden in a mouse hole in the planning process.

The Organizations vigorously assert that the Proposal must clearly and directly address how BLM will ensure that any closure is the minimal amount needed to achieve the goals of the RMP, recognize the existing NEPA analysis and in balance with the conservation effort. If a temporary closure is necessary, these temporary closures must be identified as the minimum amount necessary to achieve the goals.  The Proposal must specifically provide how closures will occur and penalties if the conservation lease holder fails to comply with these requirements.  The current Proposal does none of this, and dismisses this concern as a mere casual usage of public lands. The current Proposal would force the public to become the enforcement tool for ensuring that public access is not loss or that lost access is only temporary despite decades of NEPA analysis supporting the existence of the opportunity. This situation will be made worse as the for-profit lease holder of the conservation lease will be comparatively well funded compared to the member of the public seeking to legally use public lands subject to the lease.  This is patently unfair to the public and must be addressed and mitigated in the Proposal.

The failure to meaningfully address existing usages allows other significant indirect impacts to be entirely overlooked.  Impacts to existing legal uses must be clearly and directly protected against under any regulations seeking to provide access to any public lands, as once the for-profit conservation lease holder is performing conservation activities on the ground there will be a strong economic desire of that leaseholder to continue to operate in a for profit manner.  Simply stopping other multiple uses, rather than managing multiple uses will expand profits from any project. The Proposal fails to address this serious concern in any substantive manner with the following provisions:

“The proposed rule would define the term ”casual use” so that, in reference to conservation leases, it would clarify that the existence of a conservation lease would not in and of itself preclude the public from accessing public lands for noncommercial activities such as recreation. Some public lands could be temporarily closed to public access for purposes authorized by conservation leases, such as restoration activities or habitat improvements. However, in general, public lands leased for conservation purposes under the proposed rule would continue to be open to public use.”[38]

These provisions are horribly open ended in scope and fail to address basic questions such as who will monitor temporary closures and ensure lease requirements will be honored. The Proposal fails to mention that these “casual uses” are in fact legal uses of the area that may have been repeatedly found sustainable after multiple rounds of NEPA.  These casual users might also be interests that could be partners in conservation efforts.  Without clear guidance on how lease credits will be allocated and managed, a new leaseholder would have no reason to engage with other partners in the planning area to ensure that efforts and credits are balanced.  Rather the Proposal almost silence on this issue would create a situation where new leaseholders would benefit from not engaging with groups already working on the ground. This concern is only compounded by the fact this concern is addressed in a highly dismissive manner.

Any substantive comment on this issue is complicated by the fact the above provisions are in direct contradiction to provisions of the Proposal immediately following the above section. These subsequent conflicting  provisions on this issue provide as follows:

“This provision is not intended to provide a mechanism for precluding other uses, such as grazing, mining, and recreation. Conservation leases should not disturb existing authorizations, valid existing rights, or state or Tribal land use management. Rather, this proposed rule is intended to raise conservation up to be on par with other uses under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield…. Once a conservation lease is issued, § 6102.4(a)(4) would preclude the BLM, subject to valid existing rights and applicable law, from authorizing other uses of the leased lands that are inconsistent with the authorized conservation use.”[39]

The Organizations are very concerned that the above provisions are almost completely contradictory and are also highly flexible and subjective as many of the terms are poorly defined and are often taking rather unique interpretations of existing definitions. The Organizations are very concerned that the open-ended nature of the standards will cause long term confusion and conflict, such as those that continue to plague the discussion of possible Wilderness Study Areas.   WSA management problems persist almost 50 years after inventory was completed by land managers and found sufficient and complete by Congress.  Even though many areas were never found suitable for inclusion as Wilderness, in some cases due to high levels of casual usage of motorized usage on these lands, management efforts still continue to try and move these areas into Wilderness type designations.

It is disappointing that the Proposal fails to value decades of analysis, efforts and partnerships, instead choosing to avoid addressing these previous efforts and this failure will cause conflicts to simply explode in size and intensity. These types of management challenges are exactly the type of problem that the Supreme Court found to result from managers attempting to jam elephants into mouseholes. The Organizations are very concerned that WSA will be hotspot areas for conservation and there are some WSA that have large amounts of motorized usage on them. We would like to resolve WSA conflicts rather than make them worse. The Organizations are also concerned that implementation of these rather open ended and ambiguous requirements for conservation leasing will lead to significant new conflicts.

3(e). Conservation leases should never create presumptions for  future management standards.

The Organizations are very concerned that in numerous locations the Proposal appears to seek to tie future management decisions to protect areas to the existence of a conservation lease at some time previously. This makes absolutely no sense as conservation leases could be occurring in areas protected, possibly by Congressional actions, for a range of multiple uses, not just conservation. Again, this is an elephant of an issue trying to be hid in a mousehole.  One such provision would be as follows:

“The proposed rule would define the term ”disturbance” to provide the BLM with guidance in identifying and assessing impacts to ecosystems,  restoring affected public lands, and minimizing and mitigating future impacts.”[40]

The Organizations would be VERY concerned if any conservation lease was thought to set a precedent to any specific level or type of management in the future.  As the Organizations have noted there are a significant number of projects and efforts undertaken by our community that could be suitable to award some type of credit towards. We can envision conservation-based credits being provided on a wide range of land management prescriptions and at no point should the mere existence of a conservation lease create a presumption of any future management prescription.  This type of decision making is horribly pre-decisional and would allow managers in the future to completely avoid NEPA analysis of impacts and benefits from decisions that are being made.

The Organizations are compelled to address this type of a concern as we continue to struggle with the management of many previous inventory efforts and processes, such as Wilderness Study areas and USFS Roadless Areas on USFS lands.  These are an inventory of characteristics of these areas and not a management standard but we continue to hear calls for these areas to be managed as Wilderness despite many of the areas never being suitable for designation. These challenges exist despite numerous locations in the Wilderness Act clearly stating that the mere inventory of these areas does not remove the multiple use mandate for the area until Congress designates the area or releases the areas. Planners must avoid challenges such as this moving forward rather than making the same mistakes again, and this is a concern as the Proposal has no provisions to avoid this type of impact but rather appears to encourage this type of management.

3(f). Portions of the Proposal seek to apply new management standards without mentioning multiple uses.

The systemic failure of the Proposal to provide detailed discussions of how existing successes and partners and how existing multiple use decisions and mandates would be integrated into new efforts numerous provisions in the Proposal is disappointing.  This is a stark contrast to the USFS sustainability proposals that are currently open for public comment at the same time as the BLM. The USFS identifies multiple use management and partnerships in some detail throughout their Proposal, which only highlights the silence of the BLM Proposal.  The BLM Proposal fails to recognize multiple uses in any way at all and continues to speak of conservation in complete isolation, as exemplified in the guidance as follows:

“Section 6103.1–1—Land Health Standards and Guidelines Proposed § 6103.1–1 would instruct authorized officers to implement land health standards and guidelines that conform to the fundamentals of land health across all lands and program areas. This includes reviewing land health standards and guidelines during the land use planning process and developing new or revising existing land health standards and guidelines as necessary, and periodically reviewing land health standards and guidelines in conjunction with regular land use plan evaluations. Until the authorized officer has an opportunity to review and update land health standards and guidelines through land use planning processes, § 6103.1–1(a)(1) of the proposed rule would direct authorized officers to apply existing land health standards and guidelines, including those previously established under subpart 4180 of the agency’s grazing regulations fundamentals of rangeland health), across all lands and program areas.

Proposed § 6103.1–1(b) through (d) would require the authorized officer to establish goals, objectives, and success indicators to ensure that each land health standard can be measured against resource conditions and to periodically review authorized uses for consistency with the fundamentals of land health. Once land health standards and guidelines are established, any action in response to not meeting them would be subject to § 6103.1–2(e)(2) and taken in a manner that takes into account existing uses and authorizations. Under the proposed rule, the BLM may establish national indicators in support of the implementation of the fundamentals of land health.”[41]

The Organizations are simply astonished that multiple uses or existing planning or Congressional designations are simply are never even mentioned in the development and application of these standards. The Organizations are very concerned that the above provisions again represent a direct and material conflict between these provisions and other portions of the Proposal seeking input on how leases should be developed and lengths of time for leases and bonding requirements. These questions are moot if the entire process is simply going to be applied.  The conflict that will result from these basic failures will be immense and result in no benefit reaching the ground. Again, this issue is another elephant trying to hide in a mousehole.

4. NEPA analysis provided is facially insufficient and results in a fragmented method of plan development.

The NEPA analysis of the Proposal must be significantly expanded to achieve basic legal sufficiency,  as this Proposal is proceeding under just a categorical exclusion violates both NEPA and internal guidance documents of the BLM.  The Organizations submit that the experiences of the USFS with the development of their 2012 planning rule are highly relevant to our concerns about the lack of NEPA analysis being undertaken by the BLM.  The USFS sought to coordinate their efforts and undertake a complete EIS of the new rule and its impacts and the Organizations submit this vigorous NEPA process was critical to the development of a Rule that has largely been successful on the ground and mitigated unintended impacts.

Rather than consolidate all issues into a single location and align efforts and analysis to avoid unintended impacts,  BLM has chosen to divide their planning efforts into numerous concepts, each of which are being treated separately. It has been our experience that management development based on these types of standards fails to address issues on the ground or translate into long term success.  Often these isolated management efforts and concepts are poorly defined and overlap other efforts in terms of scope and alignment.  Basic good management strategies require the cumulative impacts of these numerous isolated efforts must be reviewed and streamlined as most decisions will be made under multiple overlapping standards.  This factual conclusion results in identification of the relationships of these standards to each other which is critical in developing an effective decision-making process.  An efficient effective process will also foster better relationships with partners, as partners will not be forced to attend repetitive meetings or discussions to address similar issues.

Not only is the failure to seek some type of clearly defined goals and objectives poor management decision making any assertion the Proposal may continue forward with just a Categorical Exclusion and comply with NEPA planning requirements is internally inconsistent with landscape target of the goals and objectives of the Proposal.  The large-scale changes that are sought to be applied throughout the planning process are not even address in the NEPA provisions of the rulemaking, which the Proposal outlines as follows:

“The BLM intends to apply the Department Categorical Exclusion (CX) at 43 CFR 46.210(i) to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. This CX covers policies, directives, regulations, and guidelines that are of an administrative, financial, legal, technical, or procedural nature or whose environmental effects are too broad, speculative, or conjectural to lend themselves to meaningful analysis and will later be subject to the NEPA process, either collectively or case-by case. The BLM plans to document the applicability of the CX concurrently with development of the final rule.”[42]

Any assertion that a Categorical Exclusion is sufficient NEPA analysis to support the effort is in direct contradiction to the target scale of the Proposal which is outlined as follows:

“To ensure that health and resilience, the proposed rule provides that the BLM will protect intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat, and make wise management decisions based on science and data. To support these activities, the proposed rule would apply land health standards to all BLM-managed public lands and uses, clarify that conservation is a ”use” within FLPMA’s multiple-use framework, and revise existing regulations to better meet FLPMA’s requirement that the BLM prioritize designating and protecting Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs). The proposed rule would add to provide an overarching framework for multiple BLM programs to promote ecosystem resilience on public lands.”[43]

The inherent conflict of the determination the new regulations created by Proposal may proceed with only a Categorical Exclusion is immediately apparent when the goals and objectives of the Proposal are compared to existing guidance documents from the BLM on the necessity to prepare an EIS.  These internal BLM guidance documents provide as follows:

“11.8   Major Actions Requiring an EIS.

    1. An EIS level analysis should be completed when an action meets either of the two following criteria.

(1)     If the impacts of a proposed action are expected to be significant; or

(2)     In circumstances where a proposed action is directly related to another action(s), and cumulatively the effects of the actions taken together would be significant, even if the effects of the actions taken separately would not be significant,”[44]

The Organizations submit that these landscape level goals can only be achieved through a significant change in landscape level planning, and when the cumulative impacts of these landscape level change, the need for expanded NEPA analysis becomes immediately apparent.  These levels of planning would basically be entirely new and would have a significant impact on a wide range of issues.  The lack of factual basis in the BLM position that the Proposal can move forward without an EIS level of analysis is clear when the cumulative impacts of all the separate planning efforts (Renewable Energy, species, recreation) are consolidated.

The Organizations also submit that the position of the BLM that only a Categorical Exclusion under NEPA is necessary to undertake a complete review of their planning rule is simply insulting to partners of all types.  It has been the Organizations experience that even small projects or permits, including club rides that occur on existing resources require at least an Environmental Assessment.  Many of the partners now alleged to be sought to engaged are involved in multi-year EA type analysis on a wide range of issues have been consistently told the EA process is the minimum allowed. Asserting a small trail proposal requires an EA  while the complete revision of  BLM planning can proceed with a Categorical Exclusion despite the Proposal changing almost very component planning is problematic for many reasons beyond legal requirements.  This variable standard of NEPA analysis sends a message to partners and it is not positive.  The Organizations submit these differences in NEPA application cannot be overlooked and will do little to foster support or partnership for planning efforts moving forward.  Organizations submit everyone must be treated similarly for NEPA purposes.

Again the contrast of the BLM sustainability efforts with USFS sustainability efforts cannot pass without comment as these conclusions cannot be reconciled with USFS determinations regarding the new sustainability and climate change planning rule for the USFS that is much smaller in scale and scope.[45]   USFS immediately recognized the cumulative and significant impacts of their sustainability rule and moved forward with a vigorous public input and review process under their existing planning rule which was subjected to a full EIS when it was adopted.  Given that the new USFS and BLM Proposals are moving at the same time, and the USFS is a significantly smaller scope effort than BLM Proposal there should be some level of consistency in the agencies NEPA analysis.  That consistency is not present currently which indicates a severe issue with the BLM’s determination.

The failure of the Proposal to be subjected to any NEPA review represents a significant failure of the BLM to learn from their previous planning efforts that failed. NEPA issues were a major problem with the BLM 2016 Planning Rule proposal(BLM Planning 2.0) and rather than submitting the current Proposal to higher levels of analysis than previously failed efforts, even less NEPA analysis is provided. BLM Planning 2.0 at least provided their questions to identify how the NEPA level was determined. This Proposal fails to even provide that basic a summary. While there is arguable authority in NEPA for this type of analysis, the previous failures of BLM planning must be addressed and learned from rather than expanded. Given the recent Sackett Supreme Court decision tightening the relationship between authorizing legislation for agencies and planning efforts and the tightening of NEPA requirements in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023,[46] this NEPA determination would appear to be problematic legally at best.  This is disappointing.  Not only does this Proposal seem destined to legally fail, it also sends a message to partners and that message is not positive at all. This message could do serious damage to existing relationships for a much longer period.

5(a). The Proposal fails to align with United Nations recommended Best Practices in any meaningful way.

The deeply problematic nature of the Proposal’s foundation is compounded even further by the fact the Proposal directly conflicts with United Nations guidance on best available science addressing management and decision making for the creation of conservation credits. Best available science in planning and conservation is reasonably well established as a result of decades of work by the United Nations on this issue.  The UN has identified several critical factors in successfully planning to protect resources, which the BLM has largely chosen to ignore in the Proposal. The Organizations believe how these factors are addressed or not addressed in the Proposal provides a good outline of the reasons we are opposing the Proposal.  The alignment of the Proposal with successful factors in management are only made more important as the challenges managers are facing are more complex and multifaceted than other examples of conservation credits in the US market.

Our frustration starts from the point that the UN guidance on this issue essentially reflects factors recognized by management and planning experts required in creating successful planning efforts for any issue.  These factors are:”

  1. “Planners need to recognize history of area and previous efforts to avoids repetition and confusion;
  2. Efforts need clearly defined goals and objectives;
  3. Consistent and Steady funding; and
  4. Good community buy in must be achieved.” [47]

The Organizations would agree with these concepts for management of conservation credits as these concepts generally align with a good decision-making process on any issue.  This analysis is critical to the success of any management effort and is already required for any BLM effort as BLM planning must be based on best available science. Immediate conflicts with best available science only compound when more specific guidance is reviewed. The United Nations World Conservation Monitoring Center,  the lead agency in the conservation credits market for several decades, outlines very similar concerns for governments seeking create conservation credits develop markets  as follows:

“Governments can provide regulatory and political certainty to VCM transactions by clarifying the rules of engagement for the VCM in their countries and by explicitly stating that they are ready to support project developers and investors in complying with relevant rules, regulations, and safeguards. The VCM also influences public policy and compliance markets, and in some cases voluntary carbon crediting programs directly interact with government carbon pricing schemes.”[48]

The United Nations continues to outline these types of foundational concerns as follows:

Two key intertwined issues are land access and carbon rights, said Timon Rutten, Head of Enterprise at Rewilding Europe. Accessing and aggregating sufficient land for a project can be complex and time consuming, and often results in the project being carried out on land with multiple owners. Once land is secured, there is still the issue of the carbon rights: who owns them and how to split the income across owners. This is why initiating projects is incredibly complicated. Projects also need to determine who they are willing to sell credits to, on what terms, and to be ready when companies approach them.[49]

These generalized management concerns have been more fully integrated into the development of conservation credit efforts as follows:

“Here sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2017). There are three key aspects to sustainable development that must be considered in balance to ensure that natural values (biodiversity, ecosystem services and ecosystem function) are not compromised: environmental, social and economic (Gibson, 2009; Moldan & Dahl, 2007; International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2017; Macintosh, 2015)…. While much has been written on the design of biodiversity offsets (Bull, Suttle, Gordon, Singh & Milner-Gulland, 2013; Carreras Gamarra, Lassoie, & Milder, 2018; Gardner et al., 2013; Quétier & Lavorel, 2011), this previous work has predominantly focused on the environment, excluding the social (Bidaud, Schreckenberg, & Jones, 2018; Gibbons, Macintosh, Constable and Hayashi, 2018; Githiru et al., 2015; Jacob, Buffard, Pioch & Thorin, 2017; Macintosh, 2015; Nijnik & Miller, 2017; Scholte, van Zanten, Verburg & van Teeffelen, 2016; Takacs, 2018) and/or economic (Benabou, 2014; Fallding, 2014; Jacob et al., 2017) aspects of sustainability, leading to inequalities and an inconsistent approach (Abdo et al., 2019; Jacob et al., 2017). Therefore, to ensure biodiversity offset requirements compensate for all aspects of sustainable development, a holistic model, incorporating natural values for design, implementation and ‘end-of-life’ phases, is needed. In particular, biodiversity offsets should address the Sustainable Development Goals that provide “strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection” (United Nations, 2019).”[50]

Researchers expand on the United Nations concerns for the entire model to be based on best available science, by addressing the factors necessary for a conservation credit market to successfully function as follows:

“Habitat restoration biodiversity offsets rely on conservation activities that improve habitat quality and/or extent as a compensatory measure (Maron, 2012; McDonald et al., 2016). Habitat restoration biodiversity offsets should only be implemented where natural values can be explicitly defined, there is sound scientific evidence that restoration will be successful, and time lags and uncertainties are effectively accounted for (Maron et al., 2012). Habitat restoration offsets can ensure no net loss (Maron & Louis, 2018) but have been shown to have unpredictable costs and a lower likelihood of success.”

The Organizations are very concerned that the three general characteristics of a successful credit program are not addressed in the Proposal but rather they are entirely avoided.  Even asserting there is general alignment is problematic factually. These foundational alignment issues for the Proposal’s scientific validity are troubling as the BLM’s need to manage in compliance with research is specifically identified as a major concern for the BLM moving forward in their science policy, various Executive Orders and numerous NEPA and Administrative Procedures Act requirements.

5(b). In addition to the Proposal failing to address UN science recommendations, the Proposal also fails to apply the BLM science strategy.

The United Nations has provided a large amount of information and guidance for those interests who are seeking to create a conservation credit type program, which while not legally binding is highly relevant to development of a conservation credit type market. This type of weighty information has always been identified as important by the BLM 2008 Science Strategy, which states:

“In this era of rapidly expanding knowledge and methodologies of predicting future environmental changes, it is critical to keep up with the state of knowledge in resource management. By making use of the most up-to-date and accurate science and technology and working with scientific and technical experts of other organizations, we will be able to do the best job of managing the land for its environmental, scientific, social, and economic benefits.” [51]

The need to accurately understand what resources are available, what resources need to be developed and the integration of these resources is again highlighted as critically important to successful planning.  The role that strategic planning documents play in determining current resources available and in identifying those resources that need to be developed is specifically and extensively discussed in the provisions of the 2008 BLM Science Strategy.  This discussion specifically identifies:

“National management issues will be focused to reflect how they apply to the various biogeographic regions of the United States. The BLM identifies and prioritizes the science needs and problems that threaten the targets and goals from the National Strategy. Targets are established for managing specific goals or objectives……The science needed to address the regional management issues will be defined. Science may include existing resource inventory, monitoring, and other data, as well as new information derived from research and project efforts.”[52]

Similar sentiments are expressed in a wide range of BLM planning efforts such as the NLCS and others.[53]  The Organizations are very concerned these factors and issues are never mentioned with any specificity in the Proposal and Rules. Basic guidance or vision is not provided on rudimentary issues such as who may or may not be eligible for conservation credit, who would provide credits and who would benefits be maintained in the long run. This is very concerning and we must ask if these standards and criteria of success are not addressed in the Rule, where will they be developed and applied? The Organizations are VERY concerned that without basic guidance around how conservation credits are going to be created and managed there will be a huge amount of unnecessary conflict between interests and this must be avoided. These concerns expand greatly when the introduction of expanded use of the ACEC designation process is incorporated into the proposed leasing development.

6(a).  Executive Orders requiring an expansion of recreational opportunities issued by President Biden must be accurately addressed in the Proposal.

Our concerns around the numerous actions by Congress have directly targeted landscape level planning requirements that are not accurately summarized or entirely overlooked in the Proposal, are addressed previously. These concerns extend to various Executive Orders, several of which have been issued and refined by numerous administrations. While some Executive Orders may have been in place for more than 50 years, and as a result might be more easily excused for not being analyzed, many Executive Orders issued by President Biden are mentioned but in a woefully inaccurate manner. The recent issuance of Executive Order # 14008 by President Biden on January 27, 2021 would be an example of a decision that is partially and woefully inaccurately summarized in the Proposal.  According to the Proposal EO14008 requires the following:

“Executive Order 14008: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad calls for quick action to build resilience against the impacts of climate change, bolster adaptation, and increase resilience across all operations, programs, assets, and mission responsibilities with a focus on the most pressing climate vulnerabilities. Section 211 of Executive Order 14008, calls on Federal agencies to develop a Climate Action Plan.”[54]

The Organizations do not contest that a climate action plan is a portion of this EO, but the EO spans more than 27 pages and addresses a wide range of other topics that must also be addressed as part of this effort. These other factors simply are ignored in the Proposal, as exemplified by the fact that EO14008 specifically addresses the requirement of expanding recreational access and economic benefits FIVE DIFFERENT TIMES in the EO. §214 of EO 14008 clearly mandates improved recreational access to public lands through management as follows:

“It is the policy of my Administration to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters. The Federal Government must protect America’s natural treasures, increase reforestation, improve access to recreation, and increase resilience to wildfires and storms, while creating well-paying union jobs for more Americans, including more opportunities for women and people of color in occupations where they are underrepresented.”

The clear and concise mandate of the EO to improve recreational access to public lands is again repeated in §215 of the EO as follows:

“The initiative shall aim to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

217 of EO 14008 also clearly requires improvement of economic contributions from recreation on public lands as follows:

“Plugging leaks in oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned mine land can create well-paying union jobs in coal, oil, and gas communities while restoring natural assets, revitalizing recreation economies, and curbing methane emissions.”

There is significant concern raised around the 30 by 30 concept and climate plans that are memorialized in EO 14008 in the Proposal. While the EO does not define what “protected” means, the EO also provided clear and extensive guidance on other values to be balanced with. From our perspective the fact that large tracts of land are Congressionally designated or managed pursuant to Executive Order far exceeds any goals for the EO. While there are overlap between these categories that precludes simply adding these classifications together, this also does not alter the fact the planning area has achieved these goals of 30% of acreages being protected.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time that new Executive Orders issued by President Biden are not accurately summarized in the Proposal. EO 14072 is also referenced numerous times in the Proposal and again the Proposal fails to reflect the scope and intent of this Order, and again this EO specifically recognizes and protects recreational usages as follows:

“Section 1. Policy. Strengthening America’s forests, which are home to cherished expanses of mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands, is critical to the health, prosperity, and resilience of our communities….We go to these special places to hike, camp, hunt, fish, and engage in recreation that revitalizes our souls and connects us to history and nature. Many local economies thrive because of these outdoor and forest management activities, including in the sustainable forest product sector.”[55]

EO 14072 specifically addresses recreational issues and opportunities as a factor to be addressed in the planning process as follows:

“Sec. 2. Restoring and Conserving the Nation’s Forests, Including Mature and Old-Growth Forests. My Administration will manage forests on Federal lands, which include many mature and old-growth forests, to promote their continued health and resilience; retain and enhance carbon storage; conserve biodiversity; mitigate the risk of wildfires; enhance climate resilience; enable subsistence and cultural uses; provide outdoor recreational opportunities; and promote sustainable local economic development….”[56]

EO 14072 continues to recognize the need to protect recreational access and related economic benefits as follows:

“(d) The Secretaries, in coordination with the heads of other agencies as appropriate, shall within 1 year of the date of this order: (iii) develop, in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce, with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, and with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and the scientific community, recommendations for community-led local and regional economic development opportunities to create and sustain jobs in the sustainable forest product sector, including innovative materials, and in outdoor recreation, while supporting healthy, sustainably managed forests in timber communities.”[57]

While the Proposal does a slightly better job in capturing the scope of the EO, it falls well short of capturing the entire EO and then applying it in the Proposal. The Proposal summary is as follows:

“Executive Order 14072, Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies, recognizes that healthy forests are ”critical to the health, prosperity, and resilience of our communities.” It states a policy to pursue science-based, sustainable forest and land management; conserve America’s mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands; invest in forest health and restoration; support indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and cultural and subsistence practices; honor Tribal treaty rights; and deploy climate-smart forestry practices and other nature-based solutions to improve the resilience of our lands, waters, wildlife, and communities in the face of increasing disturbances and chronic stress arising from climate impacts.”[58]

These horribly inaccurate summaries of Executive Orders provided in the Proposal will be huge impediments to implementing any of the Proposal, as the entire effort will be starting from a position of mistrust with the public. After a review of the Proposal, not able to identify any portion of the Proposal that might comply with the requirements of EO 14072 or EO 14008. The public should not be required to review every document referenced in a Proposal of this scale to ensure that the provisions of the regulations or Executive Orders are at least accurately summarized. This is disappointing to say the least.

6(b). How will sufficient resources and  staffing within the Agency be achieved to support new effort in compliance with EO 12866 and EO 13563?

The failure to meaningfully analyze issues will compound existing shortfalls of staffing and resources and resolving these will be critical to the implementation of the Proposal. Concerns such as this have driven several Executive Orders seeking to improve regulation and regulatory review processes, including EO 12866 Issued by President Clinton in 1993 and reaffirmed by President Obama with the issuance of EO 13563 and again reaffirmed with President Bidens memo issued January 20, 2021.

The 5 specific requirements of this family of Executive Orders and memos is summarized as follows in the EO 13563:

“This order is supplemental to and reaffirms the principles, structures, and definitions governing contemporary regulatory review that were established in Executive Order 12866 of September 30, 1993.  As stated in that Executive Order and to the extent permitted by law, each agency must, among other things:  (1) propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs (recognizing that some benefits and costs are difficult to quantify); (2) tailor its regulations to impose the least burden on society, consistent with obtaining regulatory objectives, taking into account, among other things, and to the extent practicable, the costs of cumulative regulations; (3) select, in choosing among alternative regulatory approaches, those approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety, and other advantages; distributive impacts; and equity); (4) to the extent feasible, specify performance objectives, rather than specifying the behavior or manner of compliance that regulated entities must adopt; and (5) identify and assess available alternatives to direct regulation, including providing economic incentives to encourage the desired behavior, such as user fees or marketable permits, or providing information upon which choices can be made by the public.”[59]

The applicability of the requirements of  this family of Executive Orders was reaffirmed  with the issuance of a Presidential Memo from President Biden on January 20, 2021.[60]  President Biden’s  Memo specifically provides as follows:

“These recommendations should provide concrete suggestions on how the regulatory review process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.  The recommendations should also include proposals that would ensure that regulatory review serves as a tool to affirmatively promote regulations that advance these values.  These recommendations should be informed by public engagement with relevant stakeholders.

(b)  In particular, the recommendations should:…

(ii)   propose procedures that take into account the distributional consequences of regulations, including as part of any quantitative or qualitative analysis of the costs and benefits of regulations, to ensure that regulatory initiatives appropriately benefit and do not inappropriately burden disadvantaged, vulnerable, or marginalized communities;”

Given that these EO specifically addresses the use of marketable permits and economic incentives as tools to be analyzed for possible impacts and benefits, the Organizations must question why the Proposal fails to recognize and analyze factors such costs and benefits and integration of the new regulatory process into existing processes. This memo only compounds the failure of the Proposal to undertake a cost benefit analysis in its development, as the economic analysis provide with the Proposal is woefully inadequate as outlined in other portions of these comments.

The impacts of cumulative regulations from the Proposal could be immense and again must be addressed and minimized but again has been omitted. In many areas of the country, our voluntary grant funded projects include the issuance of direct subsidy type grants to BLM offices to hire staff to support basic recreational management. This partnership model has resulted from the fact that no partner of a land manager is able to perform work on public lands without some type of oversight. In many BLM Offices there are years of recreational projects that have been approved by NEPA that we simply cannot complete as the BLM lacks staff to sign paperwork or oversee partner efforts. If we hire a contractor to perform work entirely outside BLM for NEPA efforts, NEPA compliance still must be proven, status meetings must occur, approval meetings and sign offs must also occur. That oversight requires BLM staff. Even with the direct subsidization of the hiring of staff, many offices we work with are still unable to hire sufficient staff to support our programs. In most areas, agency salaries simply are not able to provide a competitive wage, even if we subsidize them. As a result, our Organizations are looking at moving to permanent seasonal roles to streamline hiring or moving to a wage/grade model of compensation for some positions. These are efforts that will not be streamlined with new planning requirements being imposed that lack funding and a method to hire staff necessary to implement the effort.  Without these resources, existing issues will continue to stall and these are the indirect impacts that must be addressed in the Proposal.

The unreasonably narrow view of the impacts from the Proposal has resulted in the significant expansions of burdens on existing staffing and resources being totally overlooked. Certainly, conservation leases and ACEC development will require cultural resource inventories, public meetings  and Section 7 consultations for ESA compliance. Even if there is minimal on the ground work being done as a result of conservation credit leases, there will still be a significantly increased need for agency staff.  This type of operational requirement will significantly increase if there are actual mitigation projects occurring on the ground or the recreational improvement projects that we are already having to wait far too long to complete. Failing to address these types of on the ground challenges for offices who are working in the Conservation Credit area or review of ACEC proposal that were previously declined will be critical to the success of this effort.  Not only is this critical to the success of this project it is critical to ensuring that other partner efforts are not stopped or significantly slowed as a result of staffing issues. We are aware of this type of problem arising in several offices and this situation resulted in massive conflicts between land managers and users. These types of failures must be addressed clearly and directly before this model is moved forward with.

The Organizations are intimately aware of the large upfront costs that must be covered in the development of any large-scale planning effort, and as a result would ask to understand how these costs are going to be covered during the planning process? Regardless of the process that is finally determined to be applicable to the development of a conservation credit program or identifying areas that might be available for conservation leases  or expansion of ACEC designations, significant restructuring of existing RMP or development of updated RMP will be necessary.  This could easily take decades to develop and allowing existing projects to stall for this period of time is completely unacceptable to us. Each of these paths forward provide immense challenges that simply are never addressed in the Proposal. If the agency undertakes funding these efforts, how will these efforts be aligned with existing management efforts on the ground? If a third party undertakes these inventories, how will the accuracy of these inventories be assured?

6(c). The Department of Interior climate action plan addresses recreational access but the Proposal is silent on this issue.

In addition to the failures of the Proposal to accurately summarize numerous statutory and Executive Order requirements, the Proposal also fails to accurately summarize the Department of Interior’s 2021 Climate Action Plan.  DOI’s 2021 Climate Action Plan specifically identifies one of the 10 goals of the effort as working collaboratively with partners as follows:

“Build Strong Partnerships. Adaptation strategies will be collaborative and coordinated across multiple scales and will build on existing efforts and knowledge of public and private partners, including recreational groups, industry, international counterparts, municipalities, States, Tribes, and Insular areas. The Department’s network will also be expanded to include new partners with diverse views and values.”[61]

While partner collaboratives are clearly identified in the DOI 2021 Climate Action Plan, the Proposal simply fails provide more analysis of this issue beyond a naked assertion of compliance with the Plan. While the Organizations have been a partner of the BLM for decades, we are unaware of any engagement before the Rule was issued and we are unable to find any portion of the Proposal that could provide insight into the partnership moving forward. The implications from these types of failures are immense as the Proposal fails to even recognize possible partners or provide reasonable information to the public to allow for decision making. Analysis failures like this horribly undermines possible partners faith in the process and as a result future partners that will be hesitant to engage with managers.  This also exemplifies why a Categorical Exclusion is totally insufficient for NEPA analysis as this issue is another elephant in a mousehole that the Supreme Court has expressed serious concerns over.

7. Possible conflict between the Proposal and new USFS initiatives ramping up timber harvests must be recognized and analyzed.

The almost immediate irreconcilable conflict of the current BLM planning initiative, which seeks to protect large intact landscapes, with current US Forest Service efforts, which seek to greatly expand the management of timber resources and create healthy forests cannot be overlooked.
Even on basic issues such as the definition of disturbance, the alignment of these efforts appears to be non-existent.   The USFS is seeking to expand timber production and active management in a response to natural disturbances, such as fire and invasive species, while the BLM appears to be going the exact opposite direction by protecting intact landscapes.

The Forest Service sustainability proposal provides the following summary of their intent and direction: [62]

graphic shows fire, insect and harvest disturbances in forestland

The direct conflict between what USFS is proposing and the direction that BLM is pursuing is could not be in more direct conflict as USFS is seeking to streamline their management process to allow for more efficient management of resources. BLM seeks to expand the use of highly restrictive management designations such as ACEC’s to protect resources. This conflict will become hugely problematic on lands where the agencies are managing adjacent lands on a landscape.  USFS effort may increase the disturbance of these lands at significant levels to respond to poor forest health and BLM may be calculating USFS management as a degradation of the landscape and the reason for expansion of restrictive management standards.  We truly hope this is not the case but given the BLM proposal foundation problems, this situation could certainly result. Again, this provides another direct example of the insufficiency of the analysis provided in the Proposal.  Conflicts such as this are the reason that numerous Executive Orders have been provided that require agencies to align efforts and avoid repetition and to review costs and benefits of their efforts.

8(a). The economic analysis provided with the Proposal is completely insufficient.

The systemic failure to meaningfully analyze issues and possible challenges involved in the implementation of the new management model has resulted in conclusions in the economic analysis that make absolutely no sense at all. The economic analysis provided is horribly conclusory in nature and fails to address much of the information that we have referenced here. Assertions that the economic impact of the effort will be less than $100m annually simply does not align in any way with Naturevest assertions that their involvement in the conservation credit market has resulted in more than $2.5 billion in spending over the last decade or our estimates of similar types of contributions from our voluntary registration program.

As previously outlined in multiple portions of the comments the economic benefits and costs of any effort must be analyzed in the rulemaking effort. Best available science also requires that economic impacts from the conservation efforts must be meaningfully addressed.   This type of analysis simply is not provided at all in the Proposal. For example, at no point can we find basic information such as an estimated value for credits that could be in the conservation leasing process, the total value of current conservation credit trading market, how many credits might be expected from this new initiative, cash benefit to land managers from this new program, and estimated costs of running the program to name a few.  Understanding the possible overlap of all these planning efforts is specifically and repeatedly required. It is disappointing that more economic information is provided in these comments than is available to the public for review in the Proposal.

The legal insufficiency of what is provided as an economic analysis is evidenced by the fact these provisions require an analysis to determine if the act is or is not applicable.  The statutory requirements are clear and provide as follows:

“(a)When an agency promulgates a final rule under section 553 of this title, after being required by that section or any other law to publish a general notice of proposed rulemaking, or promulgates a final interpretative rule involving the internal revenue laws of the United States as described in section 603(a), the agency shall prepare a final regulatory flexibility analysis. Each final regulatory flexibility analysis shall contain—

(1) a statement of the need for, and objectives of, the rule;

(2) a statement of the significant issues raised by the public comments in response to the initial regulatory flexibility analysis, a statement of the assessment of the agency of such issues, and a statement of any changes made in the proposed rule as a result of such comments;

(3) the response of the agency to any comments filed by the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration in response to the proposed rule, and a detailed statement of any change made to the proposed rule in the final rule as a result of the comments;

(4) a description of and an estimate of the number of small entities to which the rule will apply or an explanation of why no such estimate is available;

(5) a description of the projected reporting, recordkeeping and other compliance requirements of the rule, including an estimate of the classes of small entities which will be subject to the requirement and the type of professional skills necessary for preparation of the report or record;

(6) a description of the steps the agency has taken to minimize the significant economic impact on small entities consistent with the stated objectives of applicable statutes, including a statement of the factual, policy, and legal reasons for selecting the alternative adopted in the final rule and why each one of the other significant alternatives to the rule considered by the agency which affect the impact on small entities was rejected; and

(6)  for a covered agency, as defined in section 609(d)(2), a description of the steps the agency has taken to minimize any additional cost of credit for small entities.”[63]

Given the Federal Administrative Procedure act lays out these factors with some detail would logically lead to the conclusion that these factors would be addressed in some detail in the decision to move further into the economic analysis discussion and analysis. Again, this did not happen.

The Proposal unsupported assertion that its economic conclusions are accurate and do not warrant further analysis fails to comply with APA requirements. This failure becomes only more evident when the standards applied by Courts reviewing administrative procedure act requirements for rulemaking are reviewed. Courts reviewing an agency’s rulemaking authority have clearly stated their review of APA decisions as follows:

“But in cases of great technological complexity, the best way for courts to guard against unreasonable or erroneous administrative decisions is not for the judges themselves to scrutinize the technical merits of each decision. Rather, it is to establish a decision-making process which assures a reasoned decision that can be held up to the scrutiny of the scientific community and the public.”[64]

The Proposal cursory decision making and naked assertions of compliance falls well short of the assurance that a reasoned decision has been made.  The unsupported assertion these requirements are not applicable is at best self-serving and insulting to the public the Proposal is seeking to engage with.  Allowing this type of unsupported assertion of compliance to satisfy rulemaking requirements would render the federal administrative procedure act is entirely inapplicable.

8(b). Every Executive Order cited in the Proposal specifically requires additional economic analysis of benefits but none is provided.

As the Organizations have noted previously in these comments, the Biden Administration has issued numerous Executive Orders and Presidential Memos that have required the growth of economic benefits from recreation while balancing these benefits with the protection and conservation of resources. These Executive Orders build on the requirements reaffirmed by the administration memo issued January 20, 2021 of the requirements of EO 12866 and EO 13563 which also require significant review of economic costs and benefits of any proposed regulation.  Clearly compliance with these Executive Orders requires more than a bare minimum of analysis under the Regulatory Flexibility Act and Administrative Procedures Act.   The provided economic analysis is wholly insufficient to begin to address how these benefits to local communities are provided from the Proposal.

8(c). The economic contribution of motorized recreation is overwhelming for communities.

The need to balance various uses on federal public lands pursuant to the multiple use mandate requirements is driven by the large economic contributions that are already provided from these various uses.  Localized NEPA analysis has been in place on most federal public lands and these local efforts have balanced benefits from these uses with conservation interests through the development of resource management plans for these lands. This balance must also be addressed in the Proposal at the national level.

The Department of Commerce research through their Bureau of Economic Analysis(BEA) continues to identify the significant contribution of outdoor recreation to the US economy and the overwhelming portion of outdoor recreation that would be classified as motorized for management purposes.  The BEA research identified that outdoor recreation accounted for 2% of the GDP or more than $454 Billion in spending annually and that this value was steadily increasing since research started.  BEA research further concluded that motorized spending was the dominant portion of spending for recreational activity, and almost exceeded all other spending sources combined. BEA research provides the following breakdown of the total recreational spending:

Graph showing outdoor recreation activities dollar value added for 2020-2021: including from highest to lowest: Boating/fishing, RVing, Hunting/shooting, Motorcycling/ATVing, Equestria, Now activities[65]

The Organizations submit that a full understanding of this economic contribution and its components is critical to satisfying the full mandates of various Executive Orders driving the planning effort and existing multiple use mandates.   Not only is this information critical to these obligations, this balance is critical to the survival of the smaller communities that are commonly found in and around BLM planning areas that no longer have other revenue streams available to them.  While the Proposal seeks to expand funding for conservation, the expansion of the conservation activities should not come at the expense of recreational opportunities.

8(c).  BLM own economic analysis highlights the critical economic contributions of recreation on BLM lands.

Every year the BLM also provides high level economic analysis from activities on BLM lands, which is released as  part of their “Sound Investment” efforts for BLM lands. [66] The sound investment report from BLM  for 2022 clearly identifies that recreation on BLM managed lands contributed more than $11 Billion in economic contributions  and 76,000 jobs to local communities which is provided with the following graphic:

chart showing 201 billion in economic output and 783 jobs supported

The Organizations would be remiss if we did not highlight the fact that recreation provides more than 10% of the entire economic contribution from BLM lands to local communities. Nationally recreational activity on BLM lands also contributes approximately 10% of jobs from BLM lands.  When these conclusions of economic contributions of recreation are reviewed at the state level, these percentages increase dramatically. For example, recreation on BLM lands in Idaho make up more than 29% of the economic contribution of BLM lands; California recreational activities on BLM contribute more than 26% of the total economic contribution of BLM lands; Recreational activity in Utah makes up more than 27% of the BLM economic contribution; and in Colorado make up 16% of the total BLM economic contribution.

The Organizations vigorously assert that the sheer scale of these largely sustainable contributions to local communities should have warranted detailed analysis and discussion in any landscape planning effort. The addition of multiple Executive Orders from this administration highlighting the need to protect and improve recreational access and economic contributions from recreation to local communities only highlights our frustrations with the complete inadequacy of the economic analysis provided with the Proposal.

Conclusions.

The Organizations must express vigorous opposition to the Conservation and Landscape Health Proposal as the Proposal appears to be more of a jumbled planning wish list to benefit conservation interests than a coherent revision to planning efforts that aligns with multiple uses. This is disappointing as there could be portions of the Proposal that might be of interest for us moving forward, but the analysis and explanation of these concepts is woefully inadequate.  The Proposal fails to provide even arguably legal sufficient analysis of the concepts proposed and how they would be integrated with existing efforts and partnerships. Far too often major challenges or questions around alignment of proposed new efforts with existing resources and planning are simply ignored. This is deeply concerning to our interests both as users of public lands and also as possibly the single largest partner working with the BLM currently.   After reviewing the Proposal multiple times, we are still unable to determine if the Proposal seeks to create conservation credits or carbon credits, how this relates to proposed expansions of ACEC designations or how any of these new concepts would be integrated into existing planning. Too often information that is provided is contradictory in nature or so vague as to prohibit meaningful public comment.

The Organizations and our partners remain committed to providing high quality recreational resources on federal public lands while protecting resources and would welcome discussions on how to further these goals and objectives with new tools and resources. If you have questions, please feel free to contact Scott Jones, Esq. (518-281-5810 / scott.jones46@yahoo.com), Chad Hixon (719-221-8329 / chad@coloradotpa.org), or Clif Koontz (435-259-8334 / clif@ridewithrespect.org).

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
CSA Executive Director
COHVCO Authorized Representative

Chad Hixon
TPA Executive Director

Marcus Trusty
President – CORE

Sandra Mitchell
Executive Director – IRC
Authorized Representative – ISSA

Clif Koontz
Executive Director
Ride with Respect

Michelle Stevens
Alaska Snowmachine Alliance

Matthew Giltner
Executive Director
Nevada Offroad Association

[1] As an example of these programs: Polaris Trails grants are outlined here: T.R.A.I.L.S. Grant Program Application | Polaris;  Yamaha Access Initiative Grants are outlined here, Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative (yamaha-motor.com); and Ford’s Bronco wild grant program is outlined here Ford Bronco™ Wild Fund

[2] Welcome to the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division’s Grant Programs (ca.gov)

[3] Colorado summer program is outlined here https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Trails/OHVGrantProgramAwards.pdf Colorado winter program is outlined here.

[4] A summary of video of these efforts to date is provided here: OHV Final on Vimeo

[5] See, Proposal at pg. 19590

[6] See, Proposal at pg. 19584

[7] See, Ecological Indicators; Integrating sciences for monitoring, assessment and management; Issue 74 (March 2017)

[8] See, Zhai et al; The emergy of metabolism in different ecosystems under the same environmental conditions in the agro-pastoral ecotone of northern China;  Ecological Indicators; Volume 74 March 2017 pg.198  @ pg. 202.

[9] See, LaNotte et al; Ecosystem services classification: A systems ecology perspective of the cascade framework; Ecological Indicators; Volume 74 March 2017 pg392 @ pg. 401.

[10] Conservation Banking | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

[11] See, Proposal @ pg. 19593.

[12] See, Proposal at pg. 19586.

[13] See, Proposal at pg. 19598

[14] See, Proposal at §6101.4

[15] See, Proposal at pg. 1584

[16] See, 16 USC §1532

[17] See, DOI: US Fish and Wildlife Service; Final Rule; Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Experimental Populations; 88 FR 41835 @at pg. 41837.

[18] PUBLIC LAW 103-433—OCT. 31, 1994

[19] Conservation Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

[20] See, Public Law 111-11 §2002

[21] 15-Year Strategy | Bureau of Land Management (blm.gov)

[22] NLCS plan at pg. 3.

[23] See, Proposal at pg. 19584

[24] See, Proposal at pg. 19587

[25] See, Proposal at pg. 19584

[26] See, 43 USC §1701

[27] BLM manual 1603.02 &.03

[28] As an example of this type of provision please see §137 of America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2023 (S873)

[29] See, Mendelson et al: How to repair the worlds broken carbon offset markets; Yale Environmental 360; Nov. 18, 2021; See also G Badgley, J Freeman, J Hamman, B Haya, A T Trugman, W R L Anderegg, D Cullenward(2021) “Systematic over-crediting of forest offsets” Carbon Plan; https://carbonplan.org/research/forest-offsets-explainer; Peters et al; Bootleg fire is burning through trees that are already used as carbon offsets; The Bootleg fire is burning through trees that are being used as carbo (fastcompany.com)

[30] See, FHWA; Trails and Resilience; Review of the Role of Trails in Climate Resilience and Emergency Response March 2023 at pg. 8.

[31] Black’s Law Dictionary 6th edition

[32] Black’s Law Dictionary 6th edition

[33] Kristin P. Davis, Julie Heinrichs, Erica Fleishman, Pricila Iranah, Drew E. Bennett, Joel Berger, Liba Pejchar. Strengths and shortcomings of habitat exchange programs for species conservation. Conservation Letters. 2022;15:el2846. https:/ /doi.org/10.1111/conl.12846; see also Drosteet al; A global overview of biodiversity offsetting governance; Journal of Environmental Management; 316 (2022); Epanchin- Neill et al; Private sector conservation under the US Endangered Species Act; a return on investment perspective; Frontiers in Ecology; 2020; see also Abdo; Biodiversity Offsets can be a valuable tool in achieving sustainable development; Journal of sustainable development; Vol 12 No 5; 2019 @pg. 65.

[34] See, 43 CFR 2740.0-5(b)

[35] Sackett; 598 U. S. ____ (2023) slip opinion at pg. 20 internal citations omitted

[36] See, Kmart Corp v. Cartier Inc; 486 US 281 At 291 (1988); See Also; United States v. Boisdoré’s Heirs, 49 U.S. (8 How.) 113, 122 (1850).

[37] See, Gibbons v. Ogden; 22 US (9Wheat) 1, @71 (1824)

[38] See, Proposal at pg. 19588

[39] See, Proposal at pg. 19591

[40] See, Proposal at pg. 19588

[41] See, Proposal at pg. 19592

[42] See, Proposal at pg. 19596.

[43] See, Proposal at pg. 19583.

[44] http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/planning/nepa/webguide/departmental_manual/516_dm_chapter_11.html#11-8

[45] See, USDA Forest Service; Organization, Functions, and Procedures; Functions and Procedures; Forest Service Functions;  Federal Register /Vol. 88, No. 77 / Friday, April 21, 2023 / Proposed Rules 24497

[46] H.R.3746 – 118th Congress (2023-2024): Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress

[47] As examples of these ongoing discussions please see, Ostrom et al; “Why Conservation Efforts Often Fail.” Indiana University. ScienceDaily, 20 September 2007. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070918132832.htm; See also Duffy; Nature Crime: How We’re Getting Conservation Wrong; Yale University Press; Illustrated edition (August 31, 2010); See also; Emerson et al; 7 Reasons why change management strategies fail and how to avoid them; Harvard Division of Continuing Education; Nov 18, 2022.  A complete version of the article is available here: 7 Reasons Why Change Management Strategies Fail and How to Avoid Them – Professional Development | Harvard DCE

[48] See, Navigating the complex world of carbon markets: the path to high-quality credits for ecosystem restoration – UNEP-WCMC  citing The Voluntary Carbon Markey Explained; September 2021

[49] See, United Nations News August 2022  Beyond greenwashing: understanding the challenges, ambition and potential of carbon trading – UNEP-WCMC

[50] Abdo, L.J., Kemp, A., Coupland, G., and Griffin, S. (2019) Biodiversity offsets can be a valuable tool in achieving sustainable development: Developing a holistic model for biodiversity offsets that incorporates environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainable development. Journal of Sustainable Development, 12(5). doi: 10.5539/jsd.v12n5p65

[51] BLM Science Strategy 2008 – Doc Id BLM/RS/PL-00/001+1700 at pg. iv.

[52] Id at 16.

[53] Science in BLM | Bureau of Land Management

[54] See, Proposal at pg.  19587

[55] See, EO 14072 at §1

[56] See, EO 14072 at §2

[57] See, Exec Order 14072;  Vol. 87, No. 81 Federal Register 24852 (2022)

[58] See, Proposal at pg. 19588

[59] See, Executive Order No. 13563; Vol. 76 No 14 Fed Reg 3821; 2011 at§1(b)

[60] A complete copy of this memo is available here: Modernizing Regulatory Review | The White House

[61] See, DOI:  CLIMATE ACTION PLAN 2021 Pg 3.  A complete copy of this document is available here: Department of the Interior Climate Action Plan (doi.gov)

[62] See, USDA Forest Service; Organizations, Functions, and Procedures; Forest Service Functions;  Advanced notice of rulemaking; request for comment; 88 Federal Register 24500 (April 21, 2023).

[63] See, 5 USC §552

[64] See, International Harvester Co. v. Ruckelshaus, 478 F.2d 615, 652 (D.C. Cir. 1973)

[65] See, Department of Commerce; Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, U.S. and States, 2021 New statistics for 2021; 2017–2020 updated; Full release and tables  pg. 5. A full copy of this report is available here:  orsa1122.pdf (bea.gov)

[66] More information regarding this effort is available here: The BLM: A Sound Investment for America 2022.  A copy of the BLM Sound investment 2022 report is attached as Exhibit “A” to these comments

 

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Letter of Support for HR3397 – Withdrawal of BLM Conservation and Landscape Health Rule

Congressman John Curtis
2400 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

RE: Withdrawal of BLM Conservation and Landscape Health Rule, HR- 3397

Dear Congressman Curtis:

Please accept this correspondence as the vigorous support of the motorized community for HR 3397 requiring the withdrawal of the BLM Conservation and Landscape Health Proposal Docket # 1004-AE-92.  The BLM Proposal appears to be more of a jumbled planning wish list to benefit conservation interests than a coherent revision to planning efforts that aligns with multiple uses. This poorly researched and jumbled Proposal fails to satisfy many basic requirements of rulemaking but allows legal public access to areas be lost as it is only “Casual Usage” despite access being sustainable after 50 years of NEPA analysis.  The Organizations are vigorous supporters of sustainable recreational opportunities on public lands.  Our state level voluntarily created registration programs have provided billions of dollars nationally for protection of sustainable recreational resources over the last several decades and often these efforts were occurring with BLM involvement and support. Despite decades of significant support for BLM efforts, the BLM’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule lays out a path forward that identifies recreation as landscape level threat to public lands.  This foundational blunder results in management that would greatly impair recreational access and generally dismisses recreation as a “casual usage” of public lands.  Rather than identifying a long-term partner  and protecting a valid usage of the lands that may have been subjected to 50 years or more of NEPA analysis, our interests are seen as a threat.

This oversight results in a BLM Sustainability Rule provides a management structure that fails to align with our programs that have existed for decades.  This poor alignment precludes our interests from any of the possible benefits of the Rule, such as the creation of saleable conservation credits with leases. A saleable credit from our current  efforts could be very valuable to our programs, as this would provide more funds to be used to improve sustainable recreational opportunities.  Unfortunately, the Rule seeks to allocate these credits based on a lease concept simply does not align with anything we are doing on the ground and reflects a concept of exclusive usage of leased lands as part of the conservation effort.  This will simply result in closures, more paperwork and barriers to our efforts.  This is simply a disappointment on many levels and is evidence of a foundational flaw in analysis for the Proposal.

The foundational flaws in the BLM Sustainability Rule that result from the Proposal’s highly generalized assertions of its compliance with various Statutory and Executive Order planning requirements continue when the economic analysis provided with the Rule is reviewed.  The Rule’s conclusion it will have such minimal economic impacts to not even warrant further economic analysis is simply astonishing. This conclusion is reached after five pages of very generalized analysis and is silent in addressing any large-scale contributions or possible impacts.  Despite repeated requirements that detailed economic analysis be provided in planning statutes and Executive Orders, which the Rule asserts to be following, there is no mention that recreational usage provides almost 10% of the economic contribution of BLM lands to communities across the Country. In many States with larger areas of BLM lands, this economic contribution increases to more than 25%.   These types of failures will result in massive unintended impacts during implementation of the Rule.

The BLM Conservation Rule continues with planning based on an incorrect legal foundation with its assertion that conservation is not a use of public lands, as conservation is not defined under FLPMA and Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act.  The problematic nature of the BLM assertion is evidenced by the fact the US Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly stated conservation is a use of public lands. The USFWS reaffirmed this position on June 28, 2023 again which was during the open comment period on the BLM Conservation Rule.  Given this situation, we must question the accuracy and urgency of any assertion in the BLM Conservation Rule,  as DOI agencies should at least be aligned on an issue of this magnitude.

The BLM conservation rule overlooks the Fish and Wildlife Service’s accurate assertion that conservation is the only use that Congress has elevated above a multiple use of public lands through the Endangered Species Act. The ESA defines conservation and is applicable to EVERY acre that BLM currently manages. Conservation is also woven throughout almost every step of planning and is the target of numerous Congressional designations such as Wilderness, National Recreation Areas, National Conservation Areas,  Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and similar designations. Conservation is occurring on federal lands daily as exemplified by the almost decade of planning that has been performed around the Sage Grouse. The horribly inaccurate factual basis of the Rule will cause immense problems during implementation and will reduce legal access to public lands for all forms of recreation.

Our final reason for supporting HR 3397 is the difference in the vision and direction that has been laid out between the BLM Sustainability Proposal and the USFS Sustainability Proposal. We are cautiously supporting the USFS Proposal as it lays out a viable, collaborative path towards increased sustainability that protects multiple uses. This vision from a sister agency highlights how off course the BLM proposal truly is. Our concerns over the Proposal are wide ranging and only briefly outlined in this letter. Each of these concerns are a foundational problem that would warrant the withdrawal of the Rule in isolation. The need to withdraw the Rule on expands when the cumulative impacts of these failure are reviewed.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact Scott Jones, Esq. (518-281-5810 / scott.jones46@yahoo.com) or Fred Wiley (661-805-1393/ fwiley@orba.biz).

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
Authorized Representative, COHVCO & United Snowmobile Alliance

Fred Wiley
President and CEO, Off-Road Business Association (ORBA)

Alexis Nelson
Chairwoman, One Voice

Steve Egbert
Chairman, United Four-Wheel Drive Associations

Chad Hixon
Executive Director, Trails Preservation Alliance

Marcus Trusty
President, Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE)

Edward Calhoun
President, Colorado Snowmobile Association

Sandra Mitchell
Executive Director, Idaho Recreation Council (IRC)
Authorized Representative, Idaho State Snowmobile Association (ISSA)

Matthew Giltner
Chairman, Nevada Off-Highway Vehicle Association

Clif Koontz
Executive Director, Ride With Respect (RwR)

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Objections to Ashley National Forest Land Management Plan FEIS and DROD

Submitted June 20, 2023 to: the Objection Review Officer of the Ashley National Forest
Submitted by: Ride with Respect, Trails Preservation Alliance and Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition

Objection of Ride with Respect Trails Preservation Alliance and Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition to the Ashley National Forest Land Management Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Draft Record of Decision (DROD)

Issues and parts of the plan revision to which this objection applies, how the proposed plan revision may be improved, and how the plan revision is inconsistent with law, regulation, and policy.

1. Objection is made to the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) definitions and boundaries. We object to how the ROS of the FEIS/ROD, and/or the FEIS/ROD alone:

  • In effect categorically prohibits a motorized route from being in a non-motorized zone;
  • Effectively allows non-motorized zones to cover at least half of the whole planning area, including non-motorized zones that stretch for ten or twenty miles, thereby isolating vast portions of the forest from connection by any kind of motor vehicle in summer;
  • Massively constrains the options for a subsequent travel planning process to consider, particularly since forest plans are intended to last a couple decades (and sometimes wind up lasting twice that long);
  • Undermines the work of the counties in diligently developing trails master plans by potentially forever prohibiting many of those trails from ever being considered, as overriding desired conditions and contradicting a forest plan for trail development is practically unheard of;
  • Fails to properly plan for the projection of demand for motorized vehicle recreation in the coming decades, including electrification and hybridization with bicycling;
  • Fails to expressly allow exceptions in Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized zoning for a motorized route;
  • Fails to give most of the planning area a motorized zoning designation;
  • Fails to extend motorized corridors far enough to ensure that USFS travel planners will have ample options for the coming decades;

2. The FEIS/DROD is objected to further on the grounds that:

  • It conflicts and is inconsistent with the trails master plans, maps, planned corridors and resource management plans of Daggett, Duchesne and Uintah Counties (including Uintah County’s OHV Master Plan as it is a supplement to its Trails Master Plan), all of which is contrary to NFMA, NEPA, Forest Service planning regulations, and NEPA CEQ regulations;
  • Its spoken or unspoken attempt to comply with the so-called 30 x 30 plan is flawed and arbitrary, because 50% of the Ashley NF is already tied up and off limits to motorized recreation as either Wilderness or other special designations that severely restrict OHV use;
  • Its significant motorized travel restrictions are inconsistent with mandates of recent Presidential Executive Order #14008 (January 17, 2021) to “improve access to recreation” and “revitalize recreation economies;”
  • Its significant motorized travel restrictions are inconsistent with the mandates of the Congressional mandated National Sustainable Trails Strategy for the USFS under the National Trails Stewardship Act of 2016, PUBLIC LAW 114–245—NOV. 28, 2016;
  • It arbitrarily fails to recognize and analyze the fact that the sustainability of every existing motorized trail in the planning area has been subjected to 50 years of scrutiny under the travel management Executive Orders issued by President Nixon in 1972;
  • It fails to provide an adequate supply, or the managerial flexibility of supply, of OHV opportunities to meet the current demand, let alone future demand in a sustainable fashion;
  • It fails to adequately recognize and analyze how trails can benefit other Ashley NF programs, resources and values, such as by providing remote access for wildfire suppression efforts and fuel reduction/treatment projects;
  • It is inconsistent with Federal law to the extent it may be construed to facilitate de facto wilderness designations and management prescriptions, especially in light of the Congressional release of all non-designated Forest Service lands as provided in the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984;
  • It is inconsistent with the 2019 Congressional Dingell Act designation for the Ashley Karst National Recreation and Geologic Area, in which recreational usage of the new NRA is specifically identified as a characteristic to be protected and preserved. While the Karst area has restrictions on new route construction there is no restriction on the designation of existing motorized areas in this legislation. Thus we object to the FEIS/DROD failure to preserve existing motorized trails as open route or road designations. The same concerns apply to the Flaming Gorge NRA designation in 1968 and its emphasis given to preserving recreational opportunities;
  • Its application of a “Recreation Management Areas” is redundant and sometimes conflicting with ROS, and will cause public confusion and exacerbate the risk of categorically prohibiting motorized recreation;
  • It effectively portrays the “Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized” ROS zone as intending to entirely prohibit motorized recreation travel. This would arbitrarily override the desired conditions aspect of such zone expansion, making it easier to claim a NEPA violation of desired future condition ideals if one were to try to open a motorized route in a Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized zone. This long term threat could be accelerated in a hurry, as the FEIS/DROD opens the door for making Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized zones more of an exclusive use rather than merely a non-motorized focus.
  • Thus the FEIS/DROD poses a clear and present threat to expand these zones over historic roads that all three counties have proposed to reopen for motorized recreation travel. As particularly egregious examples, the FEIS/DROD will convert three areas to become non-motorized ROS zones, despite that all three County trails master plans call for reopening historic roads in those locations. Such historic roads include Heller Lake, Galloway Springs, and Pipe Creek.

The link between the objectors’ prior substantive comments and the content of this objection.

The foregoing objections are linked to, taken from and grounded in the following comments submitted by objectors in this EIS process:

  • February 7, 2023 written comments by Clif Koontz of Ride with Respect, sent by email to Lars Christensen, Collaboration Specialist, Forest Plan Revision, Ashley National Forest;
  • February 17, 2022 written comments of several OHV organizations including objectors Ride with Respect, Trails Preservation Alliance, and Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, addressed and sent to:
    Ashley National Forest
    Att: Forest Plan Revision
    355 North Vernal Ave
    Vernal, Ut 84078-1703

Documents referenced in this objection.

  • February 7, 2023 written comments by Clif Koontz of Ride with Respect, sent by email to Lars Christensen, Collaboration Specialist, Forest Plan Revision, Ashley National Forest;
  • February 17, 2022 written comments of several OHV organizations including objectors Ride with Respect, Trails Preservation Alliance, and Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, addressed and sent to:
    Ashley National Forest
    Att: Forest Plan Revision
    355 North Vernal Ave
    Vernal, Ut 84078-1703

Thank you for the invitation and opportunity to submit these objections.

/s/

Clif Koontz
Executive Director
Ride with Respect
395 McGill Avenue
Moab, UT 84532
clif@ridewithrespect.org

/s/

Chad Hixon
Executive Director
Trails Preservation Alliance
PO Box 38093
Colorado Springs, CO 80937
chad@coloradotpa.org

/s/

Scott Jones
Authorized Representative
Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition
P.O. Box 741353
Arvada, CO 80006
scott.jones46@yahoo.com

 

 

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Thompson Divide Withdrawal Comments

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests
Anthony Edwards, Deputy Forest Supervisor
2250 South Main Street
Delta, Colorado 81416

RE: Thompson Divide Withdrawal

Dear Mr. Edwards;

Please accept this correspondence as the input of the Organizations to request for public input regarding the Thompson Divide Mineral Withdrawal Planning effort. The Organizations are aware that planning for this area has a long and heavily conflicted history and as a result we are providing this input to protect world class recreational opportunities for the public in all forms. Prior to addressing the specific concerns of the Organizations regarding the Proposal, we believe a brief summary of each Organization is needed. The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”) is a grassroots advocacy organization representing the OHV community seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado. COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations. The TPA is an advocacy organization created to be a viable partner to public lands managers, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of motorized trail riding and multiple-use recreation. The TPA acts as an advocate for the sport and takes the necessary action to ensure that the USFS and BLM allocate a fair and equitable percentage of public lands access to diverse multiple-use trail recreational opportunities. Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) was founded in 1970 to unite winter motorized recreationists across the state to enjoy their passion. CSA has also become the voice of organized snowmobiling seeking to advance, promote and preserve the sport of snowmobiling through work with Federal and state land management agencies and local, state and federal legislators telling the truth about our sport. CORE is a motorized action group dedicated to keeping motorized trails open in Central Colorado and the region. Collectively, TPA, CSA, CORE and COHVCO will be referred to as “The Organizations” for purposes of these comments.

The Organizations have been involved in various legislative and land management proposals seeking to restrict or entirely exclude recreational access to the Thompson Divide area for decades. We are intimately familiar with the fact that some of these “community proposals” would have imposed draconian restrictions on recreational access to the area, with the significant expansion of Congressionally designated Wilderness in the area. While these legislative efforts started in the late 1990’s, passage of these various legislative Proposals was never obtained. It is significant to note that while these efforts wallowed in the legislature, other land management proposals in Colorado were created and passed into law over a much shorter time frame. The Organizations believe this lack of passage of these proposals after more than 20 years of effort speaks volumes to the true public support for these pieces of legislation. Despite advocates claiming for decades there was broad community support, this community support has been insufficient to obtain passage of these Proposals

This long history of draconian management proposals from the Thompson Divide area stands in stark contrast to the direction and vision that was provided by President Biden’s Proclamation issued on October 12, 2022 declaring the Camp Hale Planning area a National Monument.  This Proclamation identified a very different vision for the management of the area and its world class recreational opportunities in all forms, which it clearly states as follows:

“In light of threats posed by vandalism, unmanaged recreation, and climate change, protecting the Camp Hale and Tenmile Range area of the continental divide will preserve its historic and prehistoric legacy and maintain its diverse array of natural and scientific resources, ensuring that the historic and scientific values of the area remain for the benefit of all Americans.  Reserving this area would also honor the valor and sacrifice of the 10th Mountain Division, secure ongoing opportunities for Tribal communities to continue spiritual and subsistence practices, and enable the region’s modern communities and the Nation to continue to benefit from the area’s world class outdoor recreation opportunities.”[1]

This Proclamation further clearly identifies a full range of world class recreational opportunities in the area, rather than the exceptionally narrow interpretation of recreation provided in legislative proposals for decades as follows:

“For purposes of protecting and restoring the objects identified above, the Secretary shall prepare a travel management plan to ensure appropriate access for the management and use of the area, which shall provide for motorized and non-motorized mechanized vehicle uses, including mountain biking, consistent with the proper care and management of the objects identified above.” [2]

Despite the clear vision and direction of the Presidential Proclamation, legislative proposals have again been introduced seeking to further reduce methane emissions and other activities from human activity in the Thompson Divide planning area.[3] It is disappointing that even with the Proclamation, which was supported by a wide range of interests throughout the region, this was not enough to finalize conflict around use of the area. What is even more disappointing is the fac the legislation would reduce recreational protections from the current requirement of protecting world class recreational opportunities in all forms to planning where recreational usage is merely a planning consideration.

The Organizations are aware that the limited motorized access to the Thompson Divide area is critical to all forms of world class recreational opportunities in the area. While there may be significant local pressure to close these routes in the mineral withdrawal efforts, routes that may be provided partially for mineral extraction reasons also have significant recreational values as well.  We would vigorously support expanding recreational infrastructure in the area to support more world class opportunities. Closures of any routes without addressing the recreational value of the route would directly conflict with the presidential proclamation and would be highly pre-decisional.

The Organizations welcome this opportunity to provide input on the Proposal and planning effort and would voice strong support for the area continuing to provide world class recreational opportunities.  This recreational activity is heavily reliant on the network of roads and trails in the area. If you have questions, please feel free to contact Scott Jones, Esq. (518-281-5810 / scott.jones46@yahoo.com) or Chad Hixon (719-221-8329 / chad@coloradotpa.org)

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
CSA Executive Director
COHVCO Authorized Representative

Chad Hixon
TPA Executive Director

Marcus Trusty
President – CORE

[1] See, Proclamation at pg. 8. A full copy of this proclamation is available here: A Proclamation on Establishment of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument | The White House
[2] See, Proclamation at pg. 11.
[3] See, §305 of S1634– a full copy of this Proposal is available here: Text – S.1634 – 118th Congress (2023-2024): Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act | Congress.gov | Library of Congress

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Phase 2 – Penrose Commons Recreation Management Plan – Send your comments to the BLM now!

THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO SPEAK UP (AGAIN) FOR PENROSE COMMONS RIDING OPPORTUNITIES!

Your Comments are Needed – Due Friday July 7th, 2023.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Royal Gorge Field Office (RGFO) is seeking public comment for the Penrose Commons Recreation Area Management Plan Environmental Assessment.

The BLM wants to hear from you on how you think they should plan to manage the area into the future. This is our second opportunity for public comment, the Environmental Assessment, in a series of steps that the BLM will do.

Penrose Commons is a 3100-acre designated OHV area near Penrose, Colorado, which currently has no designated motorcycle trails. This area is very popular, especially to Front Range users in the winter months, due to its mild temperatures and proximity to major population areas of Colorado. Under its current management, Penrose Commons lacks the adequate infrastructure to provide users with their desired experiences and therefore, numerous user-created trails have been established.

Please take this opportunity to submit a personal message to the BLM!

How to make comments

Tell them about yourself or your organization:

Who you are, where you’re from, what activities you already enjoy or would like to do in the Penrose Commons area, and how much money you spend locally when visiting (dining, recreational equipment, hotels, fuel, etc).
The variety of benefits that the area’s motorized routes provide to you. (exercise, thrill-seeking, skill building, family time, connection with nature, etc.)

Key Talking Points

  • Purpose and Need for Action:
    We recognize and support the need identified for adding motorcycle-specific recreational opportunities at Penrose Commons that are not currently available, or severely limited, in other lands managed by the BLM RGFO. Especially the need for motorized singletrack, a beginner skill development area and an area where trials motorcyclists can recreate, practice and develop rider skills. We agree that OHV use at Penrose Commons has steadily increased, and the area is experiencing high levels of use by OHVs coupled with a shift in OHV types and uses at Penrose Commons. Two major reasons for this purpose and need for action are:

    • Limitations to motorized single track experiences – Currently there is approximately ~10 miles of motorized single track versus 297 miles of non motorized singletrack in the 600,000 acres of land managed by the Royal Gorge Field Office. Motorized single track opportunities are less than 3.5% of the total trails system in the RGFO. (DudBob 6 miles. Bull Gulch in Texas Creek 2 miles. Rainbow Trail Reroute 3 miles Sundgren Sunset Loop in Big Bend 1.1 miles.)
    • 2003 Gold Belt EA – The Gold Belt EA written in 2003 had an alternative that recommended the addition of motorized singletrack trails in Penrose Commons. While this alternative was not selected it was clearly a (known need) consideration at that time. Coupled with the BLM’s knowledge of the drastic increases in use, especially by off-highway motorcycles, we have to question why this EA doesn’t include a similar recommendation.
  • “Friends Group” is prejudicial to motorcyclists:
    Singletrack opportunities should be pursued immediately and not be conditionally contingent upon the suggested “Friends Group” being successfully established. This is unfair and prejudicial to motorcyclists.
  • Trials and skill development areas should be developed in step with singletrack trails:
    The development of a motorcycle skill development and rider progression area along with trials opportunities (i.e. trials riding area) should begin immediately and not be contingent on a vague and arbitrary condition that future “designated singletrack proves successful” or based upon the actions or behaviors of other users.
  • Suggested funding is problematic:
    • Consistency and any predictability of recurring funding cannot be assured and it is improper to assume or infer that an OHV group might be able to influence the process and scoring outcomes of the OHV grant selection process.
    • Restrictive conditions that single out motorcycle use are discriminatory, unjust and counter-productive in supporting partnerships and the pursuit of competitive OHV funding sources and opportunities.
  • Trail conversions raise safety concerns:
    The conversion of 50” trail to full-size trails to support SxS vehicles will increase the traffic on these trails and thus the risk of motorcycle, ATV, or SxS collision. Conversions must only happen in unison with the creation of singletrack trails to help disperse users.
Comment Here!

This is your chance to make Penrose Commons a more valuable asset to the OHV community and enable the BLM to manage it more efficiently and effectively – It’s very important your voice be heard to help guide the direction through the entire process!

Comments are due Friday, July 7th, so speak up for motorized opportunities today!

Sincerely,

Chad Hixon
Executive Director
Trails Preservation Alliance

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Proposed New BLM Rule – Make Your Comments Now!

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed a new rule that would be a major alteration to their land management policy. The BLM is proposing to allow for the creation of something they are calling “conservation leases” that any “qualified individual, business, non-governmental organization, or Tribal government” could be eligible for. The TPA has many concerns about how the proposal seems to suggest the transfer of management of public land and bypasses existing policies and procedures.

The following is a list of concerns that you can utilize for your comments in opposition (please rewrite in your own words to ensure they are not consolidated).

How to file comments:

First, tell the BLM about yourself:

  • Who you are, where you’re from, what activities you enjoy on BLM Managed Lands and possibly how much money you spend when recreating (dining, recreational equipment, hotels, fuel, etc) on visits to these lands.
  • Emphasize if you are a multi-use recreationist. Include all the activities you enjoy on public land, and what characteristics you look for in your experiences.
  • The variety of benefits that recreational use of BLM lands provide to you. (exercise, thrill seeking, skill building, family time, connection with nature, etc.).
  • That you support the comments submitted by local, state, and national groups (RwR, CORE, TPA etc).


Then to comment substantively on The Proposal, include these points in your own words:

  • NEPA analysis of this Proposal must be required. The creation of this new regulation (“conservation leases”) must comply with Federal Land planning policies and NEPA requirements. It is not clear that this proposal fills either requirement. Approval of this Proposal as a Categorical Exclusion is a violation of NEPA.
  • “Conservation leases” cannot limit or close access to public lands for any reason. Public access to public lands cannot be lost indirectly from the proposal.
  • “Conservation leases” must be managed by the BLM. The BLM, not the public, should be required to monitor areas with leases to ensure impacts are not occurring to other uses or to hold a leaseholder accountable for violations.
  • The proposal must ensure staffing is provided to manage the program. One large issue facing the BLM is a lack of staff. Existing staff can not be reallocated away from other projects and work on management plans that are often out of date.
  • The Proposal fails to address what best management practices would be to protect multiple uses on public lands. To date, conservation leases have been targeted areas outside the multiple use mandate and as a result, best management practices on this issue may not exist. Clarification must be made that multiple uses will not be impacted and best management practices will be applied.
  • Allocation of carbon offset credits must be based on an equitable system. It is not clear how leases are being considered the proper way to provide carbon offset credits. In Colorado, the motorized community created the Motorized Trails Program in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). This program now contributes more than $8 million per year to maintenance and trail conservation. Many projects funded by this program could be worthy of carbon offset credits but would not qualify if a “conservation lease” was required to create them.
  • Intact Landscapes Definition: The Proposal seeks to protect intact landscapes but defines “intact landscape” in a manner that is too broad and ambiguous.

Deadline for comments: June 20, 2023 July 5th, 2023 (deadline extended)

Please take this opportunity to submit a personal message to the BLM!

Comment Here!

Where to File Comments:

Written comments:
U.S. Department of the Interior,
Director (630), BLM
1849 C St. NW, Room 5646,
Washington, DC 20240
Attention: 1004–AE92

Electronic comments:
Federal Register: Conservation and Landscape Health

More Details:

BLM Proposed Rule: Conservation and Landscape Health
https://www.regulations.gov/document/BLM-2023-0001-0001

BLM Public Lands Rule Frequently Asked Questions
BLM Public Lands Rule Public QAs.pdf

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Clive Heller Joins TPA as Newest Board Member

Clive Heller has been unanimously voted in favor of being inducted as a TPA Board Member!  Clive has been active in protecting and preserving Motorized Access in Colorado for far longer than most of us.  Clive was one of the original members of the Colorado 600 Club long before there was a TPA.  Clive has a tremendous perspective on motorized use on public lands and will be an excellent contributor on the TPA Board.

Clive is officially Don’s “Anointed One,” and we look for Clive to provide great depth and perspective as Don retires from the Board later this year.

Clive moved to Del Norte, CO. in 1976 and became involved in off-road riding soon thereafter. After competing on the Rocky Mountain Enduro Circuit (RMEC) for a couple of years, a group of like-minded riders in the San Luis Valley decided to form a club and sponsor a motorcycle event. They formed the Boot Hill Enduro Club (now known as Boot Hill Motorcycle Club) and soon after, held their first RMEC Enduro in 1981. The BHMC held ten annual events, including one National Enduro in the Southwestern San Luis Valley.

One of Clive’s primary roles with BHMC was engaging with the Forest Service and other government agencies. His responsibilities also included reaching agreements with other special use permittees such as ranchers with grazing permits, logging contractors and private property owners. To paint a picture of the experience Clive brings to the TPA, he was engaged as a BHMC member when the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) did their last Travel Management Plan (TMP) in 1986 and now he will actively participate as a TPA Board member as the RGNF begins a new TMP almost four decades later.

In addition, Clive has served on the BLM Resource Advisory Committee, Rotary Club President, and currently also holds a position with the Advisory Board of the San Juan Trail riders in Durango, CO. Most of Clive’s professional career was spent as General Manager for a Ford Dealership in the San Luis Valley. Clive and his wife live in Littleton, CO., and have two children and three grandchildren.

“I consider it a privilege to serve on the TPA Board. I feel it is the best advocate for our sport in this part of the Country. The TPA has accomplished a lot, but there will be serious challenges ahead” – Clive

Welcome Clive – we’re so excited to have you on the board!

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2023 Sweepstakes Winners Announced!

Hello Everyone!
The 2023 TPA Bike Sweepstakes has come to an end!  From all of us at the TPA – Thank You! We couldn’t do this without your donations, the supporters/partners who donated their time, the bikes and parts, the shops who put our posters up, and the motorcycle clubs who helped get more donations!

While there are only three lucky winners, your support makes everyone a winner when trails stay open!

Congratulations Rene Waters - Grand Prize Winner!

Congratulations Joshua Ferrand - 2nd Prize Winner

Congratulations Kelly Olson - 3rd Prize Winner

 

Drawing – Recorded Live!

Watch the video of our Executive Director Chad Hixon drawing the winners last Saturday at Sun Sports Unlimited in Gunnison, Colorado!

Thank you to our Partners & Sponsors

Thank you to all of our sponsors; Rocky Mountain ATV/MC, Klim, Yamaha, Upshift, Tusk, Eline, Scotts, Doubletake Mirror, Ruby, Motominded, BRP, Trail Tech, Motion Pro, Attack Graphics, Colorado 600, Seat Concepts, and Tacomoto – for making this year’s sweepstakes a huge success!

Sweepstakes supporters logos

 

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