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Foundational Issues Identified in the GMUG Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) Alternative A

GMUG National Forest
2250 South Main Street
Delta, CO 81416

Re: Foundational problems with Draft GMUG RMP

Dear Sirs:

The above Organizations are contacting you to provide a more detailed discussion of the serious foundational issues with Alternative A (current management) of the draft RMP that was released on August 13, 2021. Our concerns center around two general issues that are critical to our ability to understand and comment on the Proposal. These two foundational issues critical to a meaningful NEPA process and public engagement are:

1. What is current management on the GMUG; and
2. Application of the Colorado Roadless Rule.

The issues are so systemic and pervasive as to cause the Organizations great concern around the basic analysis of impacts from changes, as we have no baseline to compare too. There is so little information provided around how decisions were made to alter current management on 24% of the forest. The Proposal proceeds under the guise that the 24% reduction in motorized access is current management and as a result we simply are unable to meaningfully address lost opportunities on 24% of the forest. The impact this has on the public ability to comment and participate in the process based on the limited and incorrect information provided, Alternative B appears a viable option due to its minimal changes to current management. Our concern is there is an understatement of access provided by current management by as much as 24%, making impacts of even minimal closures to access far more severe on the ground and largely unanalyzed.

We are contacting you to explore resolution of this foundational issue in the plan in a manner that avoids unnecessary collateral impacts to partnerships on the forest that have literally taken multiple decades to develop and benefit all uses. It has been our experience that issues such as those we have found in the Proposal can be devastating to relationships and we have worked to hard on the relationships for them to be lost.

Significant suitability and management area decisions have been made without NEPA

The Organizations are aware the GMUG has had a long and complex planning history and some of this has been undertaken without the NEPA process but rather has occurred through Congressional designations and protections of usages. Congressional actions have impacted a comparatively small portion of the GMUG. While there are reasons that ROS and existing management decisions could be legally changed on a local level on any forest, none of these reasons and analysis are discussed in the Proposal on even a site specific basis.

Rather the Proposal provides that a 24% change in management has occurred simply due to erosion of the NEPA based decisions made in the 1983 RMP. The significant impacts to multiple use access from this erosion is outlined in table 146 of the DEIS as follows:

Table: Imacts to multiple use access

The 1983 RMP clearly identifies that 64% of forest was motorized suitable when detailed NEPA was conducted. The Proposal simply asserts that this has changed due to the 1991 GMUG RMP supplement and we must assume we are supposed to accept this access and NEPA has simply eroded to 40% of the forest without detailed explanation. This assertion is impossible to accept at anytime and represents a management model that would simply render the entire NEPA process void if allowed to move forward. This is the type of management model that the NEPA process was put in place to avoid.

Three general assertions are made for this management change, covering 5 pages of the EIS, and the reasoning for these changes is simply astonishing incorrect and comically insulting to the partnerships that the motorized community has worked hard to establish on the GMUG. The first reason for this 24% reduction in access is due to mapping, which is specifically addressed as follows:

“One difference is simply that the modeling techniques used were completely different, and the newer models use three-dimensional topography and different buffering techniques, so comparison is simply not one-to-one. Old, locatable maps from the 1991 inventory are sheets of mylar that were estimated with a wheel but never incorporated into the corporate data systems of new.”1

This is so astonishing insulting to basic reality the Organizations are not going to dignify this assertion with a substantive response. 24% of the GMUG management has been changed and that is simply not a mapping error.

The second reason is also comically inaccurate and flies in the face of basic NEPA processes as it asserts the 1991 Timber Supplement to the RMP granted unfettered access to managers to amend the RMP in any manner they found necessary. The Proposal summarizes this reason as follows:

“Beyond mapping techniques, however, much of the shift in acreages between inventories can be explained because the 1991 forest plan contains a lack of management direction to maintain desired summer recreation opportunity spectrum classes on the majority of the GMUG. Rather than plan direction shaping allocations as they have formed over the life of the plan, project-level decisions such as travel management analyses have shifted recreation opportunity spectrum allocations in the absence of any firm guidance.”2

This analysis is again a comical misrepresentation of the limited scope of 1991 RMP supplement, which is clearly stated in the 1991 Supplemental Amendment of RMP as follows:

“The enclosed Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) and the accompanying significant amendment deal with timber management Issues. Changes in management of other resources such as recreation or wildlife are not proposed.”3

The anticipated impacts on existing ROS decisions for recreational access are specifically addressed in the 1991 Supplement as follows:

Each management activity, specifically timber management and road construction projects, would be planned and designed to meet the physical setting criteria for each Recreation Opportunity Spectrum Class and its associated Visual Quality Objectives. Each management activity would conform to the Standards and Guidelines.4

Given that the 1991 Timber Supplement specifically states that planners are not changing any recreational access, any assertion that the Supplement allowed wholesale changes without NEPA analysis lacks any basis in fact or reality. Planners clearly provide the affirmative statement that recreational decisions will continue to be governed by existing ROS requirements. Given these clear and unequivocal statements about access and ROS decisions, the Organizations cannot envision any actual basis for changing the allocations of recreational opportunities from the 1983 requirements. The 1991 Supplemental clearly states 1983 ROS requirements are carried forward unchanged for recreation. The 1983 RMP ROS allocation of the GMUG are clearly provided as follows5:

Pie Chart - Current ROS Distribution

We agree with the Proposal that at any point any land manager could alter a forest plan or travel plan in any way, but we must disagree that the 1993 Supplement created this ability. The wide range of planning regulations have provided this authority for decades such as the National Forest Management Act. The NEPA process specifically requires a detailed statement of high-quality information on this decision- making process must be provided. Merely recognizing statutory authority is not compliance with NEPA.

The third reason provided for the 24% reduction in access between 1991 and the current time is such a completely twisted interpretation of the Travel Management process that again we are dumbfounded. This reason is summarized as follows:

Additionally, major policy changes occurred with the 2005 Travel Management Rule, which forced the agency to look at site-specific, motorized routes and whether they were a part of the GMUG’s desired network of sustainable routes. When the 1991 forest plan was written, the Forest Service still allowed activities like cross-country travel, but after the 2005 Travel Management Rule was in effect, the agency eliminated many motorized routes and areas from public use. Certain areas were closed that were once open to cross- country travel, administrative routes such as timber roads that were once open to the public were gated, certain trails were converted to non-motorized trails, and if a route was unsustainable, such as an eroding trail traveling straight up a fall line or a user-created trail through a riparian zone, it was closed. All of these actions were compliant with forest plan direction, regulations, and policy; however, when those locations are modeled contemporaneously, the result is a shift from roaded natural and semi-primitive motorized to semi-primitive non-motorized on the recreation opportunity spectrum in the newer inventories.

This summary of the Travel Management Rule is such a completely twisted summary of the Travel Management Rule it is astonishing. Not only is this probably an illegal interpretation of the Travel Management Rule generally, this position utterly ignores the large number of travel planning efforts on the GMUG that have been undertaken and chosen to NOT amend the Forest Plan. The Travel Management Rule and Resource Management planning efforts are entirely separate processes, and we have never heard a summary of these efforts such as that above. Designation of a route NEVER automatically changes the management designations of any area. If an area is open to motorized access, it remains open to motorized access pursuant to the RMP qualifications, such as seasonal closures or other restrictions. Decisions such as travel management could also chose to undertake an RMP revision as part of the travel process. Such a decision would simply require more detailed and extensive NEPA analysis for the decision. That analysis has never happened.

Not only is the above statement a comically inaccurate summary of the Travel Management Rule, it is not supported in any manner by large scale travel management efforts that have occurred on the forest. We are not aware of any combined RMP revision and Travel Plan that addressed significant portions of the forest. Directly to the contrary this type of combined decision making, 2002 GMUG undertook a complete travel management plan for the Forest. This extensive analysis again clearly stated the trave plan relationship to the existing Resource Management Plan for the forest as follows:

“Restriction on use and management necessary to attain certain ROS Class categories, such as Semi-Primitive Motorized or Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized would essentially impose new Forest Plan level direction, and would be significant in terms of the effects on the Forest Plan. The analysis and decision process that would be required to undertake such a change goes far beyond the scope of this Travel Planning process, and hence I deferred making the ROS decision here. That is better addressed in the upcoming Forest Plan Revision.”6

Given the clear and unequivocal position of the Forest that ROS changes are to be undertaken in the RMP revision process and are outside the scope of the Travel Management process for the Forest, we must question how there has been a massive reallocation of these designations on the forest. We are also very concerned that all these changes have been undertaken without NEPA and are now merely being passed off as current management.

Given that these decisions have been made for 24% of the GMUG without NEPA analysis, we vigorously assert these decision must be analyzed under NEPA and do not reflect current management in anyway. The rational for these decisions is astonishingly incomplete and fails to provide any information for the Organizations or motorized community as a whole could possibly provide a substantive comment on.

Colorado Roadless Rule application.

The Organizations are also very concerned about the application of the Colorado Roadless Rule in this decision making environment and how this major rulemaking was integrated into the analysis of current management and the range of alternatives provided in the GMUG proposal. The application of the Colorado Roadless Rule was a major concern in our previous comments on Wilderness Inventories and the planning effort more generally. This concern was raised with the GMUG staff in a phone call earlier this month and avoided completely with an assertion that these Roadless area decisions were put in the right category.

Given that the Colorado Roadless Rule was completed in July of 2012 this process would heavily impact current management on the forest and should be something that existing analysis would easily provide a meaningful analysis of. The Colorado Roadless Rule petition clearly stated the intent was to follow:

The State’s petition requested the rulemaking process do the following:

  • Update roadless area boundaries to include additional roadless areas.
  • Exclude Congressionally designated lands and private lands.
  • Exclude roadless acres that have been substantially altered.

The Organizations raised concerns that Colorado Roadless areas and Upper Tier roadless areas management is not discussed in the EIS in any manner. There is simply no discussion of how decisions are consistent with designations and analysis of areas for possible management in alignment with these characteristics of a roadless area or upper tier area. The words “Upper Tier” or “Colorado Roadless area” simply are not addressed in the Proposal outside the Wilderness inventory. In this discussion, USFS staff simply said these designations were put in the right category. After the concerns above on existing management identified above, we have no idea how this could be justified. We again have serious concerns on how those decisions were made and impacts this may or may not have on decisions such as route density etc.

Conclusion.

The Organizations are deeply troubled by the cavalier manner that recreational access is handled in the RMP proposal, as this is a significant departure from the thoughtful and detailed manner the GMUG has always applied in recreational access discussions. There have been many of these. Not only is the cavalier manner of analysis of current management degrading to the years of effort between partners tackling difficult decisions and issues in a collaborative manner, this has led to assertions that simply lack any factual basis at all. This lack of analysis is a direct violation of NEPA requirements as 24% of the forest has been asserted to closed without any NEPA analysis.

We are asking that current management analysis be revised to reflect the current management situation on the ground under Alternative A, Current management is the baseline to assess the impacts and benefits of any proposed changes against and accuracy in this information is critical to the NEPA process. Currently we are unable to meaningfully comment on the Proposal as we believe current access is understated by 24% in Alt A and this change has been asserted to be valid without any NEPA analysis. Not only does this type of management process render the entire NEPA process void, this type of an underestimation results in impacts that are comically underestimated and understated in the NEPA process. Rather than a 5% reduction in access, these type of impacts could be as high as 29% loss based on inaccuracies in analysis of baseline management. Alternative A must be brought into some type of conformity with current management on the ground and then the public must be provided the opportunity to comment on the current management and any proposals.

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

Respectfully Submitted,

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

 

 

1 See, GMUG EIS 2021 Volume 1 at pg. 347
3 See, USDA Forest Service; GMUG Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement 1991 at pg 4
4 See, 1991 FSEIS Summary at pg. I9.
5 See, 1983 GMUG RMP at pg. II-29
6 See, USDA Forest Service; GMUG Uncompahgre Travel Management Plan Record of Decision; 2002 at pg. 10.

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The Motorized Community Needs Your Help – The GMUG Forest Plan is Open for Comments

On August 13, 2021, the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest released a Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for its new Forest Plan. The last plan for the GMUG was completed in 1983, nearly 40 years ago! This is a rare opportunity to make changes to this Forest Plan that are more suited to the present time. With your input, we can protect wildlife, natural/cultural resources, motorized and all types of recreation in the GMUG National Forest for generations to come.

So what is a Forest Plan?

A Forest Plan provides a general framework to guide the management of a national forest regarding its resources, goods, and services, much like City and County zoning plans. The United States Forest Service (USFS) is identifying and categorizing large areas of the forest to guide future processes such as Travel Management. It’s important to make the distinction that this process is about developing a big picture plan and does not make any determination about the opening or closing of routes. However, it could affect existing routes or the creation of new routes in the future during more detailed processes such as Travel Management Planning.

Background

The GMUG Forest Planning process began in 2017. Throughout this time, and during scoping conducted in 2019, the TPA and motorized community offered comments and suggestions regarding what we would like to see in this plan (See the GMUG Forest Plan documents in GMUG folder). Simply put the suggestions were: keep it simple, keep it flexible, and keep it accessible. The motorized recreation community’s participation has resulted in two reasonable draft alternatives being presented in the DEIS – but we are not done yet!

What are the Draft Alternatives?

The Forest Plan offers four alternatives for the public to comment on – A, B, C, and D. The TPA is currently reviewing the options, and here are our initial thoughts:

  1. Alternative A keeps everything as is. This option is required by law but we do not think that this option will be considered.
  2. Alternative B is the most balanced for all interests. The USFS has yet to identify a preferred alternative but we anticipate that it will be this one. It has a small increase in Wilderness designation with minimal to no impact on current motorized usage. This option was produced from the 2019 scoping feedback.
  3. Alternative C is the most flexible and simple option with limited special use areas and no new Wilderness designated areas. We see many positive aspects within this option.
  4. Alternative D suggests increasing Wilderness or Roadless land designations by 25%. Currently, the GMUG is 50% Wilderness or Roadless so this option would make 75% of the GMUG unavailable for motorized recreation. This is a clear loser for motorized recreation and can not be supported.

Where are we now?

Currently, we are in a 90 day public comment period where the USFS is seeking more input before they make a final decision for the new Forest Plan. This comment period will end on November 11, 2021.

What do we need from you?

  • Local knowledge! We need to hear from all those familiar with the GMUG. We suggest that you focus your attention on Alternatives B and C.
  • Attend a meeting! The USFS has a number of virtual meetings scheduled throughout the next month and we highly recommend that you sit in on one to learn more about the plan.
  • Share! Send us your thoughts and suggestions at chad@coloradotpa.org.

As the TPA proceeds through this process we will communicate a preferred alternative (or combination of alternatives) that we recommend supporting and outline why we feel it is the preferred alternative. We are hoping that you will use this information to make your own unique comments. If you would like to make comments now, please watch this video from CORE – it will walk you through how to make good substantive comments. Making good comments is a key part of how we can help achieve the most desirable outcome for motorized recreation.

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Peer Review of the Chaffee County “Wildlife Decision Support Tools for Recreation”

 

20210730 Ramey Peer Review Chaffee Tool and Plan

To:
Chaffee County Commissioners
P.O. Box 699,
104 Crestone Avenue
Salida, Colorado 81201

From:
Rob Roy Ramey II, Ph.D.
Wildlife Science International, Inc.
P.O. Box 386 Nederland, CO 80466 USA

30 July 2021

Dear Commissioners Baker, Felt, and Granzella,

What follows is my detailed review of the Chaffee County “Wildlife Decision Support Tools for Recreation” (February 20, 2021; hereafter “Tool”) and the “Protect and Restore Wildlife Habitat” portion of the Chaffee County Recreation Management Plan (June 2021; hereafter “Plan”). I direct my comments to you for consideration.

My qualifications:

I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Natural History from the University of California Santa Cruz, Master’s degree in Wildlife Ecology from Yale University, and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University. My postdoctoral experience included research at the University of Colorado, Boulder as a USDA postdoctoral fellow, and the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species at the San Diego Zoo. I have been conducting research on ecology, evolution, and conservation of mountain sheep since 1981. That research includes a wide variety of conservation-related questions on desert, Sierra Nevada, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in North America, and genetics of argali, Urial, and snow sheep in Asia. My doctoral dissertation research was on the population structure, systematics, and evolution of mountain sheep. Later research included host specificity and the evolution of virulence in parasites and bacterial pathogens in bighorn, evolution of the mammalian gut microbiome, as well as the population genetics, phylogenetics, trace element nutrition, population dynamics, and translocation strategies affecting the conservation of North American mountain sheep. With colleagues, I pioneered the live-capture of Argali sheep on the Mongolian steppe, the development of non-invasive fecal DNA technology for genetic research on the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, and the concept of metapopulation management to desert bighorn sheep. I have published research on the natural and human-caused factors affecting the population dynamics of bighorn sheep, greater sage grouse, and the critically endangered delta smelt in California

My experience includes work with raptors as well. I surveyed for, observed, and climbed into active nests of peregrine falcons and California condors for research and to recover eggs for captive incubation, at a time when those species were on the brink of extinction. I have climbed to numerous active peregrine falcon nests to aid species recovery, including two high on the face of El Capitan in Yosemite to retrieve eggs thinned by DDE and foster captive reared chicks into the nests. Projects have included collecting eggshells from peregrine nests for DDE research on remote cliffs in Zion and Canyonlands National Parks, and Lake Powell National Recreation Area. At the request of the National Park Service, I made a 12-day ascent to a peregrine nest on the most overhanging section of the northwest face of Half Dome to determine the cause of nest failure. I have also surveyed for and climbed into northwestern goshawk nests to collect prey remains as a wildlife biologist on Inyo National Forest. And for the past 20 years, I have conducted early season observations for Arapaho National Forest to determine the locations of golden eagle nests so that climbing closures may be targeted to just active nests.

As part of my professional duties, I contribute as an ad hoc peer reviewer for a wide variety of scientific journals, as well as habitat conservation plans, endangered species recovery plans, BLM resource management plans, USFS land use plans, environmental impact statements, biological opinions, city and county conservation plans, a habitat exchange habitat quantification tool, research reports, draft scientific manuscripts, grant proposals, and proposed federal rules.

In my spare time, I conduct field research with colleagues on the behavioral ecology, population dynamics, and conservation of African elephants in the northern Namib Desert.

My CV is attached. Ramey CV June 2021

Detailed Review of scientific issues with the Chaffee County Wildlife Decision Support Tools for Recreation (February 20, 2021 version) and the Protect and Restore Wildlife Habitat portion of the Chaffee County Recreation Management Plan (June 2021 version):

The Tool and Plan are based upon a biologically naive and specious assumption.

One of the nine stated objectives of the Plan is to “Stabilize and Enhance Wildlife Populations by 2026.” To achieve this objective both the Tool and the Plan make the fundamental assumption that they must “reduce recreation-related impacts on wildlife and their habitat” because recreation activities in Chaffee County have resulted in unstable populations or population declines. Unfortunately, the stated objective and the underlying assumption on how to achieve it are biologically naive, scientifically unsound, and contrary to the available data and current wildlife management practices. It is apparent to this reviewer, that the authors of the Tool and Plan are unfamiliar with the basics of animal behavior, population biology, and conservation biology.

The fundamental assumption behind the Tool and Plan is both biologically naive and specious because it is assumed that regulating recreation activities will magically result in rebounding wildlife populations in five years. This assumption relies on a simplistic, popular belief that recreational activity is currently the primary limiting factor to wildlife populations in Chaffee County, while ignoring other natural and human-caused factors that decades of research have shown to have a quantitative effect on population dynamics. Briefly, those factors include: disease, predation, competition, invasive species, hunting, regional climatic variation, wildfire, permanent development, and the effects of density-dependence (i.e. population density feedbacks affect population growth rate).

In evaluating the data and scientific literature, the question is not whether animals may react to humans by exhibiting increased vigilance, taking flight, or exhibiting temporarily elevated physiological parameters. The question is whether the animal’s behavioral response(s) ultimately result in a quantifiable effect on their survival and reproduction (Darwinian fitness), and that enough individuals are adversely affected to have a measurable demographic effect on the population, independent of other factors (Wehausen 1980; Gill 2001). Answering that question requires demographic data (population number and trend), plausible cause and effect mechanisms, and the ability to rule out the factors listed above (see Ramey 2012, attached, for an extensive review of the bighorn sheep and human disturbance literature). Fortunately for bighorn sheep and elk in Chaffee County, demographic data exist that can be used to test this hypothesis. And, because these big game populations are hunted, the conditioned reaction of the animals to humans would be expected to be stronger than for unhunted populations (Thorne et al. 1979; Goumas et al. 2020), making it more likely to detect an adverse demographic effect if indeed one exists. For bighorn sheep and elk, these data are examined below.

Bighorn sheep and elk populations and hunter harvest data from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) annual reports and management plans are contrary to claims made by authors of the Tool and refute its central assumption.

In the case of bighorn sheep for example, CPW’s population data from the Collegiate Range in Data Analysis Unit RBS-12 (GMUs S11, S17, S66, and S76) show that the number of bighorn have consistently increased since 1980 (see Figure 1 from CPW 2020a, below). A post-hunt 2020 population estimate of 375 bighorn is within CPW’s recently-recommended objective of 350-400 individuals (CPW 2020a). It is critical to note that this population increase occurred along with an increase in recreational use and ongoing hunting of the population (with 13-16 bighorn killed out of 25 tags issued annually for the last 3 years; CPW 2020b, 2021a). For bighorn sheep, these data alone clearly refute the central underlying assumption of the Tool and Plan that recreational use in this area has resulted in a bighorn population decline. Below is Figure 1 from CPW (2020a)

Population size / year graphic: post hunt population estimates from 1980 - 2018

On the East side of the Arkansas Valley, CPW’s population data from the Buffalo Peaks/Mount Silverheels/Tenmile Range bighorn sheep population (Data Analysis Unit RBS-05: GMUs S12, S39, and S78) reveals a similar increase since 1980, from 150 to 300 animals in 2020 (see Figure 5 from CPW 2018, below; and more recent population estimates from CPW 2021a). That increase has occurred despite 15-17 bighorn harvested per year by hunters for the past three years (CPW 2021a).

opulation estimate graphic: post-hunt population estimates from 1980-2017

In the case of elk along the Collegiate Range (Data Analysis Unit E-17), this population is intensively managed via hunting by CPW with 400-651 elk killed annually between 2005 and 2015 (or 14-17% of the population, based on CPW’s revised population size estimates), and 334-417 elk estimated to be killed annually by hunters from 2016-2020 (or, 10-12% of the population; CPW 2021b). This does not include the percentage of animals wounded that subsequently die. The 2020 post-hunt elk population was estimated at 2,850 animals, slightly below the lower end of the +/-10% objective of 3,500 elk established in 2011, however, this population has since fluctuated both above and below CPW’s “preferred” population objective since 2010 when estimates of population size were revised with more accurate data and refined population models (data from CPW 2011 and 2021b, see plot below). It is notable that the CPW 2011 population objective was established just as residential development and agricultural fencing to reduce conflicts began to increase. These two factors resulted in the permanent loss of winter range habitat on the Arkansas Valley bottom and consequently reduced the carrying capacity of the elk population (CPW 2011). And, as with hunted elk populations elsewhere, the 2011 CPW management plan for the Collegiate Range reported that, “Elk are often observed seeking refuge in new subdivisions which have created de facto refuges where elk cannot be hunted” (CPW 2011). Important here are the facts that: 1) hunting is itself a form of recreational activity that occurs directly in elk habitat where humans are the predator, with 8,896 to 16,957 elk hunter-days annually from 2005-2020, and 334-615 elk killed annually in E-17 (CPW 2021b); and 2) that hunting has resulted in documented avoidance behavior and modified habitat use in this population (CPW 2011).

opulation estimate graphic: post-hunt population estimates from 1980-2017

On the east side of the Arkansas Valley, elk in Data Analysis Unit E-22 (GMU 49, 57, 58), is another population intensively managed by CPW. Notably, this elk population has remained stable and fluctuating above CPW’s recommended post-hunt objective of 3,150- 3,500 elk (CPW 2018, see Figure 1 from that report below), despite the increased recreational use in this area (apparently popular with OHVs) and 200-400 animals harvested by hunters each year (CPW 2018, 2021b). In 2020, the post-hunt population estimate was 3,750, again exceeding CPW’s population objective. Therefore, these data refute the central underlying assumption of the Tool and Plan that (non-hunting) recreational use in this area has resulted in an elk population decline.

Number of Elk graphic: Elk Herd E-22 post-hunt population estimate between 1990-2016

Finally, mountain goats are not even a native species in Colorado, they are an exotic species that was introduced to Colorado for sport hunting from 1947-1972 when they were erroneously thought to be native and extirpated, and before it was known that they compete with bighorn and harbor pathogens harmful to bighorn (Gross 2001; Lowrey et al. 2018a,b; Mitton 2019; Wolff et al. 2019). For these reasons, the National Park Service (NPS) has been eradicating mountain goats from Rocky Mountain National Park, Olympic National Park, and most recently, from Grand Teton National Park (NPS 2019), consistent with NPS policies on the removal of exotic species that are harmful to native species (NPS 2006). Therefore, it is highly questionable as to why the authors of the Tool included mountain goats as a species of concern instead of eradication when they are an exotic species detrimental to native bighorn sheep. Currently, CPW issues special tags for hunting mountain goats outside of prescribed areas to limit potential colonization of new areas. However, if Chaffee County is serious about bighorn sheep conservation over the long-term, working with CPW to eradicate mountain goats will eliminate competition with, and cross-transmission of infectious disease to, native bighorn sheep.

The CPW data illustrate factually incorrect and misleading statements made by authors of the Tool.

The opening summary paragraph of the Tool makes the bold statement that,

“According to research, 8 of 13 key wildlife populations in Chaffee County — or 65% — are in steady decline. This includes bighorn sheep, down 29% since 2000; mountain goat, down 32% since 2000; and elk, down 11% since 2000. Detailed data provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and USFS biologists on these species is available in the Chaffee Recreation Report.”

As an initial matter, comparing this statement to the verifiable sources of CPW data discussed above, the stated declines in bighorn and elk are incorrect. Second, the statement above and paragraph that follows (quoted below), as to cause of purported declines are misleading and provided without any verifiable proof of their claims. More specifically, no “detailed data” can be found in the Chaffee Recreation Report and, as illustrated below, the authors provide no verifiable sources for these and other claims (my emphasis in bold):

“There are multiple factors driving these wildlife population declines, according to wildlife biologists, but there is an increasing body of data from studies across the West that show recreation has measurable negative effects on wildlife, especially in production and winter ranges. Recreation activities displace wildlife, moving them out of high quality to lower quality habitats, these studies show. This reduces the area wildlife use, decreasing the number of animals the landscape can support. Recreation pressure in production areas, from elk calving to raptor nests, has also been shown to decrease the survival of young.”

As noted above for bighorn sheep and elk, there is no data to support the assumption that increasing recreation has resulted in declines of other species in Chaffee County.

Incomplete lists and data missing from the Tool and Plan.

The Plan states, “The wildlife tool is based on information about 44 species…,” however, only 19 species are listed in Table 7 of the Tool (Habitats included in the assessment), along with general categories “fish” and “bats.” Similarly, Table 11 (Recreational effects response function by disturbance level with evidence rating) lists just 15 species as well as “fish,” and two of the species listed on Table 11 are plants, not animals. This begs the immediate questions: What are the other species and information used in developing the Tool and Plan? Where are the data? Neither of these are available on the Envision Chaffee County website nor in the Plan as stated in the Tool. It is worth asking why were the two plants and one insect selected for inclusion, compared to other species?

Biased species and habitat priorities.

The selection of species and habitats included on the list obviously has nothing to do with their actual threat level as species that are “big game” and sport-hunted receive the greatest attention in Tables 7 (habitat types) and 11 (recreational effects response function). Elk are given the highest consideration with 5 habitat types mapped and weighted, mule deer and bighorn with 4 habitat types, and pronghorn with 3 habitat types. Surprisingly, lynx (Lynx canadensis) are erroneously listed as “big game” in Table 7, when in fact this species is federally protected and listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (unless the authors of the Tool were mistakenly referring to bobcats (Lynx rufus) which are hunted.) These and other mistakes, incomplete listings, lack of citations, missing data, and undocumented methods seriously undermine the scientific credibility of the Tool and Plan. Additionally, the focus on big game that are sport-hunted reveals a willingness by authors of the Tool and Plan, and Planning Commission that certified the Plan, to favor one group of recreational users over others.

Biased data, subjective “corrections,” and murky methods are not the foundations of a robust GIS analysis.

The use of the Great Outdoors Consultants maps of routes and trails appears straightforward. The estimation of recreational use intensity developed for subsequent GIS analyses is murky. This is because it relies on crowd-sourced data from a fitness tracker and geo-location app, STRAVA, typically used by fitness-conscious runners and cyclists. Those data represent a biased sample of users, cited euphemistically by other authors as “where rich white people are” (Eshelman 2020). It is a well-known shortcoming of STRAVA data that it does not capture the recreational use of underserved communities: the economically disadvantaged, aged, and the disabled. As I find no mention of inclusiveness as a goal in the Plan or Tool, it appears that inclusion of these groups is not a priority for Chaffee County officials. Although the Tool mentions modifying the STRAVA data, it appears from the Tool’s description that it was done subjectively by “managers” rather than using an objective, repeatable, and transparent methodology (i.e. Nelson et al. 2021).

Also undocumented was how trail counter data was incorporated (“cross-walked”) with STRAVA data in order to create categorical use variables, especially when these two sources of data were inconsistent with each other, or one was missing. From my experience, trail counters tend to be concentrated near trailheads and consequently tend to over-report trail use farther inland. Simply put, if the data, methods, and code used in analyses are unavailable, then the analysis is not reproducible and therefore it is not science.

An additional question is whether the Great Outdoors Consultants or County’s reliance on private user GIS location data from STRAVA is in violation of Colorado’s recently passed Privacy Protection Act (https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2021A/bills/2021a_190_enr.pdf) where individuals have the right to opt-out of the collection of private data (i.e. their locations documented by the fitness app) for which subsequent commercial use is made.

The Animal Habitat Impacts analyses are based upon subjective weightings, buffer distances, disturbance and impact levels, scoring criteria for habitat importance, and recreation effects response values.

It is clear to this reviewer that the Tool’s GIS analysis provides an uncritical reader with a false impression of scientific rigor, when in fact it is lacking.

Arbitrary and capricious thresholds are used in the Tool’s GIS analyses, with no supporting data or scientific research that could be used to compare the thresholds to real-world situations. Starting with the point/line/polygon data layers, these appear to be approximations of potential habitat rather than actual data. Without the data files and associated metadata to pinpoint the source data or opinions used to create the layers it is impossible to verify. Moreover, it has been my experience that polygon layers weight all habitat equally in time and space. In other words, the tendency is to extend polygons to capture all historic locations regardless of how many years ago they were made and how rarely the area is used (see Turner et al. 2004 and 2006). Therefore, such GIS data requires independent validation if it is to be considered “science” and subsequently used for regulatory guidance. In the case of Turner et al. 2004 and 2006, independent reevaluation of bighorn location/GIS data revealed that 66% of critical habitat designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was actually non-habitat. That conclusion led to the Court remanding the original critical habitat designation.

Raptor nest buffer distances are not supported by data.

The same argument above holds for raptor buffer distances around points, such as the 800m buffer (1.6km or one mile in diameter) surrounding golden eagle, northern goshawk, peregrine falcon, and prairie falcon nests. This is obviously an oversized, one-size-fits-all buffer that lacks a sound scientific basis (i.e. data that can show a reduced survivorship of individuals or a population-level effect at distances less than this threshold). Therefore, I challenge the authors of the Tool to produce actual data on these species that show nest failure during the nesting season. In fact, none of these species are fragile and the often-repeated myth of human disturbance causing nest abandonment or failure comes from decades in the past (i.e. before the 1970s and the environmental movement). Those early documented cases of “human disturbance” causing nest failure were actually from the destruction of golden eagle nests, killing of young, and shooting of adults from the ground near nests and birds in flight from aircraft. This misguided persecution was carried out by domestic sheep producers and ranchers in the USA (Nelson 1982). In fact, Colorado had a hunting season on golden eagles until 1966. The killing of eagles by Native Americans for feathers used in ceremonial headdresses was another documented form of “human disturbance” (Nelson 1982). During the same period, “human disturbance” of peregrine falcons was from egg collectors who “roped” into nests and mistakenly referred to in the past as “climbers.” And in Scotland and the UK, game keepers shot peregrine falcons on sight to protect game birds (Ratcliffe 1993). I have direct experience of this anti-predator attitude and persecution first-hand, growing up in a rural area in the 1960s and 1970s. Although that dark chapter on persecution of raptors is now closed, some uncritical authors still conflate past human disturbance that had lethal intent with contemporary use of the term “human disturbance” that refers to any human presence in the vicinity of nests, even if is benign.

Experimental data does not support the proposed buffer distances used in the Tool’s GIS analysis.

Experimental evidence reveals a greater tolerance of golden eagles (and other raptors) to human presence and activities than typically parroted in the literature. Three studies on human disturbance of raptors stand out in contrast to the trend described above because they relied on controlled experiments to test the effects of human disturbance on the fitness of raptors (White and Thurow 1985; Holthuijzen et al. 1990; Grubb et al. 2007, 2010). All three utilized disturbances that were clearly threatening (e.g. blasting; threatening approach via foot, vehicle, or helicopter; gunshots and noisemakers), as compared with relatively benign activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding. Yet, all three reported a remarkable tolerance of human presence, a decreased response when habituated, and recommended substantially smaller buffer zones than those typically imposed.

Holthuijzen et al. (1990) measured the effects of nearby blasting on nesting prairie falcons, as compared to undisturbed controls. They reported: “This study demonstrated that, in general, blasting had no severe adverse effects on the falcon’s behavioral repertoire, productivity, and occupancy of nesting territories. Therefore, we suggest that when blasting does not occur prior to aerie selection and ceases prior to fledging, blasting that takes place at least 125 m from occupied prairie falcon aeries need not be restricted, provided that peak noise levels do not exceed 140 dB at the aerie (i.e., the noise level we measured for our experimental blasts). We recommend that no more than 3 blasts occur on any given day or 90 blasts during the nesting season.”

White and Thurow (1985) used an experimental approach to quantify the effects of human disturbance on nesting ferruginous hawks. Their “low level” disturbance involved approaching nests on foot while firing a rifle every 20m, driving up to nests, and continuously operating a 3.5hp gasoline motor or noisemaker within 30-50m of a nest. They reported, “Unlike previous reports of substantial nest desertion by raptors as a result of human activity, the number of disturbed nests that were deserted in our study was unexpectedly low.” And, “Our observations suggest that a sufficient buffer zone for brief human disturbance around ferruginous hawk nests is 250 m. Adults will not flush 90% of the time if human activity is confined to distances greater than this.”

Grubb et al. (2007, 2010) directly approached golden eagle nests at close range via helicopter, and quantified behavior and nest success. This study was a poignant refutation to an often repeated but erroneous perception (discussed above) that golden eagles are highly susceptible to human disturbance. The authors reported results contrary to expectations:

“Multiple exposures to helicopters during our experimentation in 2006 and 2007 had no effect on golden eagle nesting success or productivity rates, within the same year, or on rates of renewed nesting activity the following year, when compared to the corresponding figures for the larger population of non- manipulated sites. During our active testing and passive observations, we found no evidence that helicopters bother golden eagles nor disrupt nesting. In 303 helicopter passes near eagles, we observed no significant, detrimental, or disruptive responses. 96% of 227 experimental passes of Apache helicopters at test distances of 0-800 m from nesting golden eagles resulted in no more response than watching the helicopter pass (30%). “

“We found no relationship between helicopter sound levels [even though Apache helicopters were twice as loud as the civilian helicopters] and corresponding eagle ambient behaviors or limited responses, which occurred throughout recorded test levels (76.7-108.8 dB, unweighted).”

“Between all the other aircraft and human activities occurring in the Tri-Canyon Area, as well as their long term coexistance with WPG and apparent indifference to current operations, golden eagles in the area appear acclimated to current levels of activity. “

“For the specific question of WPG operating in the Tri-Canyon Area without potentially impacting nesting golden eagles, we found no evidence that special management restrictions are required. (Authors’ Note: The results of this research were very much unexpected since helicopters are usually considered more disruptive to bald eagles than any other type of aircraft. Plus, golden eagles are traditionally thought to be more sensitive, and therefore more responsive, to human intrusions than bald eagles. However, we found the golden eagles studied during this project to be just as adaptive, tolerant, and acclimated to human activities as any bald eagles in our rather considerable, collective experience with this species. We hypothesize this may at least be in part due to the proximity of the large, growing, and outdoor-oriented population of the Salt Lake Valley and Wasatch Front.”

The experimental data and observations of the authors above are consistent with my extensive experience working with peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and northern goshawks, and entirely inconsistent with the buffer distances used in the Tool.

Subjective weightings, criteria, and response values are not science.

Each one of the weightings, criteria and response values used in the GIS analysis are highly subjective. Those include Disturbance Levels (Table 9), Impact levels (Table 10), Recreational Effects Response Function by Disturbance Level with Evidence Rating, Habitat Rank Components and Scoring Criteria (Tables 12 and 13), and Spatial Criteria for Defining Recreational Disturbance Intensity. All are provided without any citation from scientific literature or presented with a scientifically credible cause and effect mechanism with which to justify them or their scores. Instead, the Tool’s authors attribute these collectively to the input of “Resource Specialists.” Like the lack of listed authors on the Tool and Plan, it is unclear who these “resource specialists” were. However, it is clear is that whoever designed the weightings, criteria, and response values appears to have a weak foundation in animal behavior and population biology. For example, consider the scoring criteria used for Population Trend (Table 12):

“This component captures the local population trend of the associated species: 1 = increasing, 2 = stable or unknown/no data, 3 = slightly declining (<0.5%/yr), 4 = clear decline (0.5-1%/yr), and 5 = strong decline (>1%/yr).”

Note that there are three categories for “local population trend” that involved declines: “slightly declining,” “clear decline,” and “strong decline” with each separated by a half-a-percent change, and any negative change over one percent per year is considered a “strong decline.” There is only one category for “increasing” but with no criteria for identifying if an “increase” has occurred. The author of this does not seem to understand that populations tend to fluctuate to a greater degree annually in both their actual and estimated numbers. Moreover, because it is extremely rare to obtain exact counts, population estimates virtually always have an associated level of uncertainty (expressed in terms of 95% confidence intervals). Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that it would be possible to reliably detect such small changes with any reasonable degree of certainty, and whether such small changes are biologically meaningful at all. By comparison, CPW sets their recommended population objectives within a +/-10% range of an ideal value and do not seem to be concerned outside of that range unless it is a prolonged trend (for examples please refer to the CPW bighorn and elk management plans cited above).

The scientific and biological naiveté of the Tool’s authors becomes increasingly apparent with each new variable introduced in their model. For example, when examining the “disturbance levels” in Table 9, these are criteria based on levels of human disturbance to other humans, not wildlife. The so-called “Evidence” levels (low, moderate, high) in Table 11, leave me with the question: What evidence? There are no citations, no data, and no stated criteria for each level. In short, no evidence. There is no cited scientific research in support of the arbitrary Impact levels and criteria in Table 10, these are clearly subjective. Next, the stated values for Impact by recreation disturbance level in Table 11 are also subjective, as are the Sensitivity & Evidence scoring criteria in Table 12. Subsequently, Habitat Importance scores are compiled in Table 13 as if it is scientifically defensible to simply take five previous arbitrary values and total them to create a new composite value that is even more arbitrary. Values from Tables 11 and 13 for each species are then multiplied and summed to create Composite impact scores used in spatial analyses and create maps to guide decision-makers. If these were observable variables in the real world, with actual data or estimates (with associated confidence intervals), one could account for error propagation. However, that is not possible with the analysis described in the Tool. The GIS analysis above may appear rigorous on the surface, but that veneer of rigor quick disappears once one scratches the surface.

The role of hunting in altering animal behavior is ignored.

It has been my direct experience, conducting research on bighorn sheep across the western USA and Mexico for over 40-years, that bighorn sheep in populations that are hunted react more strongly and at farther distances to human presence than those that are not hunted. More specifically, hunted populations tend to be more vigilant and take flight at greater distances than un-hunted populations, especially during the fall-winter hunting season. The reason is straightforward: in hunted populations, hunters act as predators. Hunters walk directly into the habitat of the bighorn and often for prolonged periods to select and stalk their quarry, then shoot and kill them (with a bow or high-caliber rifle shot), which is likely to be seen by other members of the herd. When humans act as predators on bighorn it conditions the bighorn to view the presence of all humans in their environment as potential predators.

The conditioning of animal behavior through hunting (as well as poaching or culling) has been reported in many other species (Goumas et al. 2020). I have witnessed this in the behavior of North American game species (bighorn, mule deer, elk, pronghorn) as well as in African wildlife from springbok to elephants. Therefore, if a goal of Chaffee County is to have bighorn or elk populations that react less to benign human recreation, the solution is simple: stop hunting them. The same can be said for other species including elk. That is why national parks the world over tend to be populated (and over-populated) with animals that have habituated to sharing their environment with humans exhibiting predictable and non-threatening behaviors. (And for the record, I am not an anti-hunter, I work with sport and trophy hunting organizations in the USA and abroad.)

Similarly, invasive research of bighorn and elk that requires capture via helicopter net- gun or darting with immobilizing drugs and subsequent handling, is functionally equivalent to humans acting as predators. For example, a 2013 bighorn sheep study by CPW required the capturing of pregnant bighorn ewes, resulting in physical restraint, blood drawn, ear tags attached, radio-collars fitted and vaginal implant transmitters inserted in ewes, followed later by the hand-capture, handling, and radio-collaring of their neonatal lambs, just days old. While CPW may assert that bighorn behavior is unaffected, the data suggest otherwise. In the words of the study authors, during that 2013 CPW study, 3 of 15 neonatal lambs captured and radio-collared “died of starvation likely caused by abandonment [by their mothers] after capture” (Grigg et al. 2017).

While such research is important for the management of a species (in that case, respiratory disease transmitted from domestic sheep), from an animal behavior point of view wildlife captures are invasive procedures, similar to predation attempts. Similarly, helicopter pursuit and capture has known deleterious physiological effects, including acidosis and capture myopathy which cause permanent lameness or death, injuries from net-gunning, and behavioral effects such as flight and avoidance of researchers and helicopters (Bleich et al. 1990, 1994). Darting animals with immobilizing drugs may be less intrusive but it is also risky and has resulted in injuries when bighorn tumble down rocky slopes.

Therefore, hunting and research activities cannot reasonably be considered as benign activities without some consequences for subsequent bighorn (or other species) behavioral responses to humans. These activities can create a “landscape of fear” for animals and lead to their increased vigilance and avoidance of humans. In light of these observations, when it comes to human-wildlife interactions that occur with recreation, perhaps the best advice is to educate users of all kinds on how to “not act like a predator.” It has also been proposed that we rethink how we hunt in order to reduce the perception of humans as predators or the association of certain habitats with predation risk (Cromsigt et al. 2013). These are worth further consideration. The opposite approach, to increase the perception of predation risk, can also be used to reduce human wildlife conflicts (i.e. elk in agricultural areas).

There is a body of literature that reports on individual-responses to various recreational activities. However, evidence of a negative population-level effect is notably absent.

To date, the literature on recreationalists disturbance to wildlife (more accurately termed human-wildlife interactions) generally falls into four categories:

  1. Conjectures about a potential role of human disturbance on population dynamics of the species/population in question but with no actual data showing a demographic effect. Opinions expressed by the authors in the conclusions of their paper are often erroneously cited by subsequent authors, as if these opinions were actual results based on demographic data.
  2. Measurements of anti-predator behavioral responses (again, with no actual data showing a demographic effect but opinions expressed that they could). The conclusions of these papers generally assume that any observed effect(s) results in a decrease in individual fitness and ultimately population number.
    1. distances at which animals respond to humans (i.e. exhibit increased vigilance, move away, take flight).
    2. observations of short-term displacement of animals by humans (using field observations or GPS-collar data);
    3. measurements of short-term physiological responses to humans (i.e. increased heart rate, cortisol hormone level);
  3. Correlative studies that compare an increasing “human footprint” (based on GIS data, such as those in the Tool) to trends in habitat utilization or population number. The analytical methods utilized generally fail to rule out other factors that could negatively influence demography. There are papers from other fields of inquiry, such as quantifying effects of energy development (Ramey at el. 2018) or fish hatcheries (i.e. Maunder et al. 2014) on population dynamics, in combination with other factors but not recreational activities.
  4. Literature reviews that compile reaction distances or recommended buffer zones based upon the opinions of previous authors in the conclusions of their paper. These, in-turn, are melded by authors into their own recommendations, while ignoring methodological issues or weak inferences of the articles cited (i.e. using methods 1,2, and 3 above). The primary issue with this approach is that the final product is just a survey of opinions and subject to confirmation bias.

Reconsidering method #3 above, what if a population remains stable or increases over the long-term along with recreational activity (i.e. 10-20 years with no biologically significant decline)? And, what if this increase continued along with direct sources of mortality such as hunting? Would it then be reasonable to reject the hypothesis that recreational activity is deleterious to the population? I argue that it should be rejected because the data are inconsistent with the hypothesis. This is the current situation in Chaffee County with regards to bighorn sheep and elk. Could this change in the future? It could, given the perfect storm of circumstances. However, at this time there is no sound scientific rationale to use wildlife as the reason to regulate recreation. There may be other reasons to regulate recreational use, type, and intensity, but wildlife species in Chaffee County are not one of those reasons.

For a detailed analysis of the literature on human disturbance of bighorn sheep and how it and bighorn sheep census data was applied to understanding an issue involving recreational trail users in desert bighorn sheep habitat, please refer to testimony provided in Appendix A.

Where is the adaptive management?

The authors of the Tool and Plan make no mention of adaptive management, which is essential to effective management of natural resources. With wolves about to return in number to Colorado through CPW’s reintroduction program, habitat use and population trends of prey species like deer and elk are likely to be affected, making much of the Tool’s habitat mapping obsolete.

Were the contributors to the “Animal Impacts Analysis” of the Tool chosen based on their biological expertise or other criteria?

Returning to the “Disturbance Levels” in Table 9, it is noticeable that the level of noise was included in the evaluation of the “disturbance” to the species examined. While the mating calls of some songbirds has been reported to be obscured by highway noise or oil and gas activity, I am unaware of scientific papers reporting the same effects on the species listed in the Tool. Instead, aesthetic values that are of concern to some user groups appear to have been inserted here.

I note that the Director of the “Quiet Use Coalition” was cited as a contributor to the “Animal Habitat Impacts” section of the Tool. While this individual has many athletic trail running accomplishments, I could find no evidence of qualifications in the fields of animal behavior, ecology, or population biology. He apparently earned his Bachelors degree in biochemistry in 1985 and has had a distinguished trail-running career with numerous awards. According to the Quiet Use Coalition’s website, it “is a spearhead organization of the Quiet Use Movement.” From the Ark Valley Voice (Sep 21, 2019) I found this description,

“As a strong environmental advocacy organization [The Quiet Use Coalition, QUC], says Sobal, it does not merely celebrate or promote nature, it actively works to protect and preserve it. He says QUC will take, and is not afraid to take, strong stances and positions on environmental topics. These are sometimes controversial. QUC has used objections, appeals and lawsuits when necessary to emphasize its positions and obtain needed clarifications on issues.”

The participation of an advocate and litigant as a contributor to the Tool, to the exclusion of other recreational user groups, raises the issue of bias. While recreational activities ranging from hiking 14ers, trail running, cycling, e-biking, horseback riding, motorcycling, OHV riding, and sport hunting may be personally distasteful to some individuals or advocacy groups in Chaffee County, it is clear that these have not been deleterious to the bighorn and elk populations. Therefore, it is worth asking the question, in the absence of data, should wildlife be used as an excuse to push other agendas?

Is Chaffee County on the verge of exceeding its authority?

The authors of the Tool and Plan appear to assume that recreational use on federal lands within Chaffee County can be planned and regulated outside the inclusive public process that is the purview of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). “Input” from a select handful of state and federal staff does not obviate this issue. It is also worth asking why a representative from an organization engaged in advocacy and litigation on local federal decisions was allowed to participate in development of the Tool, without representatives from other stakeholder groups.

I recommend scrapping the current Tool for all of the reasons detailed above. If Chaffee County is serious about contributing to the long-term conservation of its native fish, wildlife, and plant populations, there are other substantive actions that can be taken to address threats to these. A brief list is provided below.

Bighorn sheep

  • Work with NGOs and CPW to buy out and retire domestic sheep grazing allotments that overlap or are near native bighorn sheep range. Nearby allotments are identified in CPW (2021a). Transmission of bacterial pathogens from domestic sheep (and goats) to bighorn sheep is a well-documented, long-term threat to bighorn sheep populations (Besser et al. 1994, 2008; Wehausen et al. 2011).
  • Reach out to recreational users via news, trailhead information, and social media to report any domestic sheep in or near bighorn sheep range to CPW so they may be quickly removed.
  • Consider requiring the reporting of any escaped domestic sheep or goats from hobby farmers or commercial operations to reduce the chance of transmission of bacterial pathogens from domestic sheep and goats to bighorn sheep.
  • Incentivize the eradication of mountain goats by CPW. This could be accomplished by providing additional resources for bighorn disease and population monitoring and habitat enhancement, in lieu of lost hunting opportunities for mountain goats. A list of mountain goat populations in and adjacent to Chaffee County may be found in CPW (2021a).

Golden eagles

  • Educate and encourage hunters to use non-toxic slugs and shot when hunting, perhaps by subsidizing non-toxic ammunition sales to licensed hunters with tags in Chaffee County. This would reduce the incidence lead contamination/poisoning in golden eagles and other scavengers (Lambertucci et al. 2010).
  • Request that road maintenance crews prioritize the removal of carrion from roadways and rights-of-way to reduce the incidence of eagles killed by vehicle strikes.
  • Request that electrical service providers identify and mitigate hazardous powerline junctions to reduce electrocution risk to golden eagles.
  • Require enhanced wind turbine mortality monitoring and mitigation measures to reduce eagle, raptor, and bat mortalities at these facilities.

Elk and mule deer:

  • Work with private land owners to develop and implement wildlife-friendly fencing strategies such as those developed by CPW and funded through the Habitat Partnership Program. Such standards could be built into County land use permitting process and building codes. https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/LandWater/PrivateLandPrograms/FencingWithWildlif eInMind.pdf
  • Work with CPW to estimate different scenarios of projected build-out of private property and how that would affect elk winter range and carrying capacity to inform future land use zoning and permitting.
  • To minimize the coming threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD) to mule deer and elk in Chaffee County, instruct appropriate staff to stay current on scientific research and mitigation measures that seek to reduce the spread of CWD prions in the environment. The Prion Research Center at Colorado State University would be a good place to start.

 

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

Rob Roy Ramey II, Ph.D.

 

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Ramey RR. 2012. Testimony on Senate Bill AB880. Before the State Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildlife, California State Legislature. July 3, 2012. 10 pages.

Thorne, ET, Varcalli T, Becker K, Butler GB. 1978. Some Thoughts on the Consequences of Non-trophy Sheep Hunting in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. Proceedings of the Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Conference. http://www.nwsgc.org/contents/1978contents.html

Turner JC, Douglas CL, Hallum CR, Krausman PR, Ramey RR. 2004. Determination of critical habitat for the endangered Nelson’s bighorn sheep in southern California. Wildlife Society Bulletin 32(2):427-448.

Turner JC, Douglas CL, Hallum CR, Krausman PR, Ramey RR. 2006. Ostermann’s assumption of a flawed habitat model is premised on facts not in evidence: Turner et al. (2005) response to Ostermann et al. (2005). Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(4):1465–1473.

Wehausen JD.1980. Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep: history and population ecology. Doctoral dissertation. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Wehausen JD, Kelley ST, Ramey RR. 2011. A review of experimental evidence concerning respiratory disease transmission between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep. California Fish and Game 97(1):7-24.

White CM, Thurow TL. 1985. Reproduction of ferruginous hawks exposed to controlled disturbance. The Condor 87:14-22.

Wolff PL, Blanchong JA, Nelson DD, Plummer PJ, McAdoo C, Cox M, Besser TE, Muñoz-Gutiérrez J, Anderson CA. 2019. Detection of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae in Pneumonic Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus) Kids. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 55(1):206-212. doi: 10.7589/2018-02-052. Epub 2018 Aug 30. PMID: 30161017

Wood ME, Fox KA, Jennings-Gaines J, Killion HJ, Amundson S, Miller MW, Edwards WH. 2017. How Respiratory Pathogens Contribute to Lamb Mortality in a Poorly Performing Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) Herd. Journal of Wildlife Disease 53(1):126-130. doi: 10.7589/2016-05-097. Epub 2016 Sep 30. PMID: 27690193.

Appendix A.

Testimony on AB880 (A bill to reopen the Bump and Grind Trail, subsequently approved by the legislature with bi-partisan support and signed by Governor Jerry Brown.)
Before the State Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildlife, California State Legislature

Prepared by
Rob Roy Ramey II, Ph.D.
(Member, IUCN Caprinae Specialist Group) Wildlife Science International, Inc.
P.O. Box 386 Nederland, CO 80466

3 July 2012

Honorable Senators. Good Morning. I’m here today to provide some accurate information on desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). These animals are not fragile creatures or susceptible to human disturbance as they have been portrayed to be. Instead, these animals live in extreme environments, are well adapted to avoid predation by mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, and golden eagles. And where human activities are predictable and non-threatening, bighorn sheep readily habituate to human activity. They are already habituated to human activity in the Coachella Valley; they have commonly and repeatedly entered busy human environments such as major golf resorts, popular hotels, and the most widely used traffic arteries in the Coachella Valley.

In this field, there is a complete absence of a clearly defined, scientifically defensible, causal link between human disturbance and reduced bighorn survival or habitat abandonment resulting in population decline. The main sources of decline of bighorn sheep populations are factors such as predation, rainfall, and disease, all of which are independent of the number of hikers. In fact, the only experimental research that actually tested, instead of speculating on, a population response noted that the population increased as the number of hikers increased. The hypothesis that human disturbance has had demographic effect on bighorn sheep populations lacks factual support. The same can be said of the unpublished Joshua Tree National Monument study (Thompson et al. 2007). Bighorn sheep made adjustments in their use patterns in response to increased human activity on weekends and readjusted their use patterns after the people had left. No demographic effect of human disturbance was found, like other studies on the subject of human disturbance the authors merely speculated that it could potentially occur.

In contrast, hundreds of thousands of visitors pass close to the desert bighorn sheep exhibit at the Living Desert Reserve and the ewes must be give birth control to keep them from reproducing.

The State’s own data shows that the bighorn sheep population is steadily increasing in the North Santa Rosa Mountains area, despite the increasing use of this particular trail (The Bump and Grind Trail).

The recent CDFG population estimates for the North Santa Rosa Mountains: 2006 – 49 bighorn*

2008 – 77 bighorn*

2010 – 90 bighorn **

*February 25, 2009 memo on PBS population estimates from CDFG biologists Randy Botta and Steve Torres, CDFG.
** January 14, 2011 Results of the 2010 bighorn sheep helicopter survey in the Peninsular Ranges of southern California (Randy Botta, CDFG).

The State permits the hunting of the bighorn sheep in the northern Coachella Valley while they’re considered endangered in the Southern part; and it is the same subspecies (Wehausen and Ramey 1993). State governments in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah permit these sheep to be hunted. The California State Government permits ewes, including ewes with lambs, to be chased down with helicopter and net-gunned at close range, subdued and hobbled, fitted with radio collars, or slung below helicopters or loaded into horse trailers prior to their being taken to a new area for release. The State Government has allowed the hand-capture of small lambs in lambing areas in order for them to be fitted with radio collars. This is considered to be an acceptable risk, while trail use by hikers is considered to be an unacceptable risk.

Human disturbance
I have reviewed the entire published literature on the subject of human disturbance and bighorn sheep, and it is almost entirely based on opinion without supporting experimental evidence or rigorous hypothesis testing (see literature cited). For instance, 26 of the papers relied on unsubstantiated opinion or interpretation of limited or anecdotal observations to support conclusions regarding human disturbance. None demonstrated decreased fitness of individuals or populations as a result of human disturbance. Similarly, none documented any permanent abandonment of range due to transient human disturbance, and any apparent displacement was temporary (Blong and Pollard 1968; Jorgenson 1974; Deforge 1972; MacArthur et al. 1979; Graham 1980; Leslie and Douglas 1980; Wilson et al. 1980; Campbell and Remington 1981; Purdy and Shaw 1981; Cunningham 1982; Deforge 1982; DeForge et al. 1982; MacArthur et al. 1982; Holt and Bleich 1983; Wehausen 1983; Cunningham and Omart 1986; DeForge et al. 1995, 1997; Etchberger et al. 1989; Boyce at al. 1992; Harris 1992; McCarthy and Bailey 1994; Rubin et al. 1998; Etchberger and Krausman 1999; Wagner 1999; Rubin et al. 2000). Seven papers that measured flight or movement response to humans were only able to suggest a limited and transitory behavioral response to human activity over short distances. Again, none documented any permanent abandonment of range due to transient human disturbance, and any apparent displacement was temporary and of no demographic consequence (Hicks and Elder 1979; Hamilton et al. 1982; King and Workman 1986; Papouchis et al. 1999; Rubin et al. 2002; Keller and Bender 2007; Thompson et al. 2007).

The only paper that utilized an experimental design to measure demographic effects of human activity on bighorn sheep reported that the bighorn sheep population actually increased along with the number of hikers in a particular area (Wehausen 1980). Demographic data show that the same increase in bighorn sheep along with the number of hikers in an area is also occurring in the North Santa Rosa Mountains. A bighorn population increase is also occurring in the southern part of the Carrizo Canyon subpopulation where human use has increased over the last decade from illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and Border Patrol Agents in the vicinity of Interstate 8. Similarly, experience with construction and mining projects in or near bighorn sheep habitat (arguable several orders of magnitude larger and more permanent than a hiking trail), including highway construction and maintenance (e.g. Hwy 74), transmission lines (e.g. Palo Verde-Devers No. 1 transmission line, in Arizona (Smith et al. 1986)), and mining (Wehausen 1980; Andaloro and Ramey 1981; Oehler et al. 2005) have not been shown to result in bighorn sheep population declines. And contrary to expectations, Oehler et al. 2005 reported that mountain lion predation was lower near the active mine than in the undisturbed area away from it. Therefore, much of what has passed for the scientific on the human disturbance of bighorn sheep, has been nothing more than unsupported opinion and speculation on what the effects might be. Like competition, human disturbance is only of importance if it has a negative demographic effect on populations, and such an effect has not been found.

Based on an understanding of plausible cause and effect mechanisms, so long as a few reasonable precautions are taken, effects of trail hiking on bighorn sheep will be minimal or non-existent. For example, the presumed level of risk of ewes abandoning lambs is frequently overstated. Even during the lambing season, there is little risk of ewes permanently abandoning lambs. This is because ewes contribute a substantial parental investment in gestation and rearing and, as a result, the probability of ewes abandoning lambs under any circumstance is extremely remote. In fact, researchers at the Bighorn Institute in Palm Springs California, regularly caught young lambs by hand or with hand- held nets to attach radio collars to them and reported no problems with abandonment (J. DeForge, personal communication). However, if they are flushed from steep escape terrain in a lambing area, very young lambs (less than 2-3 weeks old) can be placed at risk to predation and injury from falls. As a result, measures to limit access directly into an active lambing area may be justified but there is no credible scientific justification at all for limiting access to the viewshed of the surrounding area, or to lamb-rearing habitat.

Access to water during the hot, dry summer months, in low elevation mountain ranges is necessary for desert bighorn sheep survival. Therefore, seasonal restrictions or rerouting of trails in the immediate vicinity of water may be reasonable where water sources are few or limited. However, it is important to realize that bighorn sheep may use alternative sources of water or adjust the time they access water. In areas where bighorn sheep are habituated to humans such restrictions may not be necessary. Such restrictions are unnecessary on the Bump and Grind trail as there is no water in the vicinity.

Lambing area vs. lamb rearing areas
I now to address the issue of what constitutes a lambing area vs. lamb rearing area, as the two are quite different. Lambing areas are steep and rugged patches of habitat where ewes go to give birth and raise their lambs in relative safety during their first few weeks of life. More precisely, lambing habitat is defined as an adequacy of expanse (>2 ha) to provide escape from predation for the pre-parous female and the postpartum female and neonate within 1 km of perennial water (Smith et al. 1991; Johnson and Swift 2000; Singer et al. 2000a,b; Zeigenfuss et al. 2000; Turner et al. 2004). They typically use these areas for 2-3 weeks until the lambs are agile and the risk of predation is consequently lower. At that time, ewes and lambs expand their range into lamb-rearing habitat which is essentially ewe summer range. In lamb rearing habitat ewes frequently form groups with other ewes and their lambs, which provides greater vigilance and increased safety in numbers. However, lactating ewes are still constrained by the need for water, especially during the hot summer months. Lambs are subsequently weaned at 3 and 5 months depending upon forage quality. Lamb survival is highly variable and driven by precipitation, predation, and disease, all of which are independent of levels of human activity, such as trail hiking.

While restrictions on access directly into lambing areas are justified, there is no published literature that suggests that lamb-rearing habitat requires similar restrictions, except when water sources are very limited and only in the immediate vicinity (see expanded discussion below). Bump and Grind Trail is not a lambing area, nor is it a favorable lamb-rearing habitat, as evidenced by the fact that only a handful of sightings exist in the area over the past 40 years. And just because a ewe and a lamb (e.g., > one month old) were recently observed crossing a trail, does not make it a lambing area.

Bighorn sheep often pass through while exploring their environment or moving between one favorable habitat patch and another. Lambing areas are not created by administrative fiat, they are defined by data: steep slopes >80%, rugged terrain, and the documented presence of multiple ewes with small lambs (<2-3 weeks old). Such data are lacking for the Bump and Grind Trail. The nearest lambing area is across a valley and above Magnesia Spring, the greatest concentration of lambing is in Bradley canyon. A suspect lambing area south of Ramon Peak is not yet confirmed by data.

While it could be argued that lambing season extends from January through June, in fact few lambs are born at either end of that period. The data show that 78 to 100% of lambs in the Peninsular Ranges are actually born during February–April each year (Rubin et al. 2000). Lambs that are born early or late in the season have lower survival rates than those born peak season (due to Natural Selection).

The trail opponents are well intentioned and share our collective concern for the well being of the desert bighorn sheep, but are simply mistaken on the science on this issue, and we should not allow antiquated assumptions and beliefs to pass as scientific understanding. The bottom line is that there is no scientific support–at all–for the closure of this trail.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

Literature Cited
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Bleich, V.C., R.T. Boyer, A.M. Pauli, R.L. Vernoy, and R.W. Anthes. 1990. Responses of mountain sheep to helicopter surveys. California Fish and Game 76(4): 197-204.

Blong, B. and W. Pollard. 1968. Summer water requirements of desert bighorn in the Santa Rosa Mountains, California, in 1965. California Fish and Game 54(4):289-296.

Boyce, W.M., T. Bunch, S. Cunningham, J. DeForge, D. Jessup, and J. Wehausen. 1992. Stress and bighorn sheep. Panel Discussion. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions.

Campbell, B.H., and R. Remington. 1981. Influence of construction activities on water- use patterns of desert bighorn sheep. Wildlife Society Bulletin 9:63-65.

Cunningham, S.C. 1982. Aspects of the ecology of Peninsular desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis cremnobates) in Carrizo Canyon, California. Unpublished Masters Thesis. Arizona State University.

Cunningham, S.C. and R.D. Ohmart. 1986. Aspects of the ecology of desert bighorn sheep in Carrizo Canyon, California. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 14-19.

Dunaway, D. J. 1971. Human disturbance as a limiting factor of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Transactions of the North American Wild Sheep Conference 1:165-173.

DeForge, J.R. 1972. Man’s invasion into the bighorn’s habitat. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 20:15-17.

DeForge, J.R. 1980. Population biology of desert bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains of California. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 24:29-32.

Deforge, J.R., S.D. Osterman, C.W. Willmott, K.B. Brennen, and S.G. Torres. 1997. The ecology of Peninsular bighorn sheep in the San Jacinto Mountains, California. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 41:8-25.

Duncan, G. E. 1960. Human encroachment on bighorn habitat. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 4:35-37.

Etchberger, R.C., Krausman, P.R., and R. Mazaika. 1989. Mountain sheep habitat characteristics in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Arizona. Journal of Wildlife Management 53(4):902-907.

Etchberger and P.R. Krausman. 1999. Frequency of birth and lambing sites of a small population of mountain sheep. Southwestern Naturalist 44(3):354-360.

Ferrier, G. J. 1974. Bighorn sheep along the lower Colorado River: 1974-2050. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 18:40-45.

Graham, H. 1980. The impact of modern man. Pages 288-309 in: The desert bighorn: its life history, ecology, and management. G. Monson and L. Sumner, eds. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Hamilton, K. S., S. A. Holl, and C. L. Douglas. 1982. An evaluation of the effects of recreational activity on bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains, California. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 26:50-55.

Harris, Lisa Kim. 1992. Recreation in mountain sheep habitat. Doctoral dissertation, University of Arizona.

Hicks, L. L., and J. M. Elder. 1979. Human disturbance of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Journal of Wildlife Management 43:909-915.

Holl, S.A. and V.C. Bleich. 1983. San Gabriel Mountain sheep: biological and management considerations. USDA, San Bernadino National Forest, San Bernadino, CA.

Johnson, T.L., and D.M. Swift. 2000. A test of a habitat evaluation procedure for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Restoration Ecology 8:47–56.

Jorgensen, P. 1974. Vehicle use at a desert bighorn watering area. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 18:18-24.

Keller, B.J. and L.C. Bender. 2007. Bighorn Sheep Response to Road-Related Disturbances in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Journal of Wildlife Management 71(7):2329-2337.

King, M.M., and G.W. Workman. 1982. Desert bighorn on BLM lands in southeastern Utah. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 26:104-106.

Krausman, P.R. and J.J. Hervert. 1983. Mountain sheep responses to aerial surveys. Wildlife Society Bulletin 11(4):372-375.

Kovach, S. D. 1979. An ecological survey of the White Mountain Peak bighorn. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 23:57-61.

Krausman, P.R., W.W. Shaw, and J.L. Stair. 1979. Bighorn sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area, Arizona. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 23:40-46.

Krausman, P.R., and R.C. Etchberger. 1995. Response of desert ungulates to a water project in Arizona. Journal of Wildlife Management 59:292-300.

Leslie, K.M., Jr. 1977. Home range, group size, and group integrity of the desert bighorn sheep in the River Mountains, Nevada. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 21:25-28.

Leslie, D.M., Jr., and C.L. Douglas. 1980. Human disturbance at water sources of desert bighorn sheep. Wildlife Society Bulletin 8:284-442.

MacArthur, R.A., Johnston, R.H., and V. Geist. 1979. Factors influencing heart rate in free-ranging bighorn sheep: a physiological approach to the study of wildlife harassment. Canadian Journal of Zoology 57:2010-2021.

MacArthur, R.A., Geist, V., and R.H. Johnston. 1982. Journal of Wildlife Management 46(2):351-358.

MacArthur, R.A., Geist, V., and R.H. Johnston. 1986. Cardiac responses of bighorn sheep to trapping and radio instrumentation. Canadian Journal of Zoology 64(5):1197- 1200.

Martucci, R.W., D.A. Jessup, G.A. Gronert, J.A. Reltan, and W.E. Clark. 1992. Blood gas and catecholamine levels in capture stressed desert bighorn sheep. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 28(2):250-254.

McCarthy, C.W. and J.A. Bailey. 1994. Habitat requirements of desert bighorn sheep. Colorado Division of Wildlife Terrestrial Wildlife Research Special Report Number 69.

Nelson, M. 1966. Problems of recreational use of game ranges. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 10:13-20.

Nelson MW. 1982. Human impacts on golden eagles: a positive outlook for the 1980s and 1990s. Raptor Research 16(4):97-103.

Papouchis, C.M., F.J. Singer, and W.B. Sloan. 1999. Effects of increased recreational activity on desert bighorn sheep in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Pages 364-391 In Singer, F. J., and M. A. Gudorf. (eds). Restoration of bighorn sheep metapopulations in and near 15 national parks: Conservation of severely fragmented species. Volume III: Research Findings. U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 99-102, Midcontinent Ecological Science Center, Fort Collins, Colorado. 391pp.

Purdy, K.G., and W.W. Shaw. 1981. An analysis of recreational use patterns in desert bighorn habitat: The Pusch Ridge Wilderness case. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 25:1-5.

Ratcliffe, D. A. 1993. The peregrine falcon. Second edition. T & AD Poyser, London, England.

Rubin, E.S., W.M. Boyce, M.C. Jorgensen, S.G. Torres, C.L. Hayes, C.S. O’Brien, and

D.A. Jessup. 1998. Distribution and abundance of bighorn sheep in the Peninsular Ranges, California. Wildlife Society Bulletin 26(3):539-551.

Rubin, E.S., W.M. Boyce, and V.C. Bleich. 2000. Reproductive strategies of desert bighorn sheep. Journal of Mammalogy 81(3):769-786.

Rubin, E.S, W.M. Boyce, C.J. Stermer, and S.G. Torres. 2002. Bighorn sheep habitat use and selection near and urban environment. Biological Conservation 104:251-263.

Singer, F.J., V.C.Bleich, and M.A. Gudorf. 2000a. Restoration ofbighorn sheep metapopulations in and near western national parks. Restoration Ecology 8:14–24.

Singer, F.J., C.M. Papouchis, and K.K. Symonds. 2000b. Translocations as a tool for restoring populations of bighorn sheep. Restoration Ecology 8:6–13

Smith, T. S., J.T. Flinders, and D. S.Winn. 1991. A habitat evaluation procedure for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the intermountain west. Great Basin Naturalist 51:205–225.

Turner, J.C., C.L. Douglas, C.R. Hallum, P.R. Krausman, and R.R. Ramey (2004) Determination of critical habitat for the endangered Nelson’s bighorn sheep in southern California. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 32(2):427-448.

Thompson, D., K. Longshore, and C. Lowrey. 2007. The impact of human disturbance on desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) in the Wonderland of Rocks / Queen Mountain region of Joshua Tree National Park, California. Unpublished final report prepared for Joshua Tree National Park, CA. 16 May 2007. University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Van Den Akker, J.B. 1960. Human encroachment on bighorn habitat. Desert Bighorn Council Transactions 4:38-40.

Wagner, G. 1999. Activity patterns of Rocky Mountain bighorn ewes in central Idaho. In. Second North America Wild Sheep Conference. April 6-9 1999. Reno, NV. 103-121.

Wehausen, J.D. 1979. Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep: an analysis of management alternatives. Cooperative admin. Report. Inyo National Forest and Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. 92pp.

Wehausen, J.D. 1980. Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep: history and population ecology. Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan, An Arbor.

Wehausen, J.D. 1983. White Mountain bighorn sheep: an analysis of current knowledge and managemement alternatives. Administrative Report, Inyo National Forest, contract 53-9JC9-0-32.

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Zeigenfuss, L.C., F. J. Singer, and M.A.Gudorf. 2000. Test of a modified habitat suitability model for bighorn sheep.

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TPA, COHVCO, CORE and CSA Provide Input to Keystone on Wolf Reintroduction Planning

TPA COHVCO CORE CSA logos

Keystone Facilitation
Att: Julie Shapiro
1628 Saints John Road
Keystone, CO 80435

Re: Gray Wolf Stakeholder Meeting

Dear Julie:

The Organizations deeply appreciate Keystone’s development of a mechanism for written public comment and targeted meetings throughout the State to facilitate recreational user input on the reintroduction of Gray Wolves in Colorado pursuant to Proposition 114. Feedback from our members that have participated in these meetings as been very positive but also created questions about why recreational partners were not included in other groups convened for the wolf reintroduction. The recreational community were perplexed and a little shocked by the failure to include recreation in the Stakeholder Advisory Groups established by CPW since balancing recreation and conservation has been a priority for the agency since day one.

The Organizations are intimately aware that poor public engagement plagued the lynx reintroduction and this poor engagement is a significant contributing factor to why there remains high levels of conflict almost a decade after the lynx reintroduction was declared a success. We passionately would like to avoid decades more conflict over another reintroduced species. Proposition 114 specifically required development of a statewide management plan for wolves to address scientific, economic and social considerations around the reintroduction. We are providing this correspondence in the hope of avoiding confusion around our interests and concerns when mandatory plan required under Proposition 114 is developed. We are also aware that this opportunity may be the only time we may be able to provide input in the process although we are also hoping to clarify why the recreational community should be involved moving forward.

Further perplexing the Organizations was the fact we were specifically identified as a priority stakeholder by CPW for participation in discussions around the possible reintroduction of Wolverine in the State in 2010 and the development of the 2013 Lynx Conservation Assessment and Strategy 3rd. The state level meeting on August 23, 2021 felt like a reunion of the team that was assembled for the lynx and wolverine discussions. Despite being almost a decade from those meetings, Colorado still continues to try and resolve these types of challenges that continue to grow more than a decade after the lynx reintroduction was undertaken by CPW and more than 5 years after the lynx reintroduction has been declared a success. While a success on the ground the Colorado reintroduction of the lynx has never altered its status on the federal ESA list. From our perspective the costs in getting the lynx reintroduced have far exceeded the benefits from the reintroduction at this point.

The Organizations have been actively involved in numerous discussions with CPW around the reintroduction of the wolf prior to Proposition 114 and were actively involved in passage of several pieces of legislation, such as HB21- 1040 clarifying Proposition 114 funding sources. Given the long history of our involvement in discussions around species and reintroductions and previously clear and unequivocal statements of interests and concerns to the CPW Parks and Wildlife commission the Organizations were shocked when recreation interests were not represented in the Stakeholder Advisory Groups.

While we are highly frustrated with the failures of the wolf process to date our concerns remain simple:

  1. We want all wolves to be treated similarly;
  2. No recreational opportunities should be lost and wolf habitat should not be a barrier to expansion of routes;
  3. No recreational opportunities should be lost because of declines in ungulate and other predator populations in wolf habitat to avoid social conflicts around the species;
  4. Educational materials are badly needed for the wolf reintroduction; and
  5. Hard population goals must be established to allow for delisting of the wolf for State and federal management

While the Organizations most directly represent motorized users and concerns, the Organizations vigorously believe these are issues that will transcend traditional divisions in the recreational community and provide significant benefit to all recreational users of lands in Colorado.

General concern 1. CPW estimates Economic Contributions of Recreation to Colorado provide more than $62.5 billion in income and account for 19% of all jobs in the State.

The Organizations are very concerned around the possible negative economic impacts that could result from the gray wolf reintroduction, not only from recreational related impacts but also the possible impacts to other activities as well. Too many of our small communities’ struggle to provide even basic services to their residents and tourists visiting the areas. Without a well- rounded economic engine for the community, the community will struggle and possibly fail and this will degrade the recreational opportunities and support for them from the community and this is a concern for the Organizations.

Proposition 114 clearly identifies those economic considerations are to be mitigated in the collaborative efforts around the wolf reintroduction. CPW own conclusions on the economic contributions of outdoor recreation in the state of Colorado, clearly identified as a consideration to be mitigated in planning under Prop 114, are as follows:

“Focusing on the state-level results below, the total economic output associated with outdoor recreation amounts to $62.5 billion dollars, contributing $35.0 billion dollars to the Gross Domestic Product of the state. This economic activity supports over 511,000 jobs in the state, which represents 18.7% of the entire labor force in Colorado and produces $21.4 billion dollars in salaries and wages. In addition, this output contributes $9.4 billion dollars in local, state and federal tax revenue.” 1

The Organizations submit that more than $62.5 Billion Dollars of economic contribution that results in 18.7% of the entire labor force is an economic concern to warrant specific recognition of recreation in Stakeholder Advisory Groups, both now and in the future. Any assertion that such a massive economic contribution is insufficient to warrant inclusion in wolf stakeholder discussions simply lacks any factual basis. It is highly frustrating to open collaborations when contributions such as this are not worthy of recognition in the stakeholder advisory group. This type of arbitrary resolution of considerations will cause concern and frustration from the public generally, and our members more specifically, as the wolf reintroduction moves forward. We simply must do better than this in the future and we must do better than this in the development of the Plan required under Proposition 114.

General concern 2. Social considerations and why we are concerned about social impacts from Proposition 114.

Proposition 114 also clearly identifies social considerations are to be addressed as part of the wolf reintroduction. The Organizations are intimately aware of the decades of social issues around the wolf in the western United States and we are also aware of the social conflicts that continue to plague species that have been successfully reintroduced in Colorado, such as the lynx. Based our decades of involvement around large predator species management, we are aware of two general foundational conclusions on these species. Large predatorial species, such as the wolf and lynx and grizzly, all have been either poisoned or hunted to functional removal from most habitat areas in the west and CPW clearly states this is again the case with wolves.2 The Organizations believe the primary means used to remove a species should be the primary management tool with any species reintroduction. The Organizations are also intimately aware that Colorado already provides large tracts of high-quality habitat for large predatorial species. CPW has repeatedly recognized the availability of high-quality habitat for wolves as a reason that wolves have migrated here from other populations. Given these conclusions, the Organizations must express serious concerns over the actual basis of any claim that fragmentation or degradation of habitat is occurring for these species.

There are numerous social considerations with the wolf reintroduction for the recreational community intertwined into more generalized discussion. These social considerations engage the more generalized discussions of recreation/population and wildlife that are being undertaken in Colorado currently. The general relationship of recreational activity and wildlife has been on the forefront of many discussions as the population of the state has continued to increase and many recreational facilities were overwhelmed after government directions to go outside were given as part of the COVID response. This socially based concern was specifically highlighted with the issuance of Executive Order B 2020-0083 by Governor Polis which specifically identifies concerns about possible recreation impacts on wildlife in great detail. As a result of this EO, the CPW COOP was formalized and expanded to try and address this issue. Additionally balancing recreation and wildlife has been the basis of other EO from Governor Polis as well, such as EO D 2019 011. The Organizations vigorously assert that social issues cannot be of such significance to warrant an entirely new board to be created to address them, issuance of numerous other Executive Orders and then to not warrant discussion at all in the Stakeholder Advisory Groups created under Proposition 114. This position would simply lack any basis in fact.

The Organizations have been heavily involved with discussions around wolf reintroductions and management in numerous states to our north, such as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana and are very aware of immense pressure on land managers to make management changes based on the mere sighting of wolves in the area. The Organizations are intimately aware that these discussions have spanned almost 50 years at this point and have these decisions have been the basis of almost ongoing litigation and legislative efforts to resolve the exceptional level of conflict around the species. The Organizations vigorously assert this half century of conflict is a serious social consideration and issue we would like to avoid if at all possible. This conflict would be exactly the type of social conflict to be addressed in Proposition 114 and planning efforts subsequently.

In addition to the provisions of Proposition 114 requiring information such as this to be considered similar provisions are mandatory both under the Federal and State Endangered Species Acts. Clearly, such recognition of recreational concerns as a protected class of interests under the State Endangered Species Act would have given rise to a generalized social consideration. While the federal status of the Gray Wolf is currently unresolved and too extensive to summarize in these comments, this effort has covered more than 30 years of conflict, litigation and rulemaking. We believe this is a social consideration worthy of inclusion under Proposition 114 and represents a model we vigorously would like to avoid.

While the Biden Administration publicly supports the delisting of wolves that was performed by the Trump Administration, we are aware this discussion is far from resolved. Steps in addressing wolves under the federal ESA would include designations of any population as experimental and non-essential under the Act (10j designation); liberal uses of both Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) agreements for the wolf where these are applicable. The use of these agreements would be supported for any interest that is impacted by the reintroduction of wolves and despite the CESA not having specific authority for these types of documents we are also not aware of any reason these would not be honored under the CESA either. Agreements such as these provide important assurances against management consequences that the public understand.

The Colorado Endangered Species Act also has extensive requirements for addressing many concerns similar to ours for a listed species. These provisions of the CESA are specifically made applicable in Proposition 114 as follows:

“(III) Details for the restoration and management of gray wolves, including actions necessary or beneficial for establishing and maintaining a self-sustaining population as authorized by section 33-2-104; and”

Given the specific reference to the general rulemaking authority of the Commission Prop 114 also requires a separate process be complied with outside of Proposition 114 under the Colorado Administrative Procedure Act to comply with the Colorado Endangered Species Act. The Colorado ESA and Colorado Administrative Procedure Act specifically provides an extensive range of analysis of factors in the rule making to address economic and social impacts and specifically identifies that the mere potential of recreational impacts must be addressed in any rulemaking undertaken under the Colorado ESA. 4

(3.5) “Aggrieved” for the purpose of judicial review of rule-making, means having suffered actual loss or injury or being exposed to potential loss or injury to legitimate interests including, but not limited to, business, economic, aesthetic, governmental, recreational, or conservational interests.

Given the specific recognition of the possible loss of recreational opportunities as a protected interest under the CESA, the Organizations must again express serious concerns as to how recreational interests were overlooked in the stakeholder advisory group process. Given the clear protection of social and economic concerns under Proposition 114 and also the possible loss of recreational opportunities being a specifically protected interest under the CESA the Organizations would hope that recreational concerns will occupy a prominent role in the discussion moving forward.

Our Reintroduction Concerns

Concern 1. Regulations must protect recreational interest regardless of location in the State or wolves’ origin.

The Organizations are attempting to identify significant concerns around the wolf reintroduction. While many are generally socially based, these social considerations could have serious economic impacts as well. Given the overlap of these categories for protection under Proposition 114 we are not going to break them down further as each are identified for protection. The Organizations vigorously assert all programmatic protections must apply to all wolves in the state, regardless of Prop 114 requirements that only reintroduced west of Continental Divide. It has been our experience that species will travel long distances after being reintroduced and wolves are no exception. Wolves have already been identified in areas, such as North Park, that are outside the areas where wolves are to be reintroduced under Prop 114.

Wolves appear to travel even longer distances than species the average Coloradan may be familiar with. This is exemplified by the fact that Nebraska Parks and Wildlife recently concluded that two wolves were killed in separate events in the last 18 months. The first being killed outside Uehling, Nebraska. This news was astonishing as most expected with wolf to be associated with the Yellowstone population, but this story was even more astonishing as the wolf was from the Great Lakes Population.5 The second wolf followed a similar fact patter and was killed outside Bassett Nebraska 6 Given the clear history of wolves traveling long distances, the Organizations believe that any clarity in the management plan being developed must apply to all wolves, regardless of where they came from or their genetic makeup.

Concern 2. No direct loss of recreational opportunities from the reintroduction of wolves now or in the future.

The Organizations would ask for a clear and unambiguous recognition of the lack of relationship between recreational activities and wolf habitat and populations as has been previously provided for the Wolverine. The USFWS has already identified that social impacts from the wolf reintroduction remain a major challenge in species management. Recognition of the lack of relationship between recreation and wolves is badly needed to avoid closures of existing recreational opportunities in areas where there may be wolves and in mitigating the challenges clearly identified by the USFWS.

Exceptionally clear statements from CPW must be made to avoid any impacts to recreational usages of roads and trails from the wolf reintroduction. The recreational community has too frequently had to fight closures based on management decisions based on the fact a species was seen in the area and have encountered these issues in areas with Lynx, and we have informally identified this management process as “We saw a lynx” management. The Organizations are aware that one of the challenges that has been consistently identified around the wolverine and lynx are the exceptionally small numbers of these species and limited research materials that are available. Our social considerations around previous species introductions have been able to be resolved in rulemaking through designations such as experimental non-essential classifications for wolverines and clear statements of the fact there should be no change in forest management from a wolverine being in the areas7. In the 2014 listing update this concern was addressed as follows:

“We find no evidence that winter recreation occurs on such a scale and has effects that cause the DPS to meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species. We continue to conclude that winter recreation, though it likely affects wolverines to some extent, is not a threat to the DPS”8

We thankfully are not in a situation where there is only minimal data or research available with the Gray Wolf, as USFWS has more than 3 decades of data on wolves that have been reintroduced throughout the Western United States. Additionally, there is a huge volume of information and planning resources available from the management of wolves in western states for more than the last decade. As a result of the decades of high-quality wolf research and data that is now available there is a well-documented consensus that there is no relationship between dispersed recreation and wolf habitat or survival must be clearly and unequivocally stated. We were able to obtain this level of clarity with the 2013 Wolverine Proposal and can see no reason why such clarity would not be obtainable for wolves as well. The Organizations would like to highlight the lack of concern between recreational usage of roads and trails and wolf populations or habitat quality. In their 2016 Review of the wolf population the USFWS specifically concluded as follows:

“To summarize, none of the status review criteria have been met and the NRM wolf population continues to far exceed recovery goals (as demonstrated by pack distribution and the number of wolves, packs, and breeding pairs in 2015). Documented dispersal of radio collared wolves and effective dispersal of wolves between recovery areas determined through genetic research further substantiate that the metapopulation structure of the NRM DPS has been maintained solely by natural dispersal. No threats to the NRM wolf population were identified in 2015. Potential threats include: A. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; B. Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; C. Disease or predation; D. Inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and E. Other natural or man-made factors affecting its continued existence (including public attitudes, genetic considerations, climate changes, catastrophic events, and impacts to wolf social structure) that could threaten the wolf population in the NRM DPS in the foreseeable future.

Delisting the NRM DPS wolf population has enabled the States, Tribes,National Park Service and Service to implement more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective wildlife programs that will allow them to maintain a fully recovered wolf population while attempting to minimize conflicts.”9

 The Organizations believe it is significant that the USFWS clearly identifies that reducing management conflicts are a major concern for the wolf, unlike the 3 criteria that the USFWS normally reviews for possibly listed ESA species. The US Fish and Wildlife Service also clearly states the major concern in wolf habitat with roads is wolves being struck and killed on roadways as follows:

“In this final rule, we refer to road densities reported in the scientific literature because they have been found to be correlated with wolf mortality in some areas. We are not aware of any scientific basis for the concern that lower road densities would substantially reduce prey availability for wolves to the extent that it would impact population viability.”10

The Organizations would note there is a significant difference between a wolf being impacted on a high-speed arterial road and the risk of a wolf being impacted on a low-speed dirt road or trail. If there was any concern on the latter impacting habitat quality or wolf populations it is of such little concern it is not discussed.

The Wyoming State wolf plan goes into great detail regarding the lack of relationship between roads and wolf habitat quality stating as follows:

“Wolves are not known to demonstrate behavioral aversion to roads. In fact, they readily travel on roads, frequently leaving visible tracks and scat (Singleton 1995). In Minnesota and Wisconsin, wolves have been known to occupy den and rendezvous sites located near logging operations, road construction work, and military maneuvers with no adverse effects [Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2001]. The only concern about road densities stems from the potential for increased accidental human-caused mortalities and illegal killings (Mech et al. 1988, Mech 1989, Boyd-Heger 1997, Pletscher et al. 1997). Although some of the areas within the GYA are administered by the U.S. Forest Service for multiple use purposes and have high road densities, much of the GYA is national parks or wilderness areas that have limited road access and minimal human activity.”11

Wyoming State reports provide highly detailed outline of factors that are impacting wolf populations. There are no factors that are related to recreational activity and we again note trail-based recreation occurs at such a low speed as to make wolf fatalities on a trail almost impossible. The Wyoming wolf plan provides as follows:

“A total of 128 wolves were known to have died in Wyoming during 2016 (Table 1). Causes of mortality included agency removal (n = 113), natural causes (n = 5), other human-caused (n = 5), and unknown (n = 5).”12

Given there is no record of any wolf population decline from recreational activity being in the same area in the several states that have decades of high-quality data on the species, the Organizations are requesting that the lack of relationship be clearly and unequivocally stated in any planning documents. Minimizing these types of unintended social consequences from wolf management are already identified as a major management concern by the USFWS and are also exactly the type of social concern that Proposition 114 specifically requires to be addressed. As a result, the Organizations are seeking this type of clear and unequivocal statement addressing the lack of relationship between trails and recreational and wolf populations to protect existing recreational resources and to allow for development of new recreational facilities in the future.

Concern 3a. Indirect loss of recreational opportunities from the decline of ungulate species populations in wolf habitat after the wolf has been reintroduced.

The Organizations are very concerned that recreational access will be negatively impacted as herd populations of prey animals decline as a result of introduction of increased wolf populations in the area. Many states and the USFWS recognize these impacts can be severe in local areas. This indirect concern creates risk of closure of recreational facilities now and in the future if there is a severe impact on a local area. The Organizations are very concerned that declining ungulate populations are frequently cited as a reason to close or restrict recreational access, even when there is a lack of clarity around why the population in a location is declining. This is exemplified by the CPW comments regarding the recent Pike/San Isabel National Forest Travel Plan, where the comments were entirely based on possible impacts or impacts from a wide range of issues, such as residential development or wildfire impacts. Too often herd populations decline for a wide range of issues and easily get blamed on recreational usage, simply because of its visibility. These are issues that restricting recreational access will never address and the Organizations would like to avoid another layer of discussion around recreational access.

Unfortunately, the PSI travel planning is not the first time we have identified a lack of consensus around declines in herd populations which then gets blames on trails. The proposed GMUG RMP provides 10 pages of muddled and weak information around herd population declines as result of recreational usage being dispersed across the forest. CPW then supports the absolutely crushing restriction of only allowing 1 mile of trail per square mile in an attempt to provide protection of habitat, which is explained as follows:

MA-STND-WLDF-02: To maintain habitat function and provide security habitat for wildlife species by minimizing impacts associated with roads and trails, there shall be no net gain in system routes, both motorized and non-motorized, where the system route density already exceeds 1 linear mile per square mile, within a wildlife management area boundary. Additions of new system routes within wildlife management areas shall not cause the route density in a proposed project’s zone of influence to exceed 1 linear mile per square mile. Within the Flattop Wildlife Management Areas in the Gunnison Ranger District, there shall be no new routes.13

Clearly ungulate population declines due to wolf predation are going to drive management standards that are only targeting one aspect in a system with many variables such as the one above. The Organizations also submit that less direct impacts from the wolf reintroduction are exactly the type of issue that the USFWS recently identified as a management priority for the species in the western US. We would like to avoid another layer of confusion in these discussions and leverage the clarity around the fact populations are going to decline. It should not fall to the recreational community to try and understand a complex multi-faceted system such as this to explain recreational usage and population declines as this will create conflict for the wolf as everyone agrees populations of herd animals will decline. Clarity around

The Organizations would like to briefly identify the numerous highly credible resources that agree that herd populations will decline as a result of wolves in the area and sometimes at high levels on a localized level of analysis. While there is extensive scientific discussion around levels of decline in ungulate populations from wolves being introduced, there is also significant consensus on two important points around the wolf impact on herd size. This consensus is around three facets of the herd animal/wolf relationship mainly that:

    1. Herd sizes will not remain the same;
    2. Herd sizes will not increase; and
    3. Herd animal populations will go

While the consensus of the scientific community immediately falters when reasons for landscape levels of decline are attempted to be summarized, this does not impact the consensus that populations will not increase and will not stay the same. This consensus is very important to the recreational community and to the clarity needed to protect recreational access and again would be a significant step in reducing a major challenge that the USFWS has identified in wolf management in other states. The complexity of understanding why ungulate populations is declining in wolf habitat was exemplified in the recent Montana recommendations for wolf management, which provide as follows:

“We recommend that wildlife managers seeking to balance carnivore and ungulate population objectives design rigorous carnivore and ungulate population monitoring programs to assess the effects of harvest management programs. Assessing and understanding effects of carnivore harvest management programs will help to set realistic expectations regarding the effects of management programs on carnivore and ungulate populations and allow managers to better design programs to meet desired carnivore and ungulate population objectives.”14

While there is significant controversy around how much of a decline will occur at the landscape, the Organizations prefer to base our concerns on this issue on scientific certainty. Researchers are unanimous in concluding populations of herd animals will not stay the same and also will not increase at the landscape level. While landscape research around specific levels of population decline for ungulates can been difficult, we believe it is significant to note that Idaho Fish and Game estimates there is between a 4 and 6% decline in elk populations from wolf predation. 15 This level of landscape population decline in herd animals will cause significant concern and possible impacts to recreational access.

The Organizations do not contest that landscape level impacts can be complex to analyze, localized severe population declines are frequently identified in other states. This type of localized impact was recently discussed in depth by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as follows:

“However, we acknowledge that, in some localized areas, wolves may be a significant factor in observed big game population declines, which could result in reduced allocation of hunting licenses and reduced revenue for both local communities and State wildlife agencies.”16

These types of concerns being addressed at this level of detail make the Organizations believe these issues are consistently occurring and sometimes at significant levels. because they are not occurring. The Idaho Fish and Game Service has also summarized this concern as follows:

“Temporary reductions in predator populations, by removing those wolves affecting the big game population, may be needed to assist in restoration of prey populations in conjunction with habitat management (Kunkel and Pletscher 2001).”17

Clearly in areas where wolves are possibly in need of removal to restore ungulate populations, protections of recreational access will be critically important in avoiding social impacts and lost recreational access. We are asking for this type of recognition before the wolves are even on the ground to avoid social and economic conflicts that clearly are occurring in these areas.

Protections such those targeting herd population declines are very important to mitigating impacts to recreation from these declines, as almost every CPW herd management plan we have ever reviewed is projecting that populations will stay roughly the same or possibly increase. This is really no longer possible and the recreational users would like a clear and unequivocal statement that populations will not increase or stay the same in order to avoid would base population declines being erroneously asserted to be the result of recreational activity in the same planning area. Additionally, localized herd size impacts have been raised as a management concern for both the USFWS and Idaho Parks and Recreation. These are major concerns that we would like protections against.

Concern 3b. Wolf impacts on other predator populations, some of which are threatened or endangered

In our research regarding wolf plans and reintroductions in other states, the impact of reintroduced wolves on populations of threatened or endangered species and general predator populations was significant enough of a concern that Idaho has management standards and discussions of this issue in their plan. 18 We would ask for protection against this type of a management impact to recreational usage in any planning as we can easily envision situations where populations of reintroduced lynx will decline due to increased predation of wolves on the lynx and possible reductions of populations that the lynx and wolf might be feeding on in particular areas.

Concern 4. Educational materials must be developed

 There is a compelling need for educational materials for the public recreating in possible wolf habitat. CPW always urges users to be “Bear Aware”. Similar efforts to be wolf aware must also be developed to avoid unacceptable interactions between recreational users, local communities and reintroduced wolves that are frequently and consistently seen in the Yellowstone Park area.

Socially based concerns have been a major concern around the management of wolves in Montana, so much so that Montana Parks and Wildlife has periodically undertaken numerous on the issue. Montana has also had to had to promulgate restrictions regarding the proximity of wolf traps to roads, trails, campgrounds and other recreational resources as a result of social concerns. 19 Additionally, the State of Wyoming has devoted a significant portion of their wolf management plan to addressing the critical need for educational materials for the public to address wolf-based questions. 20

Concern 5. Hard population goals must be established

The Organizations submits that the inclusion of a population objective for the wolf is critically important to the plan development. It has been The Organizations experience that often the desire to always want more of a particular species is controlling in the listing process rather than true science-based management objectives. It has been The Organizations experience that often target populations, and the scientific basis for these goals, are sometimes discussed when either listing was avoided or listing of a species on the ESA list occurred are dimmed with the passage of time. Often there are delays between initial decisions on a species and subsequent review of the decision and as a result participant in the original listing are no longer available or memories have been dimmed. With the passage of time, assertions of always needing more of a particular species never seem to dim or lose steam, making any position that species population goals being achieved difficult if not impossible to support. Always wanting more of a species simply creates social conflict and we submit this must be mitigated with the inclusion of a hard population goal for conclusion of the reintroduction must be done. Based on the experiences of the states around Colorado, this type of a tool will be needed far sooner than anyone anticipates at this point.

Conclusion.

The Organizations deeply appreciate Keystone’s development of a mechanism for written comment and targeted state level meetings to facilitate recreational user input on the reintroduction of Gray Wolves in Colorado pursuant to Proposition 114. The recreational community were perplexed and a little shocked by the failure to include recreation in the Stakeholder Advisory Groups established by CPW since balancing recreation and conservation has been a priority for the agency since day one. The Organizations are intimately aware that poor public engagement plagued the lynx reintroduction and are a significant contributing factor to why there remains high levels of conflict almost a decade after the reintroduction was declared a success. We passionately would like to avoid decades more conflict over another reintroduced species.

While we are highly frustrated with the failures of the mandatory stakeholder meeting for wolf process to date our concerns remain simple:1 We want all wolves to be treated similarly; 2. No recreational opportunities should be lost and wolf habitat should not be a barrier to expansion of routes; 3. No recreational opportunities should be lost because of declines in ungulate or predator populations in wolf habitat; 4. Educational materials are badly needed for the wolf reintroduction; and 5. Hard population goals must be provided to allow for the reintroduction to be declared complete.

The Organizations submit that the recreational community accounting for $62 Billion in economic contribution to the State of Colorado and 18.7% of all jobs in the state is the type of economic impact that must be meaningfully addressed in the public engagement process around the wolf reintroduction. Additionally, the Organizations have extensive social concerns on the reintroduction and as social concerns are identified as management priority by the USFWS in their wolf management. The Organizations would welcome a discussion of these opportunities and any other challenges that might be facing recreational opportunities moving forward at your convenience. Please feel free to contact Scott Jones at scott.jones46@yahoo or via phone at 518-281-5810.

Scott Jones, Esq.
TPA Authorized Representative
COHVCO Vice President

Don Riggle
Director of Operations
Trails Preservation Alliance

Marcus Trusty
President
CORE

CC: CPW Director Prenzlow
DNR Director Gates

1 See, CPW 2017 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan: Appendix F Pg. 111. Dated July 23, 2018.

2 See, Colorado Parks & Wildlife – Wolves in Colorado FAQ (state.co.us)

3 A copy of this EO has been included as Exhibit 1.

4 See, CRS 24-2-102(3.5)

5 See, Nebraska Parks and Wildlife; April 14, 2021. A complete version of this article is available here Gray wolf confirmed in Nebraska • Nebraskaland Magazine (outdoornebraska.gov)

6 Wolf killed north of Fremont is the second in Nebraska since November | Nebraska News | journalstar.com

7 2014-18743.pdf (fws.gov)

8 47532 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 156 / Wednesday, August 13, 2014 / Proposed Rules

9 See, USFWS 2016 update at pg. 5.

10 See, DOI; US Fish and Wildlife Service; Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; removing the gray wolf from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Federal Register Vol 85 No 213 at pg. 69870.

11 See, Wyoming Fish and Game; Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan 2011 at pg. 30.

12 See, Wyoming 2016 update pg. WY-6.

13 See, USDA Forest Service, GMUG National Forest; Draft Revised Forest Management plan; August 2021 at pg. 93.

14 See, Proffitt Et Al; Integrated Carnivore‐Ungulate Management: A Case Study in West‐Central Montana Wildlife Monographs June 2020.

15 See, Idaho Fish and Game; 2017 Statewide Report – Wolf; 2017 at pg. 8.

16 See, DOI; US Fish and Wildlife Service; Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; removing the gray wolf from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Federal Register Vol 85 No 213 at pg. 69868.

17 See, Idaho Fish and Game; 2002 Wolf Plan at pg. 21 of 32.

18 See, Idaho Fish and Game; 2002 Wolf Plan at pg. 16 of 32.

19 See, Montana Division of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Summary of Research: Better understanding of Montanans thoughts regarding wolves and wolf management in Montana; 2018 At pg. 5. We have enclosed a copy of this report as Exhibit “2”.

20 See, Wyoming Fish and Game; Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan 2011 at pg. 41.

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TPA Suggests Revisions to the GMUG Resource Management Plan

GMUG National Forest
Att: Chad Stewart, Forest Supervisor
2250 South Main Street
Delta, CO 81416

Re: GMUG Resource Management Plan Revision

Dear Chad:

Please accept this correspondence as a continuation of the on-going conversation that the GMUG started with the public with the pre-NEPA release of a draft of the proposed RMP in 2019. The Organizations continue to vigorously support this ongoing less formal communication process with the Forest when compared to the NEPA process.  The flexibility of this process will prove invaluable in the RMP development given the ongoing challenges that resulted from 2020 and the ever-evolving wildlife challenges. The Organizations believe the success of this flexibility in planning development should be carried through into the RMP development to allow the forest to quickly adapt to changes no one could possibly foresee at the time the RMP was developed. With this correspondence we are highlighting the benefits of flexible management from 2020 experiences and the need to continue and expand management flexibility that were identified throughout the region moving forward.

The Organizations have been active participants in many discussions and rulemaking efforts by the USFS where increased flexibility in the planning process has been the goal. These would include successful development of the new USFS planning rule, revision of the Colorado Roadless Rule and revision of USFS NEPA regulations.  All these efforts have provided more management flexibility for the land manager to address issues.  These efforts only are effective if flexibility in the RMP is provided as well.  2020 has provided even more compelling examples of why this type of flexibility is necessary. We hope to identify a few of these examples in this letter as many of the issues faced did not directly impact the GMUG but rather occurred on lands adjacent to the GMUG.

Lessons from the 2020 Wildfires in the Region

Wildfire impacts continue to be a huge long-term concern for the recreational community, as any trail that is impacted by wildfire can be closed for decades and possibly permanently. Wildfire impacts extend well beyond the trails community to all people in the vicinity of these burn scars as exemplified by the 3 Colorado residents that were recently killed inn flash flooding in the Poudre Canyon that resulted from the Cameron Peak Fire.  We hope everyone can agree these deaths are unacceptable and all efforts should be made to avoid these types of situations moving forward.  2020 proved to be an exceptionally challenging year for wildfires in the Colorado region, and unfortunately the Organizations believe this is a harbinger of fire seasons that will be experienced over the life of the RMP. Often these fires have been summarized as aggressive and devastating due to fuel loads and often the public has thought there was nothing that could be done to mitigate or reduce the impacts of fires of this size and intensity. Review of these fires that has recently occurred indicate that the public perceptions on these large fires may be unnecessarily grim and management can be effective.

The scale of the challenges being faced are exemplified by the East Troublesome Fire on the Sulphur Ranger District, the Mullen Fire on the Laramie Ranger District and Cameron Peak Fire on the Canyon Lakes Ranger District or the Grizzly Creek Fire on the White River. Glenwood Springs was forced to rely on portable filtering equipment after all their existing resources were compromised by the Grizzly Creek Fire; the Mullen and Cameron Peak fires impacted the Cities of Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming; Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley, Colorado in a similar manner after most of the watersheds around municipal reservoirs were heavily impacted by these fires. The Grizzly Creek Fire has reduced I70 through Glenwood Canyon to almost a limited use highway due to the ongoing mud and debris slides from the burn scar.  These are simply issues and challenges that no one would have predicted in 2019.

While there were significant impacts to all forms of infrastructure, ranging from water resources to interstate highways to local economies, these fires have also provided a significant learning opportunity for managers.  We recently participated in round table discussions as part of the CPW Partners in the Outdoors event with numerous Forest Supervisors on the lessons from these fires in terms of behavior of the fire and how to effectively manage these highly intense fires moving forward.   Here is a link to that discussion: PiTO Session NFF USFS Managing Wildlife_Recording.mp4 – Google Drive

This discussion started with a highly detailed day by day analysis of the behavior of several fires in the 2020 season. While everyone is aware of the fact that often issues such as this are often highly related to local factors such as topography, weather and fuel loads, there were several characteristics that consistently were present in these fires, such as the fires naturally igniting in areas were high levels of management restrictions were present and slowly developing in these heavily restricted areas. These fires then explosively grew into areas where large amounts of development or other values were present and created significant impacts to a wide range of uses.  At this point, firefighters were not able to control this expansion, which immediately lengthened impacts to almost every resource present in these areas resulted.

In 2020, this trend of fire behavior was exemplified by the Mullen Fire igniting in the Savage Run area; the Cameron Peak fire igniting in the Rawah area and then impacting the Commanche Peak are and the Troublesome Fire burning in and around the Vasquez Peak area and heavily impacting Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, this characteristic has become common in Colorado as exemplified by the 2013 West Fork Complex Fire ignition in the Weminuche area and the 2018 416/Burro Fire involving several designated remote areas. With several fires again following this model this year, exemplified by the fires simmering in the Mt. Zirkel and Mt. Sarvis areas outside Steamboat this appears to be a new normal for fires in Colorado. We have no reason to expect this fire behavior to change over the life of the GMUG RMP.

While the presentation from the CPW “Partners in the Outdoors” event is somewhat lengthy and at times troubling to those that may have been impacted by fire due the analysis of fire behavior, it provided a far more optimistic view of the ability to mitigate impacts and manage even large-scale events such as with tools such as timber harvests and controlled burns at a scale we have never imagined before. While we are aware there are many factors that might be outside a manager’s ability to alter, such as difficult topography in fire impacted areas, prescribed fire and timber harvests are tools that can only be used when there are high levels of management flexibility in the areas to be addressed.

Unforeseen impacts of the large-scale high intensity types of fires continue to be identified, and the lack of ability to foresee possible issues creates a need for more flexibility in management.  In February 2021 presentations to the public, the Rio Grande NF in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife provided detailed analysis of post fire impacts from the West Fork Complex Fire to federally protected Lynx on the forest.[1]  This cutting-edge research showed that while many species returned to low intensity burn scars rather quickly, Canadian Lynx showed a strong aversion to using these areas for a long time.  While we are unsure what this means long term, management flexibility to address these types of unforeseen challenges is probably wise.

Unfortunately, the need for management flexibility to address fires is not a new discussion but rather one that has been around for an extended period of time.  This is exemplified by the 2011 Rocky Mountain Research Report prepared at the request of Senator Mark Udall entitled “A Review of the Forest Service Response: The Bark Beetle Outbreak in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming.” [2]  In this report, the Research Station clearly identified the challenges to forest health that result from management restrictions and actually predicted the expanded impacts of wildfire if management was not undertaken. Despite this highly credible analysis of fires and beetles, many still oppose any management on this issue seeking to protect resources by restricting public access to them and managers ability to manage them.

Why this warning would not remain valid as a management concern is unclear to us but continues to occur as the Organizations were recently asked to support proposed legislation that would only provide funding for treatments and management on areas that were not Wilderness or Roadless in nature.[3] Effectively, this Legislative Proposal precluded treatment on more than 50% of USFS lands in the region and as a result was not supported by us. We instead chose to support proposals that reduced management barriers for treatments and added funding. [4] This is simply another example to us of the ongoing need to speak up for active management of forests and continue to support management flexibility in planning and we are doing so in this letter.  Forest health is a major concern for any forest plan being developed and management flexibility is a major component of addressing this challenge. The Organizations submit these lessons must be quickly applied in any RMP being developed and not be allowed to be simply overlooked as has happened to so many other documents.  There are learning experiences that have come out of 2020 and we should be learning from these events.

Lessons from 2020 Recreational Visitation Spikes

2020 also provided managers unique opportunities to gain insight into management challenges that could result over the life of an RMP regarding recreational access.  This opportunity results from the fact that most public lands saw an increase in visitation of about 30% on average and some areas saw increases of 200-400% of average visitation.  The overwhelming portion of this usage was focused on the less restricted areas of the forest in general, which is significant as almost 50% of the GMUG is restricted either by Congressional designation or via a similar agency restriction such as a Colorado Roadless or Colorado Upper Tier Roadless type designation.

Again, these experiences highlighted the need for management flexibility in addressing concerns around existing facilities and also the need to expand recreational access on the forest to account for this level of increased visitation. We believe the amount of increase in visitation is significant as clearly over the life of the RMP, recreational visitation across the GMUG could easily exceed the 30% average that was experienced in 2020. Much of the 50% of the GMUG that is currently restricted for usage is not able to provide flexibility to adapt to these new demands and visitors making us question why there would be any desire to expand restrictions.

An example of the clear need to expand facilities across the state was provided by the rapid closure of the State in response to the COVID outbreak. In March of 2020, Governor Polis closed ski areas due to the COVID outbreak when these resorts were near capacity.  This immediately pushed visitation levels to many dispersed areas throughout the region far beyond their carrying capacity. The following pictures represent the conditions at parking areas on Berthoud Pass in Grand County.

Berthoud Pass

While these issues are not on the GMUG, we submit that they were symptomatic of conditions throughout the region at the time and an example of what was seen in the less restricted 50% of the GMUG lands.  This is also a good example of what existing facilities will look like with significantly increased visitation, and possibly may look like towards the end of the GMUG new RMP life.  We don’t believe this picture is acceptable to anyone.  There is really only one answer to this type of challenge.  Opportunities need to be expanded at existing sites and new sites need to be created and this type of management direction can only occur when there is flexibility in planning. Without this type of management flexibility, these types of experiences will become common place towards the end of the new RMP life.  This is not acceptable to us.

The challenges that have been faced in 2020 from the increased visitation were not limited to roadside facilities along major interstates but rather were experienced throughout the range of the management spectrum. Consistently users sought out their own experiences when existing facilities were either overwhelmed or totally unavailable for use and we don’t see that situation changing regardless of the timeframe being reviewed. This desire to find an experience brought increased pressures to areas facing significant challenges due to unavoidable conditions such as landslides, blow downs or simple lack of funding. This change was exacerbated by high levels of restrictions on how these challenges may be managed and are commonly experienced in the 50 % of the GMUG subject to heightened management restrictions.   The inability to respond to these types of challenges in a timely manner is exemplified by maintenance efforts around the Elk Creek portion of the Continental Divide Trail in Columbine Ranger District in the Weminuche Wilderness. This portion of the trail is only 1/3 of a mile in length.  Below is a picture of one of three piles of debris on the Trail after literally weeks of hand work by the Conservation Corp. to open the trail.

piles pile of trees - work by the Conservation Corp.

Obviously, this is a HUGE amount of effort to open the trail even this far but there is really no argument that providing these kinds of basic services is complicated hugely by the large number of restrictions on this area.  Simply deploying resources to the area is difficult as mechanical transportation is not allowed.  The scale of these efforts is made even more daunting by the fact there are multiple other larger piles that must be removed as well.  The photos below represent those piles.

Piles of trees

Operating under the current restrictions with existing resources, this challenge could literally take years to repair even though it is only 1/3 of a mile in length. The USFS has sought to address these types of challenges more effectively and efficiently as evidenced by proposals on the Rio Grande NF to reopen trails and access in highly restricted areas by utilizing authority to use mechanical equipment in these areas provided under the Colorado Wilderness Act.[5] This proposal was immediately legally challenged and withdrawn.

The USFS has sought to work more efficiently and has proposed the large-scale use of explosives to blow these barriers up and reopen the trail, which the Organizations simply must commend as a super creative resolution to the challenge.  We are also aware of the use of explosives previously in other portions of the trail and around water resources in heavily managed areas.  While this resolution is commendable, it is certainly not efficient and this lack of efficiency has been recognized by the USFS previously as it is a challenge not only to fixing the condition on the trail or reservoir but simply safely deploying resources to these areas can be difficult. [6] The Organizations also must believe that while explosives on a very limited site-specific basis may be socially sustainable, the Organizations also believe that there would be significant public opposition and concern if the USFS frequently started using explosives as a management tool on the landscape. The Organizations submit there is a limited scope of users seeking the recreational experience provided in these more restricted areas and the recreational experience is often degraded as a result of these management restrictions.  Maintenance on opportunities in the more restricted 50% of the GMUG rapidly becomes expensive and as a result degrades the quality of the recreational experience provided to the users.

Compare the challenges and litigation the USFS is facing trying to maintain access and healthy ecosystems in heavily restricted areas to the successful management efforts that have occurred in areas where there are higher levels of management flexibility allowed.  An example of how effective management can be when it is not burdened by high levels of restrictions is provided by restoration efforts in areas impacted by the East Troublesome Fire on the Sulphur Ranger District, where partial access was rapidly reopened the need for management flexibility is immediately clear.  Literally hundreds of miles of roads and trails in areas with limited management restrictions, sometimes buried in feet of snow, were rapidly assessed and cleared. After this assessment and stabilization effort safe public access for recreational activity was rapidly restored.[7] While the Organizations are aware that every site and project provides unique challenges, the Organizations submit this type of massive project would still be ongoing in Grand Lake if management restrictions were in place at levels found in some areas. Simply covering the hundreds of miles of trails on foot and removing hazards by hand would have taken possibly years.

The Organizations submit that the social benefits of lower levels of management restrictions cannot be overlooked either.  The Organizations would also note that the Grand Lake efforts were hugely successful in uniting a wide range of people and interests in the project, while similar efforts in more restrictive areas drew litigation. Building communities around successful projects only creates more success in the future as land managers are facing new and unique challenges. Obviously, this is a win for everyone compared to the immediate litigation that resulted from efforts to effectively manage areas subject to higher levels of restrictions.  Again we must ask why increases for restrictions would be sought in the face of the social opposition that is so common in the public when they can’t fix problems.

Conclusion

The Organizations continue to welcome the benefits of the current conversational nature of efforts with the GMUG as we believe this flexibility will create a better forest plan.  The Organizations believe this flexibility is superior for information gathering when compared to the formal structure of the NEPA process.  The Organizations believe that there are many things that can be learned from everyone’s experiences in 2020 including examples of how flexibility in management has allowed the effective recovery from a wide range of challenges that were presented.  We hope this correspondence identifies new information on these issues to clarify public support for effective management of public lands that has been identified and worked towards in many ways over the last several years.  Effective management benefits all users and protects all resources from a growing array of unprecedented challenges and this must not be overlooked as 50% of the GMUG is already subject to some heightened level of management restriction.  We must ask why increasing this type of restriction would make any sense in the face of such a compelling need for more flexibility in management that has been provided by our 2020 experiences on the GMUG and throughout the region.

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 Don Riggle at 725 Palomar Lane, Colorado Springs, 80906, Cell (719) 338- 4106 or Scott Jones, Esq. at 508 Ashford Drive, Longmont, CO 80504.  His phone is (518)281-5810 and his email is scott.jones46@yahoo.com.

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
COHVCO & CSA Authorized Rep

Don Riggle
Director of Operations
Trails Preservation Alliance

 

[1] SeeCanada lynx navigate spruce beetle-impacted forests | Rocky Mountain Research Station (usda.gov)
[2] A complete copy of the 2011 Forest Health report prepared at the request of Senator Udall is available here: HMTG-116-II10-20190710-SD006.pdf (house.gov)
[3] A complete copy of this proposal is available here: Bennet Introduces Legislation to Invest in Forest, Watershed Restoration Across the West | Press Releases | U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (senate.gov)
[4] A copy of this proposal is available here: untitled (house.gov)
[5] See, PL 96-560 §109
[6] SeeForest crew uses explosives in wilderness area | Wyoming News | trib.com
[7] See, Fire damage won’t stop snowmobiling in Grand Lake | SkyHiNews.com

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TPA supports proposed Active Forest Management Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act

CSA, TPA, COHVCO logos

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert
1609 Longworth Building
Washington DC 20515

RE: The Active Forest Management, Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act

Dear Congresswoman Boebert:

Please accept this correspondence as the vigorous support of the above Organizations for The Active Forest Management, Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act (“The Act”). Prior to addressing the specific concerns the Organizations have regarding the Act, we believe a brief summary of each Organization is needed. The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (“COHVCO”) is a grassroots advocacy organization of approximately 250,000 registered OHV users in Colorado seeking to represent, assist, educate, and empower all OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway motorized recreation throughout Colorado. COHVCO is an environmental organization that advocates and promotes the responsible use and conservation of our public lands and natural resources to preserve their aesthetic and recreational qualities for future generations. The Trail Preservation Alliance (“TPA”) is a 100 percent volunteer organization whose intention is to be a viable partner, working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve the sport of trail riding. The TPA acts as an advocate of the sport and takes the necessary action to ensure that the USFS and BLM allocate to trail riding a fair and equitable percentage of access to public lands. Colorado Snowmobile Association (“CSA”) was founded in 1970 to unite the more than 30,000 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.

The Organizations vigorously support the Act as wildfires and burn scars are a massive barrier to all recreational activity in and around these areas and often for times that extend far beyond the fire being extinguished. Many burn scars are closed to recreational usage for decades after fires are extinguished due to the long-term impacts of these catastrophically intense fires. In this situation, funding and hard work is the only way to mitigate impacts from catastrophic wildfire. We believe allowing a more streamlined process for treatment analysis, such as the expanded use of Categorical Exclusions for larger treatments is a significant step in avoiding these types of impacts.

We also welcome the flexibility of the Act in locations that can be managed for wildfires and treatments. We have participated in numerous public forums with land managers discussing fire behavior and successful mitigation efforts. Historically prevention has targeted the WUI, but in the last several years, fires have started in remote areas and then waited for perfect conditions to burn out of these areas with huge intensity. This is exemplified by the Mullen Fire in southern Wyoming on the Medicine Bow/Rout NF, which was lightening started in the Savage Run Wilderness and the Cameron Peak Fire in northern Colorado on the Arapahoe/Roosevelt NF, which was ignited in the Rawah Wilderness. Both fires were of somewhat small size for extended periods of time and then exited the Wilderness when conditions were ripe for rapid intense expansion. Both fires expanded at rates exceeding 5,000 acres of burn per hour and both topped 200,000 in areas severely impacted. Unfortunately, this model is becoming all too common throughout the western US.

The USFS has recently released post fire analysis efforts and recommendations included analysis of many other fires. Their recommendation is these types of ignitions and subsequent explosive growth can be managed and planned for, which is a significant change from previous efforts that only focused on the WUI. We believe the Act is a major step in this direction, as §501 of the Act specifically states Wilderness designations are prohibited from becoming a barrier to treatments. This is in stark contrast to other proposals that would have added further restrictions to treatments such as prohibiting them in Roadless areas. Such restrictions simply make no sense to us.

The Organizations also submit that while wildfires gain almost all press coverage for removal of beetle kill from large tracts, wildfires only are impacting small portions of a massive landscape every year. Damage to these landscapes can only be mitigated with preventative treatment to remove thousands of acres of beetle kill spiderwebs that are unhealthy for wildlife and unsafe for most users. Preventing wildfire before it happens also improves wildlife habitat. We have been actively participating in post fire analysis of the West Fork Complex fire on the Rio Grande NF and researchers have found many species will use burn scar areas, but many also will not. The Canadian lynx has shown a high level of avoidance to these burn scars. Please feel free to contact Scott Jones at 518-281-5810 if you should wish to discuss these matters further.

Sincerely,

Scott Jones Signature

Scott Jones, Esq.
Authorized Representative
CSA, COHVCO and TPA

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CNSA Response to the Stanislaus National Forest Over Snow Vehicle Record of Decision – Pacific Crest Trail Corridor

California Nevada Snowmobile Association (CNSA) letter of response to the Stanislaus National Forest Over Snow Vehicle (OSV) Record of Decision (ROD) regarding OSV travel in relation to the Pacific Crest Trail corridor.


 

Off Road Business Association, United Snowmobile Alliance, CA NV Snowmobile Assoc logos

Stanislaus National Forest
Att: Jason Kuiken, Forest Supervisor
19777 Greenley Road
Sonora, CA 95370

Re: Stanislaus NF OSV usage/designation and Cowpasture US Supreme Court decision

Dear Mr. Kuiken:

The above Organizations are contacting you regarding the final revised Record of Decision regarding OSV travel on the Forest released on May 25, 2021. It is anticipated to be signed in July 2021. Our concerns are surrounding the asserted basis for management of the Pacific Crest Trail corridor in the revised draft decision and the direct conflict of this position with the 2020 7-2 US Supreme Court Cowpasture decision. The Organizations have previously provided a copy of the Cowpasture decision to the Forest by correspondence on March 10, 2021 seeking to avoid the situation we are now facing. The Organizations are in the unusual and uniquely frustrating situation of asking the Forest to apply the interpretation of the NTSA standards with multiple use mandates that the USFS recently successfully pursued in the US Supreme Court. In Cowpasture, the US Supreme Court addressed conflicts between provisions for the management of NTSA routes and multiple use mandates. The Court found that where possible conflict in management exists multiple use mandates govern any NTSA trail, and not the application of more restrictive mandates found in the NTSA. We are again including a copy of this decision with this correspondence in the hope of quickly bringing some type of closure to OSV issues on the Stanislaus, as this has now spanned decades.

The Stanislaus NF currently proposed to resolve statutory conflicts in direct opposition to the Cowpasture decision, as the Stanislaus NF starts with the most restrictive requirements of the NTSA and then applies them without regard to multiple use management objectives for particular segments of trail. In this planning effort, the Stanislaus has been faced with a situation where isolated NTSA provisions are in conflict with general multiple use provisions for the Forest. These restrictive provisions have sought to be exploited by interests that are seeking buffers or exclusive use corridors around the PCT. As we have previously argued application of multiple use planning requirements is also supported by the wide range of uses recognized by the NTSA. While the Organizations are aware that the PCT is a comparatively small issue on the Stanislaus NF, the impacts of the precedent set by the Stanislaus NF are significant and cannot be overlooked.

Pursuant to the draft revised ROD currently available, the Pacific Crest Trail is entirely closed to motorized usage1 and then usage is granted on a case-by-case basis. The application of the most restrictive provisions of the NTSA is deeply concerning and gives rise to two significant forest level concerns. The Cowpasture decision addressed the NTSA management and relationship when multiple agencies were involved and agency management dictated the decisions allowed for each agency. In the Stanislaus situation the USFS is both land and trail manager, simplifying the analysis. The Cowpasture decision clearly states:

“Sometimes a complicated regulatory scheme may cause us to miss the forest for the trees, but at bottom, these cases boil down to a simple proposition: A trail is a trail, and land is land.”

The Court then continues by clarifying the management of the lands in and around the trail remains subject to general agency jurisdiction as follows:

“The various duties described in the Trails Act reinforce that the agency responsible for the Trail has a limited role of administering a trail easement, but that the underlying land remains within the jurisdiction of the Forest Service.”2

We are aware of no argument that US Forest Service is not subject to multiple use mandates generally or that exclude the PCT from multiple use, and the Cowpasture decision clearly identifies that multiple use mandates and processes must govern NTSA route management. We are not aware of any document or decision that creates such exclusionary corridors or buffer for trails, as all planning documents specifically allow many uses on and around the trail. While the NTSA makes provisions for segments of NTSA routes crossing Wilderness areas and other designations, where usage is prohibited the NTSA also specifically allows motorized usages on the route. This is pinnacle of multiple use management and we are asking for its application on the PCT on the Stanislaus.

The Cowpasture decision is compelling in isolation, however these provisions become even more compelling for Stanislaus OSV decision when it is reviewed more generally. Many of the proponents of applying the most restrictive standards between multiple uses statutes and NTSA interpretations, which result in exclusionary corridors around the PCT for the benefit of certain trail interests in the Stanislaus OSV planning effort, argued this very same position in filings to the US Supreme Court in Cowpasture. THEY LOST in a 7-2 decision. While we do not believe a detailed list of these interest groups is productive to this discussion, we will vigorously assert that many of the court filings made in Cowpasture virtually mirrored the public comments that were made to the Stanislaus on this issue. These Supreme Court filings are available and we would be willing to share them if you should desire. The Supreme Court clearly stated that multiple use plans and mandates must guide the management of all NTSA routes.

Our second concern involves the relationship of the Cowpasture decision to the PCT Plan and possible application of the PCT Plan provisions in a manner that conflicts with Cowpasture. The PCT is a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada and clearly would be managed for a single use without significant negative impacts. While much of Stanislaus decision asserts to be applying the PCT Plan, it is our position that the PCT Plan has never applied the standard asserted. Rather the PCT plan applies segment by segment standards of multiple uses for the trail as evidenced by specific management standards for motorized vehicles on the trail. Again we must ask why would the USFS have management standards for motorized vehicles in the PCT plan when they are prohibited under the NTSA. The answer is motorized usage has never been prohibited. We have argued this throughout the Stanislaus planning process based on the clear language of the statute and relevant plans, apparently without success. The relationship of the current PCT plan and the Cowpasture decision remains unclear but is outside the scope of this planning effort. It is our position that numerous provisions of the existing PCT plan are on questionable legal basis after the Cowpasture decision as the PCT plan applies the more restrictive standards. Cowpasture which requires application of the lesser restrictive standards for NTSA designated areas. Application of the PCT Plan in a manner to allow the less restrictive standards for each segment resolves conflict around the PCT Plan as well.

In conclusion, the Organizations are in the unusual and uniquely frustrating situation of asking the Forest to apply the interpretation of the NTSA standards with multiple use mandates that the USFS recently successfully pursued in the US Supreme Court. The PCT is and always has been a multiple use route without buffers and we are asking that it be managed as mandated under the NTSA and Cowpasture decision. While the Organizations are aware that the PCT is a comparatively small issue on the Stanislaus NF, the impacts of the precedent set by the Stanislaus NF are significant and cannot be overlooked.

We are hoping that resolving this direct conflict will speed the final resolution of the Stanislaus OSV planning effort, that has spanned decades and improve recreational opportunities for all users of the Stanislaus. If you have questions, please feel free to contact either Fred Wiley, ORBA’s Executive Director/CNSA Past President at 1701 Westwind Drive #108, Bakersfield, CA. Mr. Wiley phone is 661-323-1464 and his email is  fwiley@orba.biz. You may also contact Scott Jones, Esq. at 3301 Fairway Drive, Argyle TX 76226. His phone is (518)281-5810 and his email is scott.jones46@yahoo.com.

Respectfully Submitted,

Scott Jones, Esq.
ORBA Authorized Representative

Keith Sweepe
CNSA President

Fred Wiley
ORBA Executive Director
CNSA Past President

 

CC: R5; USFS Leadership
Enclosures

 

1 See, USDA Forest Service; Stanislaus National Forest; Updated Draft ROD regarding OSV use designations; Anticipated to be signed July 2021 at pg. 12.
2 See, US Forest Service et al v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, 590 US ___; 140 S.Ct 1837 @1847 (2019)

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USFS Commends Motorized Groups for Improved Trail Conditions (10-Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge)

Letter from United States Forest Service (USFS) Washington

File Code: 2400
Date: June 17, 2021

Mr. Scott Jones
scott.jones46@yahoo.com

Dear Mr. Jones:

Thank you for your letter of April 18, 2021, regarding the Forest Service’s 10-Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge, Phase 1: Launch and Learn Guidebook (Trail Challenge). I apologize for the delayed response.

The Trail Challenge focuses collective resources of employees, partners, and volunteers on shared priorities such as greater capacity to manage and maintain trails, and to provide well-maintained and easily located trails that increase access and value to the public. 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.

Interest in the Trail Challenge among your organizations has excellent timing as we continue our launch of the first implementation phase. 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.

Again, thank you for writing and for the commitment of One Voice, United Snowmobile Alliance, Off-Road Business Association, and the United Four-Wheel Drive Associations in creating sustainable trail systems for motor vehicles and over-snow vehicles. Brenda Yankoviak, National Trails Program Manager, will be in contact about opportunities to engage in the Trail Challenge. Please do not hesitate to contact her at brenda.yankoviak@usda.gov.

Sincerely,

Signed by: Department of Agriculture
DAVID WHITTEKIEND
Acting Director, Recreation, Heritage and Volunteer Resources

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Rider Feedback Needed!

A citizen planning group, Envision Chaffee County, has produced a Draft Recreation Plan for the Salida and Buena Vista areas in Central Colorado. Within this plan, we have identified some issues and concerns we would like to share with you:

  • Sidestepping Federally mandated public processes –  Travel Management Planning (TMP)
  • Survey questions are deceptively worded and leading
  • Inadequate sample size of respondents related to user size

Please watch this video for detailed information on our concerns.

Send your comments

While it is possible to submit responses through the Envision website – we encourage you to send an email directly to the Chaffee County Commissioners, Chaffee County Planning & Zoning and Cindy Williams the co-chair of Envision Recreation in Balance co-chair.

Contact info:
Commissioner Greg Felt (ERiB Co-Chair) – gfelt@chaffeecounty.org
Commissioner Keith Baker – kbaker@chaffeecounty.org
Commissioner Rusty Granzella – rgranzella@chaffeecounty.org
Planning and Zoning Dan Swallow – dswallow@chaffeecounty.org
Planning and Zoning Jon Roorda – jroorda@chaffeecounty.org
Planning and Zoning Christie Barton – cbarton@chaffeecounty.org
Cindy Williams (ERiB Co-Chair) – cindy@envisionchaffeecounty.org

Copy all email addresses at once to paste into your ‘to” field:
gfelt@chaffeecounty.org, kbaker@chaffeecounty.org, rgranzella@chaffeecounty.org, dswallow@chaffeecounty.org, jroorda@chaffeecounty.org, cbarton@chaffeecounty.org, cindy@envisionchaffeecounty.org

Info to include in your message:

  • Who you are – if you are a Chaffee County resident, be sure to mention it!
  • What you like to do in Chaffee County (riding, camping, hiking, etc)
  • The citizen planning group Envision should not be attempting to assume Travel Management Planning this is a process that is already facilitated by land agencies US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM.) Specifically their outline of arbitrary Voluntary Seasonal Closures, Recreation development “no go” zones, and identifying areas of critical wildlife habitat in a county Recreation Plan.

That’s it – clean, simple, and to the point. The more input the better and this is all you need to say!

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Comments from TPA, CORE and COTD – Envision Chaffee County Plan

The Trails Preservation Alliance  (TPA), Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE) and the Colorado Off Road Trail Defenders (COTD) submitted letters concerning issues with Envision Chaffee County’s Recreation in Balance Recreation Plan.  All letters are available to download as PDF.

 

Trails Preservation Alliance Letter

June 1, 2021

Envision Chaffee County
P.O. Box 492
Buena Vista, CO 81211

Dear Ms. Williams, Envision Chaffee County Co-Chair:

Subject: Envision Chaffee County – Recreation Plan Issues and Concerns

Please accept these concerns from the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) regarding the Envision Chaffee County Recreation Plan. The TPA is a Colorado based 501 c 3 nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to preserve the opportunities for motorized single-track riding on public land. We partner with land management agencies to ensure that a fair and equitable amount of public land is available for multiple-use recreation. Additionally, the TPA partners with other clubs and organizations such as the Chaffee County based motorcycle club, Central Colorado Mountain Riders (CCMR), and 4WD club, Colorado Off-Road Enterprise
(CORE.)

Envision Chaffee County (“Envision”) recently released a mass email regarding the Chaffee Recreation Plan and how Envision proposes to influence the management of a growing use of public lands within Chaffee County. The Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) is submitting this correspondence to express some of our issues and concerns with the direction Envision has been and is currently embarking upon.

The TPA has observed and been monitoring the action of Envision Chaffee County since its inception and the TPA has become increasingly troubled by the trends we are observing from Envision. The TPA submits that Envision is demonstrating a consistent disregard for established and existing policies and procedures for managing recreational uses on federal lands and lands managed by the State of Colorado.

A recent example of an important concern that the TPA has, was revealed with the Envision email, sent out on May 24, 2021 that makes the statement “…how our community will manage growing use of our public lands”. The public lands within and surrounding Chaffee County are for all Americans and visitors to use, and are not exclusively for Chaffee County residents or those associated with Envision. The TPA is concerned that Envision is endeavoring to limit and reduce outdoor recreational opportunities on federal and state public lands.

Envision’s underlying goal seems to be to limit growth in Chaffee County and restrict the use of public lands and facilities within Chaffee County.

The TPA is also very concerned that Envision is consistently attempting to side-step federally mandated public processes for managing and making decisions on federally managed public lands with regard to public recreation. Decisions for use of federal public lands have a distinct and described process that is firmly based upon federal regulations and laws, which rely upon technical analysis, science, data and vigorous public input.

The TPA takes great exception with the general statements referenced from the survey and noted in the plan concerning wildlife and wildlife habitat. These statements are unsupported and unsubstantiated and certainly do not warrant changes to public lands management.

The TPA has concerns that Envision routinely marginalizes any persons or organizations that do not agree with their leaders’ philosophies, ideas or opinions. We have witnessed and can document on multiple occasions organizations seeking to provide input to Envision, submitting ideas and questions to the Envision process only to be ignored, disregarded and marginalized. It is becoming ever more apparent that the Envision staff and leadership have a preconceived and predetermined outcome for this project and any dissenting voices or contrary concepts are summarily disparaged.

Despite Envision’s attempt to use “Public Surveys”, the surveys are habitually poorly crafted, deceptively worded and consistently drive the results to a predestined conclusion and outcome. Further the sample size of the surveys and the demographics of the survey’s population are inadequate and lack statistical credibility.

The TPA would gladly embrace the opportunity to meet and further discuss our issues and concerns with the Envision Chaffee County project. Chad Hixon, TPA’s Executive Director, along with the Salida, CO. based motorcycle club, Central Colorado Mountain Riders, are available to assist with working to address and resolve these issues moving forward.

Sincerely,

Don Riggle
Director of Operations

cc

Forest Supervisor, Pike and San Isabel National Forest, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands
Field Office Manager, Royal Gorge Field Office, Bureau of Land Management
Chaffee County Commissioners Felt, Baker and Granzella

 


Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders Letter

  Comment on Envision Chaffee Draft Recreation Plan

Patrick McKay, Esq.
Vice President, Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders
June 3, 2021

I. Introduction

I am a Jeeper and off-road vehicle enthusiast from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and a non-practicing Colorado licensed attorney currently working as a software developer. I serve as the Vice President of Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders (COTD), a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping offroad trails open to full-size four wheel drive vehicles and maximizing opportunities for offroad motorized recreation. I am also an Advisory Board member of Colorado Offroad Enterprise (CORE), a related organization based in Buena Vista, CO which focuses on trail adoptions and community outreach to preserve high quality opportunities for motorized recreation in the central Colorado mountains.

These comments are submitted on behalf of both myself and Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders as an organization. We submit these comments to express our deep concerns with the Envision Chaffee Draft Recreation Management Plan.

II. Discussion

Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders shares the concerns of the Trail Preservation Alliance that Envision Chaffee is attempting to circumvent established processes for public lands recreation management in service of an anti-growth and anti-public recreation agenda, using deceptively worded, unscientific surveys to conjure the appearance of broad public support. We are especially concerned with the elements of this agenda that involve restrictions on dispersed camping and expanded seasonal restrictions on motorized recreation.

Envision Chaffee claims strong public support for imposing severe restrictions on dispersed camping in Chaffee County and imposing seasonal restrictions on other forms of recreation in alleged high value wildlife habitat areas. These claims stand at odds with the fact that public demand for camping dispersed opportunities in Chaffee County has never been higher, while the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have found no need to impose seasonal closures in the areas that Envision Chaffee is proposing.

While we recognize that some degree of management is necessary to limit the impacts of increased dispersed camping, we strongly oppose any plan which would significantly decrease existing opportunities for camping (i.e. through campsite closures) or that would close off large areas of Chaffee County to camping entirely. It is important to keep in mind that Chaffee County is only one county within a popular area of the Rocky Mountains for outdoor recreation, and that any attempts to close or limit camping in one area will only force would-be campers to shift to a different area.

We have seen how detrimental this can be to recreation with the BLM’s camping restrictions around Moab, Utah. Every year, the BLM bans camping in more areas near Moab, which only serves to push dispersed campers further and further out into the wilderness and causes increased impacts elsewhere. As a result, the BLM has continued to push its camping bans further outward, to the point where it will soon be impossible to camp within 100 miles of Moab.

The same problem will happen in Chaffee County if the land managers take a restrictive approach to managing dispersed camping there. A dramatic reduction in dispersed campsites will only increase competition for the few remaining sites, causing increased social conflict; and will displace dispersed campers to outlying areas outside of Chaffee County, causing increased impacts there. That in turn will cause land managers to restrict dispersed camping in these newly affected areas, and so on, in a cascading series of actions with no realistic end.

We therefore oppose the provisions in the Draft Recreation Plan which proposes to limit growth of dispersed campsites to an arbitrary 3% increase per year, while closing numerous other campsites and restricting many areas to designated campsites. We do however support proposals to construct additional outhouses and other infrastructure to sustainably provide for the needs of increased numbers of dispersed campers. We also support addressing camping issues holistically through joint plans between all relevant land managers, rather than piecemeal through area-specific plans by individual land managers which do not take into account landscape level effects.

Even more concerning to us than restrictions on dispersed camping is the notion of “voluntary” seasonal closures of existing motorized routes. While the draft plan includes scant details of what these “voluntary” seasonal closures would entail or where they would apply, we strongly oppose any attempt to circumvent the normal NEPA-based Forest Service and BLM travel management procedures in favor of “voluntary” seasonal closures imposed unilaterally by a third-party interest group.

As described in the draft plan, these seasonal closures appear to be based solely on a map produced by Envision Chaffee of alleged “high quality” wildlife habitat with “severe” seasonal wildlife impacts. Little information is provided about the methodology used to create this map, and it has not been vetted through any kind of public process. Unlike Forest Service and BLM travel management plans which must balance multiple competing interests including both wildlife habitat and recreation, this plan appears to be driven entirely by wildlife interests to the subjugation of all other concerns.

We entirely reject the premise that recreation must inherently yield to wildlife concerns. Rather, there must be a balance between accommodating both the needs of wildlife and human recreation. This is exactly what the NEPA-based travel management processes of the Forest Service and BLM attempt to do. Notably, all of the public lands shown on this map have already been analyzed in the travel management plans of the relevant public agencies, with full consideration of where seasonal closures for wildlife are necessary and appropriate.

The Forest Service is currently in the process of finalizing its new travel management plan for the Pike San Isabel National Forest, which includes all Forest Service lands in Chaffee County. As of the draft decision published in November 2020, the new plan would add numerous seasonal closures to Forest Service roads and motorized trails in Chaffee County based on both wildlife and resource protection concerns. This travel plan underwent extensive public input and scientific analysis under NEPA. Once finalized, it will definitively determine which Forest Service routes in Chaffee County require seasonal closures and which ones do not. The BLM’s Four Mile and Arkansas River Travel Management Plans finalized in the early 2000s also included full consideration of wildlife needs and imposed seasonal closures where necessary.

Should Envision Chaffee believe that substantial changes are necessary to the seasonal closures in the various travel management plans in effect in Chaffee County, the appropriate venue for such changes would be in agency travel management processes, not a county-level recreation plan as proposed here. Yet for reasons unknown to us, it seems Envision Chaffee had little to no involvement in the recent Pike San Isabel travel plan and did not even try to make its case to land managers that more seasonal closures are necessary.

Instead of participating in that public process and accepting the results, Envision Chaffee now proposes to circumvent established travel management processes through the unilateral imposition of “voluntary” seasonal closures, which by its own admission are anything but voluntary. As stated on page 29 of the draft plan, “Implementation will start with voluntary action with a more regulatory approach to follow only if required.”

“Voluntary” seasonal closures backed by the threat of future regulatory action if they are not heeded are not “voluntary” by any definition of the term of which we are aware. When such “voluntary” closures are inevitably ignored by motorized recreationists who do not acknowledge the authority of Envision Chaffree to impose such restrictions upon us, it appears Envision Chafree has every intent of running to the very land managers it failed to make its case to initially, in a belated attempt to make these restrictions mandatory.

The map of supposed “high value” habitat with “severe” winter recreation impacts on wildlife in which these voluntary seasonal closures would likely apply appears to include areas like the Four Mile Recreation Area and Chinaman Gulch, which offer highly desirable opportunities for year-round motorized recreation. Chinaman Gulch/Carnage Canyon in particular offer rare opportunities for challenging motorized recreation during the winter when most other difficult motorized routes are either seasonally closed or impassable due to snow. The motorized community therefore absolutely opposes any attempt by Envision Chaffee to impose additional seasonal restrictions in these areas, voluntary or otherwise, beyond those determined to be necessary by the relevant land managers in their respective travel management plans.

Should Envision Chaffee persist in moving forward with its flawed notion of imposing “voluntary” seasonal closures on popular motorized routes in Chaffee County, Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders (along with other motorized advocacy groups) will encourage the motorized community NOT to comply with them. We will also oppose any attempts to make these restrictions mandatory through revisions to agency travel management plans.

We urge Envision Chaffee to accept the seasonal closures the various land management agencies have adopted through their existing travel plans and to drop the idea of unilaterally imposing “voluntary” seasonal restrictions on motorized recreation, which without buy-in from the motorized community is a plan doomed to failure.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments, and we will continue to closely follow the development of the Chaffee County Recreation Management Plan. Should Envision Chaffee exhibit any willingness to include the motorized community as a partner rather than an opponent in considering how best to manage recreation in Chaffee County, we stand ready to participate. Sincerely,

Patrick McKay, Esq.
Vice President, Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders

 


Colorado Offroad Enterprise (CORE) Letter

  Comment on Envision Chaffee Draft Recreation Plan

Marcus Trusty
CORE
June 4, 2021

My name is Marcus Trusty. I am the founder/president of Colorado Offroad Enterprise (CORE), based in Buena Vista, CO. CORE is a motorized action group dedicated to keeping all motorized roads and trails open in Central Colorado. CORE currently helps maintain 15 adopted trails in the Central Colorado Region. During 2019, we completed nearly 2,000 volunteer hours through our organization.

I am a third-generation Chaffee County Native and own a local business that has been in operation for 15 years. I have spent a considerable amount of time on public land in Chaffee County, participating in all types of recreation.

I. Summary

Land and user management is an increasingly difficult task. Land Management Agencies have several federally mandated regulations and processes to follow before making public land decisions. The Management Agencies also have obligations to solicit public input at several points before making a project final decision. Public lands belong to everyone, and individuals, groups, and municipalities frequently comment on issues about their concerns and interests.

The Envision project was initially marketed as encompassing three areas, Wildfire Prevention, Working Lands and Water Quality, and Recreation. The first two areas seem highly specific to Chaffee County and its residents. A wildfire in Chaffee County could destroy the local economy for several years and residents’ personal property. The rural atmosphere of Chaffee County is highly desirable, and for many, it was a big part of the appeal in moving to the county. CORE does not have significant issues or specific concerns with the Wildfire or Working Lands initiatives developed from the Envision Process. However, the Recreation in Balance Draft Rec Plan and the process used to create this plan is troubling. CORE is concerned that Envision is trying to sidestep and influence the federally mandated NEPA process required for travel management and recreation on public lands. Initially, Envision’s goals seemed to look at recreation from a global level county-wide. However, the Draft Rec Plan reveals Envision’s aspirations for travel management and recreation restriction on public lands.

It seems Wildfire and Working Lands initiatives have more merit for residents of Chaffee County, and it is reasonable to involve residents in the development of these policies. Envision, however, should NOT be steering public land decision-making outside of the regular afforded public process. Public Lands belong to everyone, and as such, The Land Management Agencies have Federal Law dictating how they manage projects and the subsequent decision-making process. Envision is highly focused on dispersed camping in Chaffee County. It seems Envision could be helpful in the dispersed camping concerns in Chaffee County if the process recognized the shortterm living that is taking place within the County. Without acknowledging short-term living disguised as camping, any solutions coming from the Envision project will not have a positive outcome.

Additionally, Envision’s scope for recreation is limited to the county boundaries. This is problematic because the public does not recreate on arbitrary county boundaries. Regional recreation is a much more accurate way of analyzing existing recreation and would be a better method.

Envision consistently names numerous individuals and groups to appeal to their authority and convince those not familiar with the process of its value. However, at the same time, Envision is short on producing specific information it cites throughout the process. CORE is concerned with the accuracy of statements made in the Rec Plan, which do not contain supporting documentation and does not cite a source. CORE is also concerned with the Recreation Zone Boundaries, Survey Results, Seasonal Closures, and Motorized Use assumptions.

Please accept the following specific comments for Envisions’ Draft Recreation Plan.

II. Dispersed Camping

CORE is concerned that Envision suggests the outcome of the current BLM Camping Project and the future Forest Service Camping Project. The BLM Camping Project appears to be pre-decisional and Envision is already planning for the known outcome. Public Land belongs to all users, not just Chaffee Residents or those driving Envision. In several other areas the Rec Plan appears to try and steer these yet-to-be-determined objective processes used by land managers. This pressure could cause an issue with the objectivity and validity of each project. Envision should be a participant in the land management process, just as all groups and individuals participate in public land decision-making processes. Envision in no way should be driving how all people can recreate on public lands.

III. Recreation Concentration Zones

CORE has concerns with the recreation concentration zones identified in the Draft Plan. The recreation concentration zones are inaccurate and much too small. They do not reflect the current recreational usage and the current residential/recreation opportunities. Motorized recreation is also much too broad and needs substantially more mileage than available in these zones.

A consistently overlooked detail by Envision is the short-term living, which is taking place on public land near the county municipalities. These are not weekend recreators but are summer residents, and they require analysis as such. We do not condone short-term living on public lands, but the results of these summer residents are similar to people coming to Chaffee County to use their second home for recreation. Short-term living and housing developments outside of municipal boundaries have not been accurately accounted for, and thus the recreation zones are much too small. Many people living outside of municipalities frequently recreate year-round from their homes in the form of cross-country skiing, biking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, fat biking, hiking, and offroad driving. These activities are dynamic to the environment and may change yearly, but the act of engaging in recreation constant. Additionally, development in these areas is growing.

The Buena Vista Recreation Zone should include all development communities on the west side of the valley, including Trail West, Game Trail, Three Elk, and Four Elk. Residents from the valley and visitors frequently access adjoining public lands from these developments year-round. The east side of the Recreation Zone should include all of Sleeping Indian and the surrounding Trail networks on the north side and the south side within Fourmile. Many residents use these areas year-round because of the proximity to Buena Vista and the four-season access to quality trails and multiple recreation opportunities. More residents live outside the City Limits of Buena Vista than inside the City Limits. Nearly all these people recreate year-round in an area larger than the area shown in the draft plan. The following satellite image depicts the actual recreation zone around Buena Vista, shown as the red boundary. This imagery includes the campsite zones defined in the BLM Dispersed Camping Project, County Boundaries (light green), and Wilderness Boundaries (Dark Green).

Buena Vista Recreation Zone Map

The Salida/Poncha Springs Recreation Zone is also much too small to reflect the residential population and the recreation within those residential areas, which border public land. Envision should also include the Shavano Camping Area from the BLM Camping Project due to the proximity of Salida and Poncha Springs. Short-term living is taking place in many of these areas, and although not lawful, it adds residents in the same aspect as established homes. The extensive developments along Hwy 291 and the Hwy24/285 Corridor house numerous residents in a similar fashion to developments outside of Buena Vista. These areas require inclusion when considering the Recreation Zones. The Envision process has consistently overlooked the housing issue in Chaffee County, which could be one of the main factors in dispersed camping. See the following satellite image depicting the actual recreation zone shown in Red. Also shown for reference are the BLM Camping Project Areas.

Salida Poncha Springs Recreation Zone Map

Also, much of these larger suggested zones include orange, purple and red wildlife areas developed by Envision. These include ‘disturbed high quality’ and ‘undisturbed high quality’ wildlife habitat, which can mean only one of three things. The information used by Envision was not accurate, the survey data is not correct, or recreation and wildlife can co-inhabit the same areas.

IV. Recreation Survey

CORE is concerned that the Envision survey data is weighted far too heavily and is a primary factor driving the Draft Rec Plan. Envision chose to use a survey to collect and analyze information to form the Rec Plan. The Rec Plan refers to the survey responses on numerous occasions to justify the Rec Plan Recommendations and proposed actions. Envision’s survey was fully completed by 2,543 participants, with 36% of those responses from Chaffee County Residents, 915 people. With a county population of 18,507, that means residents represented only 5% of the respondents. The other 1,628 responses were from people outside the county, and one can assume these people responded to the survey because they visit the county. Envision’s data also claims that Chaffee County saw around Four Million visitors last year. If only 1,628 responses came from Four Million visitors (people outside the county), there is no statistical significance to draw sound conclusions for public land use.

Envision and the Draft Rec Plan repeatedly refer to the communities’ desires, but when only 5% of the local population responded to the survey, that claim is questionable. Suppose you had a room with 100 people, and you asked five people a question. Upon those five answers, you then claimed to represent the other 95 people; nobody using objectivity would allow five people to speak for the complete room.

While the survey was developed by professionals and was done to mitigate bias, there are still issues. Envision decided on the variables of importance and then asked the community questions concerning those variables. The only responses are then, by default, only concerning those topics.

The Land Management Agencies, by contrast, do not solicit comments and feedback during the public process through survey questions. They instead rely on written comments submitted by the public. Comments are grouped into three types of classifications. These classifications are substantial, unsubstantial, and form letters. Substantial comments are original and contain specific comments relative to the project and, in many cases, include specific recommendations to be used by The Agency during the process. Unsubstantial comments are a comment directed at a general statement or staff, contain no detailed or credible information to be used during the process. Form letters are a copy of the same comments submitted by several individuals. Form letters get recorded as a single comment. If a commenter addresses a specific topic, it is from their direction. If an Agency were to get hundreds of substantial comments concerning the same subject, The Agency could know the issue is essential to the recreating public. The Agency method contrasts with the Envision Survey, which asked questions about set topics. Furthermore, many of the cited responses in the survey report were comments a Public Land Agency would classify as unsubstantial. These are a few examples:

“The constant demand for new trails is reducing habitat available to wildlife.”
“high mountain streams and lakes are soiled by campsites and social trails on the banks.”
“Far fewer sightings of large game (elk, bear, etc.) than 10 years ago”.
“We see less wildlife (turkeys) and birds.”

Where is the substance in these survey comments? What specific habitat is reduced, and where is it happening? What lakes and streams are soiled, and which social trails are a problem? Anecdotal game sighting comparisons over the years by an individual are not scientific. It’s not merely wildlife-specific comments that are unsubstantial in the survey responses. Here are motorized comments:

“Create more OHV specific trails to avoid user conflict.”
“Open more ohv routes that connect roads and trails to spread users out.”
“Separate walking and wheeled vehicle trails.”

These comments also lack substance and specificity. Where is there user conflict, what is happening, and how would OHV specific trails remedy this? Which routes need to connect to roads and trails? How would this help to spread users out? What areas and trails in Chaffee County would benefit from separating users with designated routes to the same location?

All the above examples do not help land managers make decisions. Alternatives for Agency projects are largely determined during the scoping period and based on substantial public comments. Envision appears to collect un-specific information around various topics to make specific recommendations to land managers concerning those same topics. This tactic is distorting public feedback and inserting Envision’s motives into the recommendations.

In several cases, the survey and data exhibit the Social Desirability Bias. This Bias affects data when people recognize the socially appropriate answer and give a perceived response regardless of their honest opinion. The results, section 6 specifically, referring to question 18, 19, and 21 appears to have some red flags associated with this bias. People rated protecting wildlife, small wildlife, maintain quality experience, and maintain multi-use opportunities higher than facilities, more opportunities, and tourism. People felt the ‘right’ answer was to protect more virtuous things rather than state the ‘wrong’ response, which seems more selfish. The following survey section also exhibits many similarities. Protecting water, wildlife and forests were the most common answers compared to increasing economic benefits. Which is the more socially acceptable answer? Who doesn’t want to protect water, wildlife, and the forest? Is it socially acceptable to think economics supersede the protection of those things? These results must account for the Social Desirability Bias.

V. NEPA and Seasonal Closures

The Agencies are required by Federal Law to engage in a rigorous NEPA process before making decisions. The Draft Rec Plan seems to acknowledge this fact and assumes Envision can steer the process in its desired direction. From page 20 of the Draft Rec Plan referring to the Recreation Planning Tool:

It does not replace federal land agency processes such as site-specific NEPA but accelerates work by clarifying priorities. It helps direct limited resources to the most important projects, identifying the top 25% so they can be developed quickly.

Timeliness should not always be the driving factor, especially since Federal Regulations drive land management projects specifically, so all voices have a chance to be heard and weighed equally. The Draft Rec Plan admits that areas and projects were reviewed and adjusted by only six people, several of whom were the driving forces behind the creation of Envision.

The Rec Infrastructure tool was initially populated with potential projects and prioritized in early 2021 by land management agencies, town and county staff, and Rec Taskforce members who used nine metrics tied to the Rec Plan goals, as shown below. To get ratings as consistent as possible across all lands, they were reviewed and adjusted by a team including CPW Wildlife Biologist Jamin Grigg, Chaffee County Fire Protection District Chief Robert Bertram, Former Summit County Commissioner and water expert Rick Hum, Outfitter and guide Chuck Cichowitz, Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation founder and 5th generation agricultural operator Jeff Post and Envision Co-Lead Cindy Williams.

How is it viable that only six individuals should drive the direction for future NEPA processes? How can objective recreation planning, NEPA, and subsequent decisions affecting all future recreation be based on the opinions of SIX individuals, several of whom have a conflict of interest by being directly involved with the creation of Envision? Especially since CPW can, and does, comment during Agency Projects, and all others from this ‘team’ are free and encouraged to comment during all Agency Projects.

Excluding CPW, did any of the people listed comment on the ongoing Pike and San Isabel Travel Management Process and NEPA? Travel Management, while specific to motorized travel, is the direct access to all forms of recreation and most camping opportunities. This rigorous process was conducted over many years, since 2015, and analyzed every road and motorized trail segment within Chaffee County and the entire Pike and San Isabel National Forest.

You can see the National Forest’s thorough process in the below graphics depicting the broad spectrum of info considered before making a management decision on each motorized route. The following example is for NFSR 185.D. This road is in Chaffee County, just outside of the Ruby Mountain Camping and Staging Area. It includes a current seasonal closure located in a purple area on the Envision Wildlife Habitat Map.

 

Forest Road Little Cottonwood Creek Route Details

Travel analysis process

pecies & Management Area Data

Screening Criteria

As previously mentioned, this road, according to Envision, is placed in the highest level of concern for Wildlife Habitat, the purple zone. Yet, when The Agency assessed the critical information, the road was given a high benefit rating compared to a low-risk rating. And the road is currently managed under a seasonal closure to protect the moderate rating for wildlife habitat and winter range. How is Envision’s team of six people a better option to determine how and where recreation should happen on public lands for all users? The Rec Plan also only refers to Wildlife species in general:

The wildlife tool is based on information about 44 species, current development, and research by biologists at CPW, USFS, BLM and other organizations. The resulting map, below, is a tool to help the county create opportunities that protect the wildlife users love. The Chaffee Rec Council will use this tool to focus recreation growth where it has the least impact.

Yet, in the example above concerning NFSR 185.D, the only sensitive species identified in the area is Big Horn Sheep. Current seasonal closures on NFSR 185.D and the surrounding roads are in place because of their winter range. These seasonal closures are also not new; they have been in place for many years to manage the area. Much of the Rec Plan, in contract, reads as though all 44 species are in all the purple areas, any human interaction threatens all, and currently, these species are not protected by seasonal closures, which is not correct.

Seasonal Closures are in place for many routes within Chaffee County. The current Motor Vehicle Use Map shows all the roads with a seasonal closure. Currently, 42 motorized roads and trails are under a seasonal closure within the Salida Forest Service District. Again, this limits all types of recreation in these areas because the access is closed. Also, all the roads listed for seasonal closure on the Salida MVUM have undergone the same process as the previously highlighted NFSR 185.D. To take it a step further, just because a road or trail does not have a seasonal closure listed does not mean that road or trail is used year-round.

In most cases, only the routes that wheeled vehicles can access during all 12 months of the year are considered for seasonal closure. In most other cases, routes are seasonally closed by winter and are not accessible for at least eight months. Envision should not assume these routes pose a risk because they are not seasonally closed.

Salida Ranger District Seasonal Route Designations

The following statement is one of the most concerning sections in the entire Draft Rec Plan.

The Seasonal Protection program will implement a seasonal closure plan using the Recreation for Wildlife tools that show where animals are most vulnerable when they are concentrated to have young (production areas) and to find food when the winter snows are deep (map below). Implementation will start with voluntary action with a more regulatory approach to follow only if required. Currently, just over 10% of roads and trails in these critical zones are managed with seasonal closures – we have the potential to do much better for wildlife now that we have the tools!

CORE can’t emphasize the inaccuracy of the above statement enough. There is a seasonal protection plan currently in place. Not all roads and trails are accessible year-round or during sensitive times for identified wildlife in specific areas. Seasonal closures are applied to accessible trails. All roads and trails in Chaffee County within National Forest have undergone wildlife risk assessment. The final Record of Decision for all these routes factored those assessments into the outcome. CORE is concerned with Envision’s attempts to influence NEPA based on their wildlife assessments. NEPA is an information-gathering process; it does not make decisions. Why would Envision try to circumvent that process instead of actively participating in The Agency’s public comment periods and submitting their concerns?

Envision is also extremely unclear which recreation groups these voluntary and then mandated seasonal closures would apply. Are they all recreation groups or just motorized? Currently, the only required routes seasonally closed are motorized, and the public may assume the above statement will apply to more motorized routes. However, substantial scientific research suggests non-motorized recreational use poses a more significant threat to wildlife. The following scientific review states: “Counter to public perception, non-motorized activities had more evidence for a negative effect of recreation than motorized activities, with effects observed 1.2 times more frequently.”

Larson CL, Reed Se, Merenlender AM, Crooks KR (2016) Effects on Recreation on Animals Revealed as Widespread through a Global Systemic Review. PLoS ONE 11 (12): e0167259. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167259

Is the public aware of this fact? Does Envision intend to implement seasonal closures for all users, and does Envision believe that is realistic? Will Chaffee residents voluntarily stay off the mountain bike and hiking trails the first nice days in March after a long winter? The recreating public deserves honest answers, and Envision should be forthcoming with its full intentions regarding ‘voluntary’ seasonal closures so the public can voice their opinions.

VI. Wildlife

CORE is concerned with the lack of specific information provided throughout the Draft Recreation Report. Page 5 states this:

Keep it Wild Local herds of elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat are really taking a hit as human pressure moves them out of high-quality habitat and shrinks the area they need to survive. 65% of key wildlife populations are already in decline. The plan’s Wildlife Tool maps critical habitat to focus improvements in the right areas and informs voluntary seasonal closures to give wildlife a break.

A reader could easily assume that recreation is the driving factor in wildlife populations decline and that because of recreation, all wildlife in Chaffee County is in decline. Wildlife populations have the potential to be affected by numerous factors. Recreation is undoubtedly one of them, but focusing on one variable and magnifying it will not ultimately solve the problem.

The 2020 CPW Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors Report offers informative information on statewide population numbers, priority landscapes, and research areas. This information is not broken down specifically for Chaffee County because animals do not spend their time within a single county boundary. CORE suggests the best way to account for wildlife is through the current project evaluation and NEPA process used by The Agencies to inform a management decision. Looking at a small area instead of the larger region will not produce a
better result.

https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/2020BigGameWinterRangeandMigratio nCorridorsReport.pdf

VII. Motorized Use

Motorized users have been consistently grouped, and CORE does not feel these groups were sufficiently engaged or involved in developing the Draft Rec Plan. In many cases, Envision looked for a ‘motorized person’ to review and look at info instead of understanding the unique aspects of motorized recreation, the crossovers, and the differences within the user group. CORE was involved in presenting information to the Envision group to help understand the motorized user behavior profile and how motorized users address negative behaviors.

CORE suggested all recreational groups understand and promote the multi-use access of Central Colorado and respect the opportunities for everyone. CORE feels motorized use is perceived negatively, and users should understand the crossover and the areas where multi-use is likely to be encountered. Envision captured this information to suggest motorized groups are responsible for educating non-motorized users, which is not correct.

Outreach by the groups also involves education to non-motorized users, that they should expect to hear engine noise if they are in an area that allows motorized recreation.

Many trails are multi-use but are not presented as such. This lack of information confuses users and does not manage or set their expectations for what they may encounter during their time. This is a contributing factor to the ‘user conflict’ suggestion. Users experiencing something they are not planning for can be seen as a conflict.

This should not be looked at as a Motorized User Issue and Envision should prioritize information distribution among all groups to counter these issues. The Draft Plan and Survey results suggest motorized recreation is everywhere and is disturbing all other forms of recreation, specifically quiet users. This is also an incorrect assertion, Chaffee County is bordered by three separate Wilderness Areas, two within eyesight of Buena Vista and one near Salida. There is ample opportunity for quiet recreation within Chaffee County.

Additionally, when compared to the overall acreage of the Salida Forest Service District, motorized roads and trails comprise a very small percentage of area. The Salida District has 498.8 total miles of motorized roads and trails. Assuming a 200’ buffer for each road and trail mile, that accounts to 12,092 acres of land. The entire Salida Forest Service District is 440,000 acres. Motorized roads and trails account for only 2% of all lands within the Salida Forest Service District. 98% of the Salida District is quiet use and there is ample opportunity for all recreation desires without conflict or ‘noise’.

The Draft Rec Plan suggests one motorized project, The Triad Ridge Singletrack. The Rec Plan states:

“Motorized singletrack connectors to enhance capacity and efficiency at Triad Ridge in South Fourmile.”

This suggested project would seem to be in response to the survey results, however, a small singletrack section in an already small area for singletrack would not alter the available experience greatly. Additionally, motorized singletrack is the most restricted motorized asset because only two-wheeled equipment can use it. By contrast ‘roads’ can be used by all motorized equipment. The Agencies should take motorized proposals directly from motorized groups to best service these users.

Thank you for considering these comments. CORE will continue to follow the Envision process and the Recreation Plan.

Thank You,

Marcus Trusty
CORE Founder/President

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2020 TPA Special Edition KTM 690 Sweepstakes WINNER!

And the winner is…ANDRE BOSSE!

Congratulations once again to Andre Bosse the winner of the TPA Special Edition KTM 690. Executive Director Chad Hixon handed over ownership of the new KTM 690 just last week. Andre is a Colorado Springs local and plans to use his new whip to explore the many back-country roads and trails nearby. We think there is no better way to enjoy Colorado, and Andre will be sure to see some of the most amazing things right in his own backyard – and doing it in first-class style!

Be safe out there and have fun ANDRE!

Andre Bosse

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Monetizing the Scenery

Most of you are familiar with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance – but if you are not you should be. SUWA is behind efforts to continually restrict access to public lands for all types of recreation. This recent article in Range Magazine is well worth your time – it paints a really good picture of what we are up against in the struggle to protect access to our public lands in Utah and all over the West.

Reprinted with permission from Range Magazine and Marjorie Haun.


 

RANGE MAGAZINE
SUMMER 2021

Utah’s biggest Green group is caught between protecting wilderness and big tourism.

By Marjorie Haun

Indian paintbrush, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

Indian paintbrush, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

In the early days, environmentalism—now called the “Green Movement”—was both loved and hated for its implacable devotion to conserving nature. Now Big Green has become the kind of immovable, profit/power-motivated industry it once found detestable. In just 50 years, it has evolved from a grassroots push to protect nature from industrialization and overpopulation into a political operation with its hooks in all levels of government, allied with the kinds of billionaires and corporate giants it once eschewed. Big Green 2021 is more concerned with monetizing scenery than with what is right for the environment.

Worlds Collide

The rural West is in the midst of an unnatural evolution driven by ideologies disconnected from its elemental truths and by billionaires disconnected from its need to survive. Southern Utah is a case in point. Early on it was a place of sprawling high-desert ranches, mines, and other extraction operations. Mormon pioneers were the first white settlers in this region destined to become famous for uranium, movies, homey outposts, and astonishing sandstone anatomy. Though this evolution has taken more than a century, there has been an alarming acceleration in recent years as once-conservative Utah towns such as Moab, Torrey, Escalante, Bluff, and Boulder have morphed into progressive havens for wealthy ex-urbanites. It’s impossible to overstate the role the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and its cohorts have had in driving this unnatural evolution.

In 1970, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), effectively nationalizing the outdoors. In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Lands Management & Policy Act, which greatly expanded the power and scope of the Bureau of Land Management from its original mission of managing the range and facilitating grazing for western ranchers to the regulation of minerals and energy extraction. The BLM took a heavy hand in policing cultural antiquities and micromanaging activities on public lands, thus becoming at times useful to Big Green.

In the mid-1970s, helped along by seismic changes in federal law and inspired by Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire,” SUWA and other groups, such as the Utah Wilderness Coalition, rode into the West on a wave of environmental sentimentality. Abbey’s book depicted both the cruelty and delicate allure of southern Utah’s red rock country and worked like a magnet to draw young activists from across the country. In the beginning, SUWA’s goal was to protect as many millions of quiescent acres as possible by breaking Utah into massive piebald wilderness designations.

SUWA has always been a little estranged from rural Utahns with roots and economic ties to ranching and traditional natural resource development, but the alienation has worsened with its growing disconnect from common sense. Taking extreme positions on political issues—Orange Man bad, anything left-wing good—SUWA’s rhetoric is that of panic. In 2017, at the request of Utah’s congressional delegation, President Trump downsized two massive monuments previously created without the consent of Utah’s leaders or citizens by Presidents Clinton (Grand Staircase-Escalante, 1996, 1.9 million acres) and Obama (Bears Ears, 2016, 1.3 million acres).

In emails to supporters and on its website, SUWA exploded with indignation, accusing President Trump of “eviscerating the monument” and leaving “rare archaeological sites and stunning wildlands without protection from looting, prospecting, oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, or off-road vehicle damage.”

Four years hence, none of the hysterical projections have been realized. With the Biden regime now in control of the nationalized outdoors, however, SUWA’s tone is fawning to the point of being comical: “The Earth and all its inhabitants face the dire threats of climate change and the loss of nature, including extinctions. And in its first 10 days, the Biden administration has already taken meaningful steps to address those threats. It isn’t our job at SUWA to cheerlead for a particular administration; it’s our job to push them to go further. But we are very encouraged—even excited—by the Biden administration’s start.”

But neither its extreme partisanship nor its disconnect from the grassroots is a problem for SUWA’s bottom line. With its offices in D.C. and Salt Lake City, assets of over $16 million and an annual revenue of nearly $6 million, reliable donations from billionaires, billionaires on its board of directors, and lucrative relationships with fashion designers and gigantic outdoor recreation companies such as Patagonia, REI, Black Diamond and Petzl, SUWA doesn’t need to appeal to working people in the rural West.

Shady Billionaires & the De-democratization of the Green Movement

Although Jeff Gibbs’ 2019 documentary, “Planet of the Humans,” came to the odious conclusion that only mass human depopulation would save planet Earth, it showcased how in the last two decades Big Green has sold out to corporate interests and wealthy donors with their own profit motives. Not only does the onboarding of billionaires de-democratize groups such as SUWA, but it also makes them dependent on venture capital and sometimes ill-gotten wealth. There are dark chapters in the histories of SUWA’s most high-profile billionaire board members Hansjorg Wyss and Bert Fingerhut.

In 2012, Mina Kimes penned a report for Fortune magazine titled, “Bad to the Bone: A Medical Horror Story,” in which Hansjorg Wyss plays the role of supervillain. In the early 2000s, Wyss’ medical device company, Synthes, began testing Norian X-R, a bone-growing compound, using illegal trials on human subjects. Synthes promoted Norian X-R for use in spinal surgeries, a procedure for which it had not been approved. Johnson & Johnson purchased the compound, which started killing patients almost as soon as it hit operating rooms. Four Synthes executives were indicted and convicted on charges related to “off-label marketing,” but Wyss went untouched. In 2021, Wyss continues to make sizable donations to SUWA and sits on its board of directors.

Bert Fingerhut, a billionaire Wall Street securities analyst and Green activist, moved to Aspen, Colo., in 1983 and connected with several groups including SUWA. In 2007, while serving as director of SUWA, he pled guilty in federal court to numerous charges of securities fraud. Mark Ristow, an associate of Fingerhut’s and then SUWA treasurer, was indicted as well. According to a column by Joe Bauman in Deseret News: “Ristow, 62, a resident of Indianapolis, was a SUWA director as well as treasurer for the environmental activist group headquartered in Salt Lake City. Like Fingerhut, Ristow pleaded guilty to organizing an elaborate scheme to defraud savings banks and depositors.” This is not the stuff of grassroots conservation.

In a 2006 article, environmentalist and former SUWA board member Jim Stiles detailed an instance showing how the influence of billionaires such as Wyss, Fingerhut, and venture capitalist David Bonderman, who sits on the boards of the Wilderness Society and Grand Canyon Trust, has de-democratized the environmental movement.

“The Wyss donation was particularly fortuitous,” Stiles wrote. “Its founder, Swiss-born Hansjorg Wyss, became a member of SUWA’s [b]oard of [d]irectors in 1996 and is its current chairman… In 2004, SUWA had almost $5 million in ‘net assets and fund balances,’ including $2.5 million in ‘savings and temporary cash investments,’ nearly $300,000 in ‘non-interest-bearing cash,’ and about $1 million in ‘stocks and mutual funds.’ With all those assets, a gala party is planned in May as a tribute to Wyss. The event, to be held in New York City, will cost about $100,000. But according to [SUWA director Scott] Groene, ‘it’s a fund-raising event…[it] will raise us money.’ How much money is enough? No one can fault SUWA for its good fortune, but Utah’s most prominent environmental organization is starting to look more like a bank. And while its coffers have grown, membership, according to a SUWA source, has fallen to less than 14,000.”

Big Tourism & Cognitive Dissonance

Edward Abbey wrote in “Desert Solitaire” (1968): “Industrial Tourism is a big business. It means money. It includes the motel and restaurant owners, the gasoline retailers, the oil corporations, the road-building contractors, the heavy equipment manufacturers, the estate and federal engineering agencies and the sovereign, all-powerful automotive industries.” Twenty-five years after he penned those words, Abbey’s disciples would come to embrace the “big business” about which he cautioned.

Monetizing the scenery brought with it the promise of tourist-generated wealth that would supplant mining, oil and gas jobs and revenues. The amenities economy solution became the rose-colored-glasses selling point for SUWA’s overarching wilderness bill. Seeing an area for compromise and the possibility of a reliable flow of tourist dollars into their towns, a lot of locals went along with the scheme. What followed was a boom of small locally owned restaurants, outfitters, rental shops, retailers, and guide services that quickly became dependent on the marketing of Utah’s beautiful places. Some sectors boomed more than others. Then Big Green backtracked.

Fast-forward to 2021, and red rock tourism is now dominated by off-road-vehicle enthusiasts. After embracing the amenities economy solution in the 1990s, SUWA now stands in opposition to the OHV (off-highway vehicle) sector of tourism. But SUWA wields political clout and its dissonant agenda threatens to shut down a large sector of the local economy. Under pressure from SUWA, the Moab and Grand County councils recently banned large OHV events in the area and are leaning heavily on nearby San Juan County to do the same.

Dispersed camping—an iconic outdoor activity enjoyed by all demographics—is also on SUWA’s hit list. In 2020, SUWA petitioned the Bureau of Land Management to restrict off-roading and dispersed camping in the San Rafael Swell region, a vast range of sagebrush and red rock in central Utah. Under the purview of President Trump’s BLM director, the agency rejected SUWA’s petition.

In the SUWA universe, however, the scope of acceptable economic alternatives is narrowing. Arbitrary bans won’t hurt its wealthy donors, staff of attorneys, or billionaire board members, but it may be the death of local businesses that serve off-road and camping enthusiasts. Frankly, it’s hard to know what to do. Millions of hikers and thousands of mountain bikers on unregulated trails…good. Families with ATVs camping by the creek…bad.

Political Puppet Masters

Today SUWA is immersed in politics and, like all savvy political organizations, it’s playing the long game. The demographic shift needed to achieve its prime goal of a federal bill that would put tens of millions of acres into a restricted wilderness designation forever is underway. With progressives, many favored or employed by SUWA, now dominating commissions in both Grand and San Juan counties, SUWA is neither looking for, nor does it need, the consent of the governed.

In 2017, following a decades-long series of lawsuits brought by the Navajo Nation against San Juan County, federal Judge Robert Shelby took the unprecedented action of federalizing a local election and redrawing voting districts. In doing so, Shelby gave majority control of two of the county’s three districts to the Navajo Nation, which comprises a small fraction of the county’s landmass.

During that same time SUWA founded and funded the Rural Utah Project, with the goal of ensuring that Democrats would dominate local government. Using identity politics to recruit minority voters, RUP helped to flip San Juan County in 2018. The “get out the vote” arm of SUWA/RUP has the kind of money that grassroots political organizations could only dream of. SUWA’s activities are creating a political serfdom in which majority conservative/Republican counties are being controlled by progressive politicians enacting agendas disconnected from the history and traditions of the people.

Liz Thomas, a SUWA field attorney who lives in Moab in Grand County, has been in fact writing policy for the county commis¬sion in San Juan County. Documents obtained from the county show that Thomas has ghost-written at least 12 resolu¬tions from 2019 to the present. Her resolu¬tions are invariably put forth by one of the two progressive commissioners whom RUP helped elect in 2018: Mark Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes. Documents related to the county policy were emailed directly to the county administrator from Thomas with instructions to put them on the agenda. Recently, Thomas wrote a controversial reso¬lution asking Joe Biden to reestablish the rescinded boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

Using official letterhead, Thomas has written at least one response from San Juan County to the BLM. At one point, she was sending Commissioner Maryboy so many directives that the county administrator, Mack McDonald, made the following state¬ment in an email to Maryboy: “Is there a way when these come to you, that we can meet and review them with enough time so that we can fix these and have the [c]ounty [a]ttorney review them?” The people be damned; SUWA is steering policy in San Juan County.

America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act

Since it was introduced into Congress by Wayne Owens in 1989, SUWA’s defining piece of legislation, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, has doubled the landmass it would encompass from around five million acres to nearly nine million acres. It would pack such a severe punch to Utah’s rural economies that few legislators have wanted to touch it. Even Obama’s Interior Department regarded it as radioactive. But with Biden now occupying the White House, SUWA may get its prize. In its currently proposed form, ARRWA would lock up a large percentage of southern Utah’s most resource-rich lands into wilderness des¬ignations in perpetuity. SUWA’s radical pro¬posal, however, may be small potatoes when compared to the Biden regime, which has recently announced that it intends to “pre¬serve” anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of America’s lands. With one-third of the U.S. landmass now under federal control, and another third to one-half removed from eco¬nomic production, American ranchers, farm¬ers, miners, oil and gas workers, and the families they feed could fade into history.

The Pendulum

With decades of activism and millions of dol¬lars, SUWA has transformed Utah’s political landscape. Nonetheless, there is organized and growing opposition to its initiatives. Pres¬ident Trump’s downsizing of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 2017 dealt a painful political blow. Now, even with the Biden regime on its side, SUWA has an uphill battle to enlarge the national monuments due to profound opposition at both state and local levels.

In 2017, SUWA used “open meetings” rules to sue three counties—Kane, Garfield and San Juan—whose commissioners met with Trump’s then-Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, about the monuments. In August 2019, the court rejected the lawsuit and fined SUWA for $50,000 in legal fees. Utah’s Blue-Ribbon Coalition/Share Trails, comprised of small businesses, outdoor recreation/OHV clubs, and individuals, has successfully rebuffed many of SUWA’s recent efforts to close roads and prohibit motorized access on federal lands. And most recently, a federal judge rejected SUWA’s bid to stop a helium drilling operation on BLM land in Labyrinth Canyon near Lake Powell.

To a degree, transplanted ex-urbanites have changed demographics in southern Utah. Nevertheless, SUWA remains largely alienated from the working people of the region. With its political puppeteering exposed and a gauntlet of finicky criteria for outdoor activities to gain its acceptance, SUWA’s clout remains dependent on big-dol¬lar outside support. Giving its oblations to bil¬lionaires, big corporations, and pop-culture elites, SUWA is guilty of anti-rural bigotry, a cynical disregard for the people whose des¬tinies it seeks to control.

The average yearly income for people who live and work in southern Utah is around $42,000 per household. SUWA’s payouts are six figures. In 2018, SUWA director Scott Groene earned $163,000 in salary and bene¬fits. Attorney Steven Bloch took home $126,000. SUWA paid one legal contractor $411,355, and the total payroll for that year was $1,873,000. Finally, with most of its activists coming from outside southern Utah, and its main offices in Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C., SUWA looms as a self-righteous crusader, sweeping down from on high to save rural Utah from the rural Utahns who live there. SUWA’s political extremism, dissonant objectives, erosion of its donor base, and disconnect from “roots Utahns” are a chink in this Big Green’s vainglorious armor.

Marjorie Haun is a freelance writer from southern Utah who shares with Jim Stiles both wonder and dread at the urbanization of the rural West.

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Monetizing the Scenery

 

Read the full magazine:
RANGE  Magazine
Summer 2021

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Pre-Scoping Public Input – Chaffee County Camping and Travel Management Plan

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

SUBJECT: Pre-Scoping Public Input – Chaffee County Camping and Travel Management Plan DOI-BLM-CO-F020-2021-0020 EA

Please accept these comments from the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) in the BLM’s request for comments for Pre- Scoping Public Input concerning the Chaffee County Camping and Travel Management Plan, DOI-BLM-CO-F020-2021-0020EA.

The TPA is a Colorado based 501 c 3 nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to preserve the opportunities for motorized single-track riding on public land. We partner with land management agencies to ensure that a fair and equitable amount of public land is available for motorized recreation. Additionally, the TPA partners with other clubs and organizations such as the Chaffee County based motorcycle club, Central Colorado Mountain Riders (CCMR), and jeep club, Colorado Off Road Enterprise (CORE.)

We appreciate the opportunity to engage with this process and recognize the issues that dispersed camping is having on public lands across the west. The TPA is committed to helping the RGFO find the best possible solutions to protect the resource while maintaining quality experiences for ALL users that value the camping opportunities provided on the public lands of the west and in this case Chaffee County.

The TPA has several grave concerns about this project and the process that the RGFO is proposing to use for this project. On advice of counsel, we have listed our most troublesome concerns regarding documents prepared by the RGFO and posted to the project website (https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2012291/510):

  • The RGFO documents do not adequately articulate a Purpose and Need for this project. The Purpose and Need as currently published is not sufficient to examine a range of alternatives.
  • The RGFO has crafted the Purpose and Need too narrowly. In addition, the documentation and scoping materials for this project appear pre-decisional.
  • The project must consider a range of alternatives in an Environmental Assessment (EA).
  • “Travel management” should not be done in an EA. It is a major federal action requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  • The Best Available Science on User Conflicts directly weighs against closures.
  • Analysis and comments must not be arbitrarily limited to Chaffee County. BLM managed public lands and lands managed by the USFS extend well beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of Chaffee County. Limiting this project’s analysis to Chaffee County will preclude a holistic investigation and result in a myopic conclusion.
  • Analysis of dispersed camping issues should be concurrently conducted with the USFS Salida Ranger District and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (ARHA) to avoid a Decision that results in adverse effects, or unintended consequences on lands adjacent to BLM properties but managed by other agencies.

For this Pre-Scoping phase of the project, the TPA is compelled to point out that dispersed camping involves more than just motorized users and is utilized by multiple and diverse outdoor recreation groups. This is extremely relevant to this project considering the limited access for OHV’s use and the proximity to many of the inventoried sites. On the contrary many of the inventoried sites are in very close proximity to many non-motorized recreational opportunities such as the Methodist Hills trail system, Colorado Trail Trailhead, Mt. Shavano Trailhead, and areas in close proximity to the AHRA managed land. In addition to the broad range of recreation users utilizing dispersed camping many social issues are also a factor. People living on public lands of which many are a part of the Upper Arkansas Valley’s workforce and people that are otherwise homeless all contribute to this issue. This is further evident within the plan’s inventoried sites near Salida which are inaccessible by vehicle. The TPA suggests the RGFO to not term or reference the issue as vehicle-based camping or motorized dispersed camping but rather just Dispersed Camping.

Other considerations and suggestions from the TPA include the following:

  • Dispersed camping is currently, or is becoming, an issue on public land all over the western U.S., but especially near areas with various and diverse recreational opportunities. Some areas’ efforts, such as Moab, to mitigate these impacts, including closures to dispersed camping or other management strategies such as designated
    dispersed and paid camping, have only pushed the dispersed camping use to adjacent areas or the next available location. Trying to resolve this issue by only addressing BLM managed lands in Chaffee County will only push the use and “stress” to adjacent lands managed by other agencies within Chaffee County or to neighboring counties including Fremont, Gunnison, Lake, Park and Saguache. Most users do not camp or recreate based on a particular land management agency, county or state jurisdiction. Why then would the RGFO attempt to take this approach to manage this issue? To adequately curtail and manage the dispersed camping issue a more holistic approach that involves ALL the agencies and adjacent counties that could experience the effects of this Decision must be included. Without this we are only transposing the issue, not resolving it.
  • This plan incorporates two distinct processes, Travel Management Planning (TMP) and a plan to address dispersed camping issues. These are acknowledged by the RGFO as two separate processes. However, Travel Management Planning, generally requires a more detailed and arduous Environment Impact Study (EIS) when it is determined that a “significant” change is adopted that could affect the human environment. Travel Management Planning is arguably a significant change and should not be done in an Environmental Assessment (EA.) It could also be that the closure or new management strategy of hundreds of dispersed campsites could arguably be considered “significant” changes. The BLM should address Travel Management Planning for the Shavano and Pass Creek areas separately from dispersed camping planning.
  • The pre-scoping questions posed to the public seem to be focused on limiting and “closing” camping opportunities. Given the increase in use and recreational opportunities created in the area, why would the questions and suggestions for comments be focused on reduction or elimination of an obvious (and increasing) demand? These questions and suggestions could be perceived as pre-decisional or as pushing the agenda of a special interest group. To achieve the best possible Alternatives, the TPA suggests the RGFO must also include suggestions about where to create and expand camping opportunities. In addition these suggestions should be open to areas not identified in this process as having camping issues and/or that could potentially see the effects of the outcome of this Decision. For example lands that are easily accessible to popular trailheads, communities in the area and fishing access on the Arkansas River should all be considered for potential camping development. A broader scope of questions and suggestions should be provided.
  • The planning approach seems to insinuate the issue is recreation vs. conservation. This leads to the perception that you can only have one or the other. However, proper management strategies should allow for the two concepts to coexist.
  • The TPA offers a brief summary of research into user conflict. Researchers have specifically identified that properly determining the basis for, or type of user conflict (personal vs social conflict,) is critical to determining the proper method for managing this conflict. Scientific analysis defines the division of conflicts as follows:
    • “For interpersonal conflict to occur, the physical presence or behavior of an individual or a group of recreationists must interfere with the goals of another individual or group….Social values conflict, on the other hand, can occur between groups who do not share the same norms (Ruddell & Gramann, 1994) and/or values (Saremba & Gill, 1991), independent of the physical presence or actual contact between the groups……When the conflict stems from interpersonal conflict, zoning incompatible users into different locations of the resource is an effective strategy. When the source of conflict is differences in values, however, zoning is not likely to be very effective. In the Mt. Evans study (Vaske et al., 1995), for example, physically separating hunters from nonhunters did not resolve the conflict in social values expressed by the nonhunting group. Just knowing that people hunt in the area resulted in the perception of conflict. For these types of situations, efforts designed to educate and inform the different visiting publics about the reasons underlying management actions may be more effective in reducing conflict.” 1
  • Other researchers have distinguished types of user conflicts based on a goals interference distinction, described as follows:
    • “The travel management planning process did not directly assess the prevalence of on-site conflict between non-motorized groups accessing and using the yurts and adjacent motorized users…. The common definition of recreation conflict for an individual assumes that people recreate in order to achieve certain goals, and defines conflict as “goal interference attributed to another’s behavior” (Jacob & Schreyer, 1980, p. 369). Therefore, conflict as goal interference is not an objective state, but is an individual’s appraisal of past and future social contacts that influences either direct or indirect conflict. It is important to note that the absence of recreational goal attainment alone is insufficient to denote thepresence of conflict. The perceived source of this goal interference must be identified as other individuals.”2
  • An overwhelming portion of user conflict results from a lack of social acceptance by certain users and these conflicts will only be resolved with education. The TPA believes the distinction between personal and social user conflict must be distinguished and addressed in this process. Any proposed changes must be reviewed to ensure those changes do not generate, and result in, an increase in user conflicts.
    The TPA thanks the RGFO for reviewing and considering our comments and suggestions. We would welcome a discussion of these comments at your convenience.

 

Sincerely,

Chad Hixon Signature
Chad Hixon
Executive Director
Trails Preservation Alliance
chad@coloradotpa.org 

 

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

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

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Adventure Rider Article – Access and Advocacy

Reposted with permission from Adventure Rider Magazine – December 2020
Ned Suesse is a member of the TPA Board of Directors


Access and Advocacy

The challenges faced when connecting beautiful places

Words & Images Ned Suesse

Rider on MotorcycleFrequently, I’ve had conversations with friends on adventure bikes about public land management, and they fall to either side of a divide. One side holds that federal agencies are worthless and trying to close all of our access, and they therefore deserve to be either hated or ignored. The other side claims that the federal agencies are worthless and not doing enough to protect public lands, and groups like the Sierra Club are necessary to secure natural values.

In my view, neither of those stories has it right. In fact, we have an incredible bounty of great routes maintained by these agencies, so they deserve some credit. We also have great natural areas, and the laws that govern land use are generally biased to protect them. No matter what action or inaction the agencies choose, people will disagree, which explains how we can struggle to find consensus. Given that, I submit that the best way to improve the outcome for interesting routes that connect beautiful places, which we all enjoy riding, is a third idea: effective involvement to preserve and protect not only routes, but also the lands they pass through.

In the American West, most of our riding is on public land managed by one of two agencies: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service (USFS). These agencies operate under different rules, but both are governed by public process, which requires public engagement to achieve the best outcome. Neither agency is mandated or equipped to look at the popularity of their decisions, so effective engagement is rarely a matter of sending form letters. The place where popularity counts is the voting booth, specifically for members of Congress, the branch of government from which the agencies secure their funding. Your congressional representatives will have offices near you, and it isn’t hard to get a meeting with staff and explain what you think is important. They may not agree, but they will take note that you care.

In both the USFS and BLM, a great deal of control is delegated to the local offices, where there is a line officer who is generally equivalent to the captain of a ship. These people don’t control the armada, they don’t pick the overall direction, but the ship does not move without their consent. Therefore, effective engagement happens most often at a local level. In many areas, there are clubs that are doing this work, and you can join and donate time, energy and money to help them make a difference. Clubs are also where most on-the-ground work happens, from cleaning up trash, to clearing trees and building new trails. Often, clubs are run by exhausted volunteers on the verge of quitting, so joining and helping can make a huge difference as well as providing new riding buddies.

The public servants who work in these agencies are generally bureaucrats who have worked their way up through a system that does not reward the same qualities private industry does. In many cases, these bureaucrats are pleasant, reasonable folk, which doesn’t necessarily mean they understand or appreciate the existence of motorcycle riders on their public land. It is our job to justify ourselves, and our use, to people who are unaware or maybe even biased against us. It may not be obvious to a non-motorcyclist that connections and campsites are important to us. We can help them see the world our way.

These land managers are tasked with managing our lands within a mess of laws that are difficult for the layperson to understand and often contradictory even when one does. The rule that comes up most often is the National Environmental Policy Act (referred to as “NEPA”) which sets a process for every decision the federal government makes that affects the quality of the environment. The NEPA process has different protocols depending on the potential impact of the decision, but the key thing to understand is that decisions are made in a process, and there are times in that process where you can comment and be involved, and times where you cannot. Generally, during the “scoping period,” you can get involved. Later, once scoping is past and comment periods close, nothing you say has any effect, no matter how correct you might be. Scoping and comment is required for all NEPA processes, and most offices have a process to get you subscribed to notices so that you can be involved at the appropriate time.

Rider standing on trail with bikeThe other key rule that affects our use is Travel Management. This is done at a broader level than decisions, typically by a Forest (USFS) or a Field office (BLM). As with everything else, there is a defined process to be involved with, and effective engagement requires getting involved early. Travel Management may only happen every decade or two, so when it comes along it is critical to be involved with it. Because Travel Management encompasses a larger area, often a statewide organization will be involved. These statewide organizations serve an important role alongside clubs. Where a club is more likely to make a difference on the ground, the statewide groups are able to bring legal pressure, expert testimony and policy experts to bear on the larger regional issues.

Personally, I was uninterested in any of this until my favorite place to ride was closed. I went from uninterested to really angry in a flash, and it has taken decades to work my way back to engaged. Everything that happens on public land happens at the speed of government, which is both frustrating and occasionally beneficial, since bad news can happen as slowly as good news does. If you are getting involved, recognize that advocacy requires slow and steady involvement, not just a few moments of your time. It takes hydraulic pressure, not hammer blows. If you want to make a difference, show up, join a club, donate, get to know your local agency people and expect that moving the needle will take months and years, not days or weeks.

In the end, I see a false division between “environmentalist” and “motorcyclist”. I don’t know a single rider who would prefer an unhealthy forest to a thriving one, and in many areas, most of the trail work and funding to maintain trails comes from off-highway vehicle riders. This leads to the final point: wherever possible, we can try to break down the perception of us (motorcyclists) vs. them (environmentalists). Enviromotorist is a viable position (not to be confused with moto-mentalists) that holds that responsible access can coexist with maintaining natural values. Motorcyclists will never win a popularity contest, but we can show how our position is compatible with others.

Wilderness

  • Wilderness (capital W) is defined by congress and allows no mechanized recreation, including bicycles, motorcycles, hang gliders and so on. It is the most restrictive protection available. Many companies talk about riding in wilderness (small w), so keeping the legal definition in mind is important.
  • Wilderness does not allow for fire mitigation (exceptions are made for fires once burning), or management for species of concern. Trail maintenance must be done by hand (no chainsaws).
  • You can support existing Wilderness, but be against additional Wilderness. This is my position. The places that are “untrammeled by man” as congress defined are largely already designated. New designations focus increasing use on diminishing areas and abdicate responsibility for management.

Success Story

  • In Salida, Colorado, the Central Colorado Mountain Riders (CCMR, local club), with support from the Colorado TPA (state organization) have succeeded in adopting, maintaining and even opening several new trails over the last few years.
  • Each action has taken years to complete, and required partnerships with non-OHV groups for success. CCMR has an active board of volunteers who each take ownership of individual projects.
  • Latest example: In 2020, Dudbob’s trail was constructed and opened on BLM. The process for this trail started in approximately 2015.

Things You Can Do

  • Be a steward—take care of the roads and trails you use, help educate other users, and leave campsites better than you found them.
  • Be an ambassador—show the best of motorcycling to other users, businesses that you patronize, and people who work in the land management agencies.
  • Get involved locally—join your local club and show up for work days and public process meetings.
  • Donate funds—send money to organizations not only where you live, but also where you want to ride.

 

About Adventure Rider

ADVrider was launched in 2001 to provide adventure motorcycle riders their own dedicated online community. The site was debuted as an adventure riding forum and has grown to become the most visited website in the world for motorcycle enthusiasts. ADVrider currently has over 350,000 registered members who have submitted 33 million original posts.

Adventure Rider Magazine

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Rio Grande National Forest Response to Continental Divide National Scenic Trail Corridor Issues

Rio Grande National Forest response to the request of clarification on Supreme Court ruling USFS vs. Cowpasture River Preservation Association and its relationship to Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) corridor issues.


USDA
Forest Service
Rio Grand National Forest
1803 West Highway 160
Monte Vista, CO 81144

Dear Mr. Riggle:

This responds to your letter dated March 10, 2021, regarding the 2020 Supreme Court decision involving the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST), United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, 140 S. Ct. 1837 (2020). The decision clarifies the role of the National Park Service as the administrator of the ANST and the United States Forest Service (USFS) as a trail managing agency for the ANST, i.e., a federal agency with jurisdiction over some of the federal lands traversed by the ANST.

I would like to clarify two points made in your letter. Paragraph 2 of the letter states (emphasis in original):

The US Supreme Court addressed the management relationship of the National Trails System Act and the Multiple Use mandate of the US Forest Service for the corridors around NTSA routes and the designated trail itself. . . . The Supreme Court clearly stated the mere designation of any route under the National Trails System Act does not alter the multiple use mandate of the agencies managing this land.

Paragraph 3 of the letter states:

The Court ruling provides significant protection for continued multiple use access to public lands and prohibits many of the proposed closures of the trail and adjacent areas to multiple usage recreation.

The Cowpasture decision holds that a national trail is most akin to right-of-way over land and as such does not change the jurisdiction of the underlying land. Therefore, the legal authorities governing federal lands managed by a national trail administrator do not apply to federal lands crossed by a national trail that are managed by another federal agency. Federal lands underlying a national trail that are not managed by the trail administering agency are subject to the legal authorities of the federal agency with jurisdiction over the underlying lands. With respect to the ANST, where the trail traverses National Forest System lands, those lands are subject to the legal authorities that apply to the USFS, not to the legal authorities that apply to the National Park Service.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Cowpasture does not address the multiple-use mandate of the USFS under the Multiple Use–Sustained Yield Act in the context of national scenic trails designated under the National Trails System Act (NTSA). The decision also does not address multiple-use access to National Forest System lands or prohibit closure of the ANST and adjacent lands to multiple-use recreation. Rather, the decision holds that National Forest System lands traversed by the ANST remain under the jurisdiction of the USFS and are not part of the National Park System.

As outlined above, the facts of the Supreme Court Cowpasture decision are materially distinct from the management scheme present on the Rio Grande National Forest and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST). The USFS is both the designated administrator of the CDNST and the underlying land managing agency of the land traversed by the CDNST within the Rio Grande National Forest. Management of the CDNST within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest is governed by the 2020 Rio Grande National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, the comprehensive plan for the CDNST, and all applicable law, including but not limited to the NTSA, the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Forest Service’s travel management rule.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Colorado Snowmobile Association, the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, and the Trails Preservation Alliance—as well as many other partners—to provide outdoor recreation opportunities to the thousands of visitors to the Rio Grande National Forest each year.

Sincerely,
Dan Dallas
Forest Supervisor

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5 Million in Grant Money Returned to Colorado OHV Program

The Colorado OHV Grant fund will have $5 million in surplus money returned to the program! Additionally, the program will receive an increase in funding of almost $2 million annually. This is a HUGE win for motorized recreation in Colorado and a great way to celebrate the continued success of the Colorado OHV Grant program now celebrating its 30th anniversary!

Background

Earlier last year we were in the unfortunate position of having to report the sweep of $5 million in funds from the OHV program cash reserve in response to the COVID outbreak. We are pleased to announce that with the passage of SB 21-225 today, the $5 million in registration fund money has been returned to the CPW OHV program to be used for OHV purposes. In addition to the return of the surplus money, legislative spending authorizations for the OHV program increased from $4.3 million to $6 million annually. This will ensure that large cash reserves (i.e. the $5 million) will not accrue in the future and each year this money can be put to work for OHV related projects across Colorado the way it was intended.

“I’m philosophically opposed to using cash funds to balance the state’s budget. However, responding to the COVID pandemic required budget cuts no one wanted to make. When the time came to look at undoing some of the cuts we had to make last year, repaying the OHV fund became a priority of mine. I felt it was one of the more egregious cash fund sweeps we had to make. And given the fact that we have a lot of backcountry to repair due to overuse and historic wildfires, I wanted to pay back this fund in particular.” said Senator Bob Rankin (R District 8) member of the Joint Budget Committee and sponsor of Senate Bill 225.

“It’s not often that cash funds get repaid. We were fortunate enough to have Senator Rankin do much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes and working together, we were able to use PDAC’s membership to help educate the other members of the Joint Budget Committee on the serious need for backcountry trail repair. Once there was an agreement to repay OHV fund, we really just stepped out of the way and let the bill proceed through the legislative process without drawing any questions as to why this cash fund was getting repaid when others weren’t.” said Landon Gates, a lobbyist for the Powersports Dealers Association of Colorado(PDAC).

Good news for everyone

With all recreation uses seeing unprecedented increases in users the timing of this bill could not be better. This money was collected from OHV registrations and was intended to fund OHV projects and maintenance. These funds now can be used for that purpose. This is a big win for everyone that buys an in-state or out-of-state Colorado OHV registration and ALL users that utilize multi-use trail systems in Colorado!

Thank You!

The return of this funding has required a large amount of work behind the scenes. We would like to thank all of the following people and organizations for their part in making it all come together- the members of the Joint Budget Committee for passage of this legislation, particularly Representative Kim Ransom (R Distict 44) the House sponsor, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR), Jerry Abboud of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO) and the lobbyists that worked with him, Don Riggle of the Trails Preservation Alliance(TPA), and everyone who wrote letters to the legislature in support of this effort.

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Ride With Respect Noise Letter to Grand County and Moab City

This letter is being reprinted here with permission from Ride with Respect (RwR).

This letter was written by RwR to Grand County and Moab City regarding sound regulations. In the attached PDF there are letters from RwR and Grand County’s Motorized Trails Committee as well as copies of the City of Moab Utah approved noise ordinance and Grand County approved noise pollution ordinance at the end.


 

RwR Letter to Grand County and Moab City

Grand County Commission
125 E. Center Street
Moab, UT 84532

Moab City Council
217 E. Center Street
Moab, UT 84532

Dear Grand County Commissioners & Moab City Council Members:

Ride with Respect (RwR) applauds you for starting to take a serious look at sound regulations, and we appreciate the discussion you’ve had thus far, but the approved county ordinance and draft city ordinance need several adjustments before noise concerns can be resolved in a practical and lasting manner. RwR is addressing the county and city together because you are both addressing the same issue, both consulting with the firm Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, and both attempting to make your policies compatible.

Process

First let me explain why RwR didn’t submit detailed comments prior to the commission meeting last Tuesday. In fact I was producing comments based on the April 16th draft that was posted on Grand County’s agenda center. After planning and hosting the third sound-testing demonstration on April 19th, the county attorney kindly sent me an updated draft, although it was not posted on the agenda center. I continued producing comments that evening and the following morning, only to receive an April 20th draft. Again, I appreciate receiving it from the county attorney, but it was not posted on the agenda center. In fact, at present the only draft posted on the agenda center is the original one from April 16th. Anyway the April 20th draft fundamentally changed how motorcycles would be regulated (from sound measurements to EPA labels only), further setting back my comment progress to the point that I couldn’t submit comments in time for your meeting.

Fortunately, unlike the ATV business-license ordinance and LUC that involved a moratorium deadline, the noise ordinance had no such deadline. I figured that I could explain the need for more time on the new draft of the noise ordinance but, during Citizens to Be Heard, comments on the noise ordinance were prohibited with the rationale that a public hearing on the matter already took place. In fact the drafts had changed so significantly since the public hearing that I think the county should allow and in fact encourage comment on the new direction. Instead of going into details, I simply emailed the commission and staff that I have serious concerns about the latest draft, and would appreciate more time to discuss it before voting on the matter. The commission voted anyway, and said that they can amend the ordinance anytime.

Also during the meeting, the county attorney said that the latest version isn’t in the agenda packet, but that I forwarded it to the ATV businesses and members of the Motorized Trails Committee (MTC). I did forward the ATV business-license ordinance and LUC drafts to ATV businesses 12 hours prior to the April 15th meeting in which the commission voted on them. I did it as a courtesy to the county attorney for emailing me the drafts 14 hours prior to the meeting, as no drafts had been posted on the agenda center at that point. However I didn’t forward the ATV business-license ordinance and LUC drafts to the MTC. Further I didn’t forward the draft noise ordinance to the ATV businesses or the MTC, and I hadn’t said that I would do so, just for the record. The process and decisions could be more thorough if given more time which, given the subject’s technical and consequential nature, is warranted in my opinion.

Progress

Second let’s recognize the progress made. RwR has promoted regulating sound for many years and, while the following points were initially challenged by local officials and people on both sides of the issue, we seem to be reaching agreement that:

  1. Education (e.g. Throttle Down) is critical but cannot fix the problem on its own,
  2. Engineering solutions (including alternate routes) are limited by private property in Spanish Valley,
  3. Lowering speed limits is likewise limited (primarily by side effects like reduced efficiency),
  4. Local government should utilize resources like sound testing before expecting industry reform,
  5. Local government shouldn’t count on the state granting permission to restrict the street use of UTVs,
  6. Quieter mufflers can bring the most popular UTV models in line with other sport models,
  7. Regulating sound should involve actually measuring sound in order to be objective,
  8. Measuring motor vehicles in use would be ideal but has major limitations for enforcement,
  9. Measuring motor vehicles while stationary can feasibly catch excessively-loud vehicles,
  10. Stationary sound testing can be done by pulling over vehicles rather than relying on a check point,
  11. Sound meter features (e.g. decibel averaging, tach synching, wireless comm.) aid enforcement, and
  12. Local government should consult an OHV sound expert for its noise ordinance and enforcement.

Stationary Sound Limits

For years RwR has advocated utilizing stationary sound tests for the specific vehicle types that the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) intended when developing them. Matching the intended test to the given type of vehicle makes enforcement more straightforward. For example, it’s important not to subject Type III ATVs (which are typically Jeeps with larger tires) to a test designed for dirt bikes (J1287), which the county’s approved ordinance does. Please refer to the Motorized Trails Committee’s March 15th letter:

“All-Terrain Type I Vehicle and All-Terrain Type II vehicle SAE J1287
92 dB

All-Terrain Type III Vehicle, automobile, and truck up to 14,000 pounds GVWR SAE J1492
95 dB

Off-Highway Motorcycle (any motorcycle that is designed for use on trails or natural terrain, regardless of whether or not it is also designed for on-highway use)
SAE J1287
96 dB

On-Highway Motorcycle
SAE J2825
96 dB for engine with less than 3 cylinders or more than 4 cylinders
/ 100 dB for engine with 3 or 4 cylinders

Snowmobile
SAE J2567
82 dB”

Note that the MTC’s exemption for trucks over 14,000 pounds GVWR was simply based on the observation that 14,000 pounds correlated with other regulations, and it matched the GVWR of the most capable version of one-ton truck available. However after the lengthy discussion on GVWR on April 20th, it’s clear that the commission is not taking GVWR lightly, so I presume that the MTC would defer to your decision. After all, the MTC’s November 12th letter stated “Because the MTC represents enthusiasts of off-highway motorcycle, ATV, UTV, 4WD, and snowmobile recreation, we support requiring sound standards for those vehicle types (based on SAE J1287, J1492, and J2567 respectively). We encourage Grand County to approach enthusiasts of on-highway motorcycle, car, and heavy-truck use before requiring sound standards for those vehicle types.”

In February RwR facilitated a UTV sound-testing demonstration for county and city officials. We are glad to see that the approved county ordinance and draft city ordinance don’t limit UTVs to 88 dB by SAE J1287 for model years 2024 and later because it is unrealistic for manufacturers to achieve, especially when it comes their sport models, which are more suitable than utility models for 4WD trails in Moab. A 92 dB limit is justified given the higher levels of non-muffler sound when compared to off-highway motorcycles (aka dirt bikes) for which the J1287 procedure and 96 dB standard were developed (including UTVs’ greater sound from tires, drivelines, and the engine’s typical operating speed as well as its duty cycle due to the continuously-variable transmission (CVT) or even just the higher payload for models that lack a CVT). A 92 dB limit is attainable for all kinds of UTV, although it may require an aftermarket muffler like the HMF Twin Loop, but the additional cost will significantly help resolve noise concerns. This arrangement is similar to “closed course” models of motorcycle that should have an aftermarket muffler like the FMF Q series installed to bring them below a 96 dB limit.

On April 16th, RwR invited county and city officials to a demonstration with other vehicle types on April 19th, and we appreciate all five county officials who attended especially considering the short notice. In response, the county’s April 19th draft adjusted the automobile limit (from 88 dB to 92 dB by J1492), the dirt bike limit (from 90 dB to 92 dB by J1287), and the on-highway motorcycle (aka street bike) limit (from 90 dB by J1287 to 92 dB by J2825) before doing away with stationary sound testing in the April 20th draft. There is a lot more work that went into the MTC’s suggested limits (which are endorsed by their respective industry groups, enthusiast groups, and codified by many states).

For automobiles, all five states that codify a stationary sound limit by J1492 (or older methods that are equivalent) have chosen 95 dB. If Grand County regulates automobile equipment more strictly than these states, our own state legislature may intervene. Fortunately a 95 dB limit would be effective (especially in combination with other provisions of the draft noise ordinance like the one against throttle jockeying in addition to traditional tools like citations for speeding or reckless driving). The demo 4WD rig (a 2006 Wrangler TJ Unlimited) that measured 95 dB by J1492 did have an aftermarket muffler, but it is actually of a higher quality and lower sound than most other aftermarket mufflers, and the vehicle was not excessively loud when in use (i.e. passing by). It is one of many automobiles that measures over 92 dB by J1492 yet is not contributing to our noise problem. Even the demo sports car (2016 Ford Mustang GT with ROUSH Stage 3 conversion) that measured 93 dB J1492 is a lot quieter than the street racers that cause a nuisance downtown, which tend to have a rattle at certain RPMs that is captured by J1492 due to an RPM sweep (from idle up to the target engine speed, with the test result being at whichever RPM was loudest). Many car-show vehicles exceed 100 dB by J1492, and they could be exempted (based on time of day
/ location / manner of use) if you so choose. The 95 dB standard by J1492 is accepted by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).

For dirt bikes, a limit of 96 dB by J1492 is the law in a dozen states including the surrounding states of NM, CO, WY, and ID. Your consulting firm used a small study from 2005 in California to justify a 90 dB limit. As mentioned in your workshop, the study’s actual recommendation is to allow at least 94 dB, and a lot of research has been done since then that finds some dirt bikes with mufflers labeled as EPA compliant measuring up to 96 dB in unmodified condition. The April 19th demo dirt bikes (2012 KTM 350 EXC-F and 2005 Honda CRF250X) with EPA-labeled mufflers measured about 92 dB by J1287, which the April 19th draft ordinance used as justification to set the limit at 92 dB. I have told the county and city that RwR has measured dirt bikes with unmodified EPA-labeled mufflers at well-over 92 dB, and this point has been confirmed by sound professionals who have measured thousands of vehicles. Yet on April 20th the county attorney continued claiming that all motorcycles can meet a 92 dB limit, and the city continues to propose this limit. A 92 dB limit requires exempting EPA-labeled dirt bikes, which creates a huge loophole for people to exploit by removing baffles or drilling out their stock mufflers. The solution is to adopt the 96 dB standard that can be required of every muffler regardless of its label. Further, a 96 dB limit would compel motorcyclists who have noisy mufflers to buy a quieter one because they know it would achieve compliance. However many of them would fail to find a replacement muffler that reliably measures under 92 dB so, if the limit is set at 92 dB, they would be less likely to get a quieter muffler and more likely to just try to evade enforcement.

A final note on dirt bikes is that the county’s April 19th draft proposed to subject street-legal dirt bikes to J2825, which was not designed for any kind of dirt bike, and in fact would be too lenient for dirt bikes given that J2825 tests single-cylinder motorcycles at just 2,000 RPM (which is justified for street bikes because they tend to have more torque to essentially idle through town). Therefore we encourage using the MTC’s suggested definition of an off-highway motorcycle “any motorcycle that is designed for use on trails or natural terrain, regardless of whether or not it is also designed for on-highway use.” This will capture dirt bikes, dual-sport bikes (i.e. street legal dirt bikes), and adventure bikes (which are larger and more street-oriented but still somewhat capable on dirt). All of these models are listed in the J1287 supplement (that shows the test RPM for each model), so they should be subject to J1287. Then the ordinance could regard all motorcycles not designed for use on trails or natural terrain as “on-highway motorcycles” subject to J2825.

Regarding street bikes, it was good to see the county’s April 19th draft utilize J2825, but it should distinguish between 3- and 4-cylinder street bikes (which are tested at 5,000 RPM) and all other street bikes (which are tested at 2,000 RPM) for reasons explained in the SAE publication “”Development of the J2825 On-Highway Motorcycle Sound Test”” that I shared at the April 19th demo. The limit for on-highway motorcycles should be 100 dB for engines with 3 or 4 cylinders and 96 dB for engines with less than 3 cylinders or more than 4 cylinders. For one thing, the SAE does not advise using J2825 to enforce limits below those figures. For another thing, those standards are law in NH and other parts of the U.S. as well as Canada. The demo touring-oriented street bike (2008 BMW K1200GT, which has 4 cylinders) measured 95 dB by J2825, and sounded quiet under normal operation because it could pass by at less than 5,000 RPM. Since your consulting firm asked about another unit of the same model, yes, I measured it at 93 dB. Since your consulting firm asked about maintenance, I should point out that most stock mufflers are a mechanical design that doesn’t require repacking like many of the fiberglass-insulated aftermarket mufflers do. The primary way to reduce the sound of a K1200GT would be to replace the muffler, which BMW sells for over $1,500. The 96/100 dB standard by J2825 and 96 dB standard by J1287 are accepted by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC). Only by adopting these standards (or more lenient ones) can stationary sound limits be enforced on all motorcycles regardless of the labels on their mufflers. In other words, if you set limits stricter than 96 dB, you won’t close the enormous loophole that allows mufflers to be extremely loud so long as they have EPA labels.

On April 20th, the county attorney urged abandoning stationary sound testing for motorcycles, stating “The other issue is that there are two different SAE tests that are applied to motorcycles. And again we’re just getting into more complication. So now we’re asking law enforcement; it would be three total tests. Off-road would be the J1287 test. You’d have vehicles at J1492. And then you’d have street bikes at 2825. And again it’s an additional test, an additional complication for law enforcement for probably very little to zero increased enforcement effect.” While officers should be trained to conduct stationary sound testing properly, once you know how to conduct one test, it’s easy to learn a second one. They typically vary in just a few ways, and it becomes routine with practice. The complication of learning three tests is far exceeded by the complication of applying a test to different vehicle types than what the SAE intended. The notion that, compared to requiring EPA labels, enforcing J1287 and J2825 offers very little to zero increased effect on curtailing noise is completely wrong.

Data Sources

Your consulting firm insisted that all motorcycles with unmodified mufflers in decent working order will measure under 90 dB by J1287. The April 19th demo disproved this assertion, and really it should’ve been common knowledge for anyone who has worked in sound regulation for that past quarter century, not to mention the common knowledge that J1287 is not the appropriate stationary test for street bikes. Yet on April 20th the county attorney appeared to be unconcerned, and recommended that the commission hire your consulting firm to help the city police and the county sheriff create a data management plan. Likewise the consulting firm has made poor suggestions to the city, such as prohibiting heavy trucks from idling for more than one minute, which the MTC addressed with the city attorney before she extended it to five minutes.

In contrast, I tried to understand more about the consulting firm. The final report of “Noisy Motorcycles—An Environmental Quality-of-Life Issue,” a roundtable sponsored by The INCE Foundation and The Noise Control Foundation in 2013, states:
“Representing the public, Les Blomberg from the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse expressed concern that the SAE J2825 is not strict enough. Because the SAE procedure is quite different from the current federal procedure, he stated there are motorcycles that would fail the EPA test, but pass the SAE test. He would prefer to see an alternative test that would fail every vehicle that is failed by the EPA test. He also wants to make sure that any wording change in the regulation would not require a vehicle to pass the EPA test or the J2825 test. His concern is that such language would allow a driver who fails J2825 to claim that his motorcycle passes the EPA test, which an enforcement officer can’t determine. Roundtable participants agreed not to recommend a change in the requirement that motorcycles meet the EPA test standard.”

The consulting firm appears to expect perfect enforcement of EPA standards in the field despite obvious limitations that are inherent to all motor vehicles (not just motorcycles). Likewise the consulting firm has advocated banning car alarms and the use of cell phones in public spaces (presumably to talk, not to text). I can relate to the irritation of false alarms and loud phone talkers, but there appears to be a pattern of unrealistic positions. This approach is more characteristic of an advocacy group, and in fact the consulting firm is a 501c3 organization, with past support from Sierra Club and NRDC. The firm’s own website touts the fact that CBS News Sunday Morning declared the firm to be “The nation’s major anti-noise interest group.” How county and city funds are spent is not up to me, but I’d like you to know what you’re getting, and how the work may be perceived by affected vehicle owners, businesses, and legislators.

EPA-Label Requirements

As alluded to in the section on stationary sound limits, thousands upon thousands of EPA-labeled mufflers in use are unacceptably loud, whether through internal modification or decades of deterioration. For example, consider the loudness graph that your consulting firm dramatized by stretching the scale, equating to semi-truck sound levels (even though the 80 dB federal pass-by standard is at hard acceleration, and motorcycles wind up going a lot faster in that test than semi-trucks, so it doesn’t mean that motorcycles are as loud as semi-trucks when following the same flow of traffic), and exploiting the diminishing effect of additional vehicles (e.g. the total sound of 50 semi-trucks simultaneously passing isn’t much more than that of 32 semi-trucks). The consulting firm’s conclusions relied primarily on a single motorcycle that measured 95 dB by J1287 yet 97 dB by the federal pass-by test (i.e. it passed California’s stationary standard yet exceeded the federal pass-by standard by 15 dB). That particular motorcycle, a KTM 525 EXC, had a stock muffler with an EPA label. Even if that motorcycle got louder, it would continue to pass an EPA-label requirement, but would fail to pass a 96 dB limit.

Meanwhile thousands upon thousands of mufflers lacking the EPA label are reasonably quiet, which makes EPA label requirements grossly ineffective at curtailing noise. On April 20th the county attorney stated “100% of motorcycles tested that did not have the EPA stamp required under federal regulation fail 92 dBA at 20″ and 80 dBA at 25′ standards.” First of all, that was a sample size of two motorcycles, where as I have been motorcycling for a quarter of a century, and am keenly familiar with noise culprits, which is a function of the muffler far more than the model of motorcycle. For example, all modern two-stroke dirt bikes lack the EPA label, but most of them have more torque than older versions which allows riders to keep the engine speed low, and the sound dissipates faster than four-strokes. Modern two-strokes are among the quietest dirt bikes despite their lack of EPA labels.

The demo dirt bike with a stock muffler that has no EPA label (2021 KTM 350 XC) measured over 98 dB by J1287. RwR agrees that this is too loud, and the owner is in the process of adding a cap to reach 96 dB or a whole new muffler such as the FMF Q to reach 94 dB. As the bike deteriorates or is accessorized with things like metal skid plates that reflect sound back toward the muffler, this bike will not meet a standard lower than 96 dB. Although RwR encourages EPA compliances, and we walk the walk with our own bikes, there are many reasons why people choose “closed course” models. Skilled youth riders depend on them because they quickly out-grow the entry-level models. Women often prefer the lighter weight of two-stroke engines, all of which are still “closed course” despite major emissions improvements from fuel injection. Racers would rather not spend another ten-thousand dollars on a second bike for non-race riding.

The most popular brand of dirt bike is KTM (which sells alternate models under the Husqvarna and Gas Gas brands), and the vast majority of its dirt-bike models are “”closed course,”” which could be outfitted with a quiet- oriented aftermarket muffler to meet a limit of 96 dB but not 92 dB. Note that quiet-oriented dirt bike mufflers almost always have spark arrestors. On April 20th the county’s commission administrator pointed out that you can’t legally ride a closed-course model on federal property because it lacks a spark arrestor. However the lack of a spark arrestor actually compels most riders to replace the muffler or at least the end cap, both of which reduce sound for most models. Further, enforcing the spark-arrestor requirement is a better indication of reasonable sound levels than an EPA-label requirement would be. Spark arrestors are also easier than enforcing an EPA-label requirement (by simply inserting a metal wire in the outlet to ensure that it’s blocked by the presence of a spark arrestor).

Verifying EPA labels is often challenging in the field. The labels are required of manufacturers, not consumers, which anticipates that the setting of an inspection would be a showroom floor or dealership service department rather than roadside after thousands of miles of use. Consequently the EPA labels on brand-new motorcycles:

  1. Lack a contrast with their background on virtually every model,
  2. Are placed in a location that’s subject to grime or rubbing on most models,
  3. Are placed in a location that requires laying down to view on many models,
  4. Are placed in a location that requires minor disassembly (e.g. heat shield) to view on some models,
  5. Are placed in a location that requires major disassembly (e.g. rear wheel) to view on some models, and
  6. May be removed by the consumer without violating EPA regulation

For examples, see this report from motorcycle advocates in New York City:
http://www.syntheticmachine.net/EPA%20Label%20Survey.pdf
The lack of contrast is probably due to the fact that the external surface of motorcycle mufflers routinely reach 200F. Extreme heat is the same reason that most EPA labels aren’t “stickers” despite how some people continue to refer to them. When your consulting firm suggested using a glove to wipe mud off of muffler to find an EPA label, I wonder if they know that mud from Mancos Shale and other bentonite clay hardens around mufflers like pottery in a kiln. The EPA labels on mufflers are often worn by tire rubbing, and blocked by accessories like storage boxes. To truly verify a label, officers should match the unique code on the muffler label with the unique code stamped on the headset (separate from the VIN), which indicates that the muffler is EPA compliant for use on that particular model of motorcycle. The EPA label on the headset is often worn by cable rubbing, and blocked by accessories like aftermarket fuel tanks (requiring tools to disassemble).

The county attorney said that finding the EPA label was easy on all of the roughly twelve motorcycles that she has tested and/or inspected. I know that she tested one of my motorcycles that does not have its EPA label visible without removing a storage box, which we did not do. Also, once the storage box is removed, an officer would find that the EPA label is upside down and heavily obscured by grime despite that the label faces outward and is only three years old.

On April 20th the county attorney asked “The stamp is required by federal law, so why not leave it there? Why are we incentivizing by creating this loophole for people like the street-bike that we tested, for an individual to buy an illegal muffler when there are millions of mufflers out there that are legal?” As I’ve said, it’s not required of the consumer, and the real loophole is exempting EPA-labelled mufflers from being sound tested. Mufflers lacking an EPA label is no loophole because they would be sound tested just the same. Further there are not millions of mufflers out there with EPA labels for most closed-course models, models that are roughly 25 years old, or custom builds. EPA-labelled mufflers are not only more expensive, but they’re unattainable for a substantial portion of motorcycles.

Regarding the reach of motorcycle sound limits or EPA-label requirements, on April 19th the county attorney and commission administrator assured me that the latest draft confines such requirements to Class B roads with the intention of being confined to street-legal motorcycles in residential areas. However the county’s approved ordinance makes no such confinement, while it does confine the pass-by sound limits to Class B roads. The ordinance provides a separate definition of street-legal motorcycles from other motorcycles, so it could’ve easily confined the EPA-label requirement to street-legal motorcycles. Although the ordinance identifies residential areas as its primary goal, it also identifies balancing the natural quiet of the surrounding desert landscape as a secondary goal, which could be used to justify enforcing motorcycle sound limits or EPA-label requirements virtually anywhere in the county.

Even if it were limited to residential streets, most access roads to the nearby trails are residential. On April 20th the county attorney dismissed the idea that closed-course models are converted to be street legal by stating “There was an admission that they [closed-course models] are not comfortable to drive on the streets.” This refers to a conversation she had with a Marine Corps veteran who certainly couldn’t have been referring to the brief street riding needed to reach trailheads or to connect with other trails and towns. He must have been referring to long-distance highway riding, which isn’t the only reason to make one’s dirt bike street-legal. Not only is riding to the trail easier than trailering, it’s less consumptive, as dirt bikes on the open road get better fuel economy than hybrid cars. Also please keep in mind that rules pertaining to Class B roads that are graded dirt would still affect all dirt bikers. Rides are commonly 50- to 100-miles long, and graded roads are needed to connect trails.

Similarly the city’s draft ordinance states that motorcycle EPA-label requirements, pass-by sound limits, and stationary sound limits (including the much lower ones during restricted hours) would apply to all public roadways. Moab City includes parts of 4WD trails like Hells Revenge and Moab Rim, which are Class D roads. Therefore all of those requirements and sound limits would apply to street-legal and non-street vehicles alike, and justifications like “just trailer to the trailhead” aren’t any consolation. RwR actually encourages making sound regulations reach beyond residential areas to the public lands so long as they’re reasonable. Stationary standards like 96 dB by J1287 for dirt bikes wouldn’t need distinctions (e.g. city/county, residential/non-residential, paved/dirt, road/trail), rather they should protect all of the county all of the time.

Now that our convictions are clear, please stop asking motorcyclists to follow an EPA-label requirement that applies to manufacturers, while telling them not to worry about this aspect of a new noise ordinance being enforced. Instead make prudent rules that can be enforced uniformly, and I promise we’ll help through peer pressure.

Restricted Hours

The county’s approved ordinance and city’s draft ordinance that reduce the pass-by sound limits 2 dB during nighttime might work since the reduced traffic should enable reduced acceleration. However the city’s proposal to limit all vehicles under 10,000 pounds GVWR to 85 dB by a stationary test would effectively place a curfew on a substantial minority of cars/trucks and the vast majority of motorcycles / UTVs. Stationary sound tests are an equipment requirement, and the equipment obviously doesn’t get quieter at night, so it’s essentially a method to exclude certain vehicle types. It would not help the city in earning trust that it would regulate vehicles reasonably, as you’d have some restaurant workers unable to use their only vehicles, not to mention tourists trying to get going before 9am on a Sunday in the summer.

Pass-By Sound Limits

During the April 19th sound demonstration, we made rough measurements of the demo vehicles followed by even rougher measurements of traffic on Mill Creek Drive. Keep in mind that we mostly measured vehicles in the downhill direction, which are several decibels quieter than vehicles in the uphill direction, which are several- decibels quieter than vehicles on a steeper hill or accelerating from a stop. The presentation during the April 20th commission meeting indicates that pass-by limits would be used primarily at intersections for acceleration. Therefore the limit at fifty feet should be raised from 74 to 80 dB, which is the federal standard for on-highway motorcycles (and 2 dB less than the federal standard for off-highway motorcycles or semi-trucks). While these standards involve hard acceleration that can usually be avoided in everyday use, non-stock tires and other common accessories add to the total sound, which makes 80 dB appropriate for enforcement purposes (provided that the ordinance specify a recognized test methodology). If the ordinance specifies that pass-by limits are only for screening, or only for cruising on fairly flat ground, a limit under 80 dB may be appropriate. Just keep in mind that 80 dB at fifty feet is low enough to catch all of the worst offenders.

Perhaps pass-by limits are deliberately strict to compensate for a lack of enforcement. The idea would be that, when people know that they’re in violation, they’ll at least mind their manners. One limitation of this approach is that the “violators” eventually catch on to the empty threat of enforcement. Another limitation is that being labelled a “violator” can breed contempt. It can also be problematic for officers who will be accused of picking on certain “violators” arbitrarily, while being accused of failing to act by other citizens who will expect enforcement to its fullest extent. If you set a low limit now with the intent to provide a cushion, that intent may be lost as the years go by. Let’s retain good officers by giving them reasonable standards to enforce closely and consistently for everyone’s benefit.

Property Line Sound Limits

The city’s proposed residential property-line sound limits of 55/50 dB for day/night are too low, and even the county’s approved limits of 60/55 dB for day/night are too low considering the Fast sound-meter setting that’s specified. Such limits would be exceeded by a single bounce of the basketball, bark of the dog, or shut of the tailgate. Unless they’re far louder, such fleeting sounds are not the issue, which is why environmental sound readings usually average over the course of minutes or even hours. If this duration is deemed impractical, then at least specify a Slow sound-meter setting, or set limits significantly higher than 60/55 dB. The need to list so many exemptions is an indication that the limit is too strict.

Plainly-Audible Sound Limits

The city’s draft ordinance prohibits vehicle sound that’s plainly audible from a distance of 1,000 feet. “Plainly audible” standards are more appropriate for larger city’s that consistently have a higher ambient sound level. The Moab city limits includes relatively remote settings. Even on Main Street, there are times when normal operation of a normal vehicle is plainly audible from a distance far greater than 1,000 feet. Therefore the “plainly audible” standard should be limited to places and times when the ambient sound is consistently high, or it should be extended to a distance of 2,000 feet.

The city’s draft ordinance also sets limits in terms of dBC, which captures inaudible sounds, and is difficult to get repeated and confirmable results. Fortunately it’s generally needed only for industrial zones involving very low frequency sounds, so it could be removed from the city’s draft to reduce the burden of enforcement.

Vehicle-Owner Liability

The city’s draft ordinance makes vehicle owners liable for the sound produced by their vehicles when operated by another person. This may make sense when it comes to stationary sound limits because they’re an equipment requirement. However it makes no sense for pass-by or plainly-audible sound limits, which measure the manner of use. Vehicle owners should not be held responsible for the behavior of drivers when it comes to noise any more than speed or recklessness.

Sound-Meter Response Setting

“The county’s approved ordinance and city’s draft ordinance define “dBA” as the sound pressure level using the “A” frequency weighting and the fast response setting (unless otherwise noted or required by testing standards established by the county). The Fast setting measures sound in less than two-tenths of a second, often capturing spikes that aren’t detectable by human hearing, and yielding inconsistent results. Recognized test methods that call for a Fast setting either specify a long duration (in the case of environmental sound measurements) or a series of measurements that prove to be consistent (in the case of some vehicle sound measurements). The sound ordinances should define the Slow setting by default (unless otherwise noted or required by testing standards established by the county/city), as this provides a time sample of at least one second.

Motorboats

The city’s draft ordinance prohibits motorboat operation from exceeding “a sound level of (a) 80 dBA at 50 feet; or (b) 70 dBA at any shoreline; or (c) 80 dBC at any shoreline.” The state of Utah already quantified the sound limit for motorboat mufflers in R651-222 (enclosed). For engines manufactured after 1992, the state limits sound to 88 dBA by the SAE J2005 stationary test. This test appears comparable to the city’s proposed limit of ” 80 dBA at 50″ feet,” with the state’s limit being 8 dBA higher. The state also limits sound to 75 dBA by the SAE J1970 pass-by test, which appears to be comparable to the city’s proposed limit of ” 70 dBA at any shoreline,” with the state’s limit being 5 dBA higher. If so, the city shouldn’t set equipment requirements stricter than the state’s, as equipment requirements are primarily set by states. Instead the city could include the state’s motorboat muffler rules if it would aid enforcement.

Conclusion

Although the rationale may be verbose, RwR’s suggested revisions are specific and pragmatic, and I would be happy to answer any questions or concerns in the coming days. Thank you for considering all sides of this critical issue.

Sincerely,
Clif Koontz
Executive Director

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Public Scoping Comments Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan

 

Ride with Respect, COHVCO and the TPA comment in the scoping phase for the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan near Moab, UT.


Submitted through the BLM EPlanning Website on the BLM National NEPA Register, and via email

ATTENTION:
Moab Field Office Canyon Country District
Bureau of Land Management
blm_ut_mb_comments@blm.gov

RE: Public Scoping Comments by Ride with Respect, Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition and Trails Preservation Alliance concerning the BLM’s Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan Environmental Assessment, DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2020-0097-EA

Dear Sir or Madame,

Introduction and Background of the Commenting Rider Groups

Ride with Respect (RwR), Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVO) and Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) (collectively “the Rider Groups”), by and through their undersigned counsel, appreciate this opportunity to submit the following scoping comments in the above-referenced Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Travel Management Plan (TMP) environmental assessment (EA) process.

The Rider Groups have been involved in discussions regarding access to areas in the TMA for decades both in travel plans and resources management plans. COHVCO and TPA are signatories to the subject 2017 Utah Statewide TMP Court Settlement Agreement. They along with RwR have been active advocates in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges TMA. Specifically within this area, since 2008 RwR has contributed several-thousand hours of high-quality trail work to assist BLM in implementing and refining its travel plan. With many volunteers who were also part of COHVCO and the TPA, RwR has blocked-off closed routes, delineated the open routes, repainted blazes on slickrock, and installed hundreds of signs, dozens of fences, and a half-dozen cattle guards. With grants from the Utah OHV Program, they implemented a dozen major reroutes to move trails away from sensitive resources with a design that promotes sustainability, safety, and the satisfaction of various trail users. Reevaluating the whole travel plan has actually sidetracked the site-specific progress that we have made.
However RwR intends to continue assisting the BLM, and the Utah OHV Program now offers five times more grant funding for trail work and related projects, which comes from the dedicated and reliable revenue stream of OHV registrations.

In the view of the Rider Groups, the Moab area continues to be a global destination for the motorized community. Given the significant restrictions to motorized usage throughout the Moab Field Office, combined with the significant expansion of visitation, there is a definite need to keep the existing motorized travel routes in the TMA open to public use.

I. Scoping Comments

Rider Groups incorporate by reference the written scoping comments in this submitted April 25, 2021 by Off-Road Business Association, One Voice, United Four-Wheel Drive Association, and United Snowmobile Alliance, and reiterate the following points from those comments among others:

  1. The EA should consider at the landscape level the many opportunities for solitude and non-motorized recreation that already exist throughout the Moab Field Office planning area, before considering whether any such additional areas should be designated within the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges TMA at the expense of existing motorized roads and trails already there.
  2. Even in the immediate vicinity of the TMA, there are newly designated opportunities for the highest levels of solitude and quiet recreation by virtue of the newly designated 54,563 acre Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness area directly to the west of the TMA. The EA should take this into consideration.
  3. The EA should also examine the extent of non-motorized recreational opportunities that exist in the two large national parks available on the Moab landscape. The 77,000 acre Arches National Park is immediately adjacent to the east of the planning area and 338,000 acre Canyonlands National Park is immediately adjacent to the south of the planning area. Of course motorized usage is entirely prohibited or heavily restricted by Federal law in these Parks. While there is motorized access to Canyonlands, this access is exceptionally limited as the Park expressly aims to provide a back-country experience on almost 90% of its acreage. The EA therefore should take into consideration the vast opportunities for non-motorized recreation in these two National Parks.
  4. Portions of the Green River that bound the TMA to the west were designated by the Dingell Act of 2019 as a scenic segment or segments in the National Wild and Scenic River system. As such, the river shorelines are to be managed as largely primitive and undeveloped though accessible by roads. This is in contrast to a possible Wild designation in the Wild and Scenic River system, under which road access would have been prohibited. The BLM should take special care in scoping this EA to ensure an alternative to protect existing road access to the Green River in the TMA, especially when considering that existing motorized road access to the River is already significantly lower than historically provided.
  5. The scope of the EA should include careful review and compliance with the 2008 BLM Moab Field Office Resource Management Plan (“RMP”). Simply put, the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges TMP should be a tool to apply existing RMP goals and objectives and are not the basis for significant landscape level changes that would conflict with the RMP. While the RMP closes 22% of the Moab Field Office planning area to motorized usage, the RMP specifically identifies the area covered by the present TMP rea as a motorized expansion area. Accordingly, the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges TMA general is the most appropriate in the Moab Field Office planning area for motorized use.
  6. The scope of the EA should include the fulfillment of facilities goals and objectives for the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) set forth in the 2008 RMP. These SRMA goals and objectives are specifically identified in the RMP as follows:

“Potential Future Facilities:
– Bartlett Campground: camping in this area would be restricted to this campground.
– Big Mesa Campground: camping in this area would be restricted to this campground.
– Blue Hills Road OHV Trailhead.
– Courthouse Rock Campground, camping in this area would be restricted to this campground.
– Cowboy Camp Campground, camping in this area would be restricted to this campground.
– Monitor and Merrimac Bicycle and OHV Trailhead relocation.
– White Wash Sand Dunes OHV Parking and Camping Area.
– Gemini Bridges Parking Area and Trailhead.”1

  1. The Moab Field Office has made progress on some of these goals. The scope of the present EA should consider employing all means necessary to make progress toward completing all of these goals.
  2. It should be noted that the foregoing facilities related goals of the RMP, for which the current EA’s scope should provide and include, are inconsistent with an imaginary need to convert the use of the TMA for solitude non-motorized recreation. To the contrary, in the 2008 RMP final environmental impact statement, recreational access for multiple use was highlighted as part of the overall strategy for the Moab Field Office as follows:

“3.11.2.5 DEMAND FOR FACILITY DEVELOPMENT
In the past 15 years, the MFO has constructed and maintained a variety of recreation infrastructure. However, the present level of facility development is still not sufficient to meet the needs of the recreating public, nor is it sufficient to protect resources from the recreating public. Areas within the Grand ERMA that are receiving heavy visitation and camping use will require facilities such as camping areas, toilets, information kiosks, marked routes and parking areas in the very near future. These areas include the Utah 313 corridor, the area northwest of Moab known as Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges (including Ten Mile Canyon and White Wash Sand Dunes), the Bartlett Wash/Mill/Tusher Canyon areas, Klondike Bluffs, Bar M, areas south of Moab, Utah Rims, and Kane Creek Crossing area. It is reasonable to expect that, in the next 15 years, recreation facilities construction will continue to be needed, although the pace of construction is expected to lessen. With visitation to BLM administered public lands around Moab continuing to increase (and with the need for additional facilities already extant with the present visitation), facilities to provide for these visitors must keep pace in order to protect the land and to provide for human sanitation. Current use levels continue to produce degradation of resources, and additional facilities are needed to accommodate visitation and stabilize resource values. Examples of demand-driven development include: 1) providing camping facilities where dispersed camping activity exceeds capacity, or 2) providing marked OHV or bike routes when numbers and types of users change so that route marking can maintain public safety and protect resources. In addition, providing for vehicular users often requires building parking lots, trailheads and toilet facilities.”2

  1. The scope of the EA should consider in detail how BLM’s ongoing management of existing roads and trails has significantly reduced conflicts between motorized use, and mechanized and non-motorized use. Documenting these historical facts in the EA, about how current management is generally working to resolve such conflicts, justifies the preservation if not the reasonable expansion of motorized routes and specific other motorized related access goals in the TMA.
  2. The scope of the EA should ensure that minimization criteria are applied correctly to address user conflicts. In particular, for the reasons stated in the April 25, 2021 scoping comments submitted in this matter by Off-Road Business Association, One Voice, United Four-Wheel Drive Association, and United Snowmobile Alliance, the BLM should eschew the incorrect interpretation of minimization criteria foisted by the Wilderness Society in its publication entitled, “Achieving Compliance with the Executive Order “Minimization Criteria” for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Federal Public Lands: Background, Case Studies, and Recommendations and Travel Analysis Best Practices: A Review of Completed Travel Analysis Process Reports.”
  3. The scope of the EA should include and provide for multiple alternatives for addressing and minimizing user conflicts, requiring that any assertions of user conflicts be documented in the scientific process; instead of just accepting wholesale assertions of conflicts and applying a simple closure/no closure binary alternative and analysis for addressing such conflicts. More details on the science of imagined user conflicts and ways to address them are set forth in the above-referenced scoping comments of Off-Road Business Association, One Voice, United Four-Wheel Drive Association, and United Snowmobile Alliance.

II. Rider Groups submit the following additional scoping comments:

  1. Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges may be the most high-profile TMA of the 2017 Court settlement agreement because it includes Easter Jeep Safari routes like Rusty Nail, Where Eagles Dare, and Hey Joe Canyon along with less-popular 4WD routes that provide a more primitive opportunity. The prized network of motorized singletrack includes Cow Freckles Trail, Dead Cow Loop, upper Red Wash routes, and a couple singletracks that reach Crystal Geyser. Local leaders support improving OHV links to Green River for tourism. Careful consideration toward preserving motorized use of these areas should be included in the scope of the EA.
  2. Another important scoping aspect is to include in the EA, consideration of all existing routes on the ground in addition to all currently-designated routes. Consideration of all existing routes on the ground should not be delayed or postponed. Otherwise it may be unduly difficult for the BLM to demonstrate minimization when their baseline is the current designated routes as opposed to all the existing routes, which is essentially what the baseline was in 2008 prior to approval of the current travel plan.
  3. To put the roads and trails baseline point more specifically, the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Rims EA should define its baseline as all the routes inventoried and analyzed by the 2008 RMP (including the 2003 Trails of Dubinky map by Bookcliff Rattlers Motorcycle Club (BRMC)) in addition to routes submitted by RwR but not analyzed by the BLM.3
  4. In support of the foregoing point, the 2017 court settlement agreement states that the existing TMPs will remain in effect until the BLM issues new TMPs for the twelve TMAs. However it does not state that the existing TMPs will become the baseline for analysis of the new TMPs. Since the 2017 settlement agreement essentially directs the BLM to revisit eleven parts of the 2008 TMPs, the appropriate baseline would be the one that was used to develop the 2008 TMPs in the first place, which is the No Action Alternative of the 2008 FEIS. In other words, to revisit the eleven parts of the 2008 TMPs, we must consider the motorized-travel policies that existed prior to the 2008 RODs.
  5. Consistent with the two previous points, the EA should provide for one alternative to include all the existing routes (or at least all of the ones considered prior to the 2008 travel plan). That would amply show how much minimization the BLM has already done through the closure decisionmaking done as part of the 2008 ROD. At the very least, the EA should acknowledge the amount of routes inventoried by the BLM and others like RwR prior to 2008.
  6. The EA should be properly scoped to recognize that the 2019 Dingell Act prohibits buffering wilderness areas. Accordingly, even though Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is close to the Labyrinth Rims TMA, its proximity does not justify further restrictions in TMA areas adjacent to the Wilderness area. This anti-buffering legislative purpose would be improperly undercut were the BLM to give into pressure to curtail public motorized in the TMA adjacent to the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness.
  7. In any event, recreationists seeking solitude within the TMA can consistently find it in the undulating terrain of this canyon country. They may even find it on motorized routes, as protecting the resource of a high mileage of routes reduces the frequency of motorized use on any given route. Further Rider Groups have supported minimum-impact education and reasonable sound standards (such as a limit of 96 dB by SAE J1287 for off-highway motorcycles, which is already law in Colorado) to largely eliminate excessive sound.
  8. Extending from Dubinky Well to the city of Green River is the Dubinky trail system, primarily composed of motorized singletrack. BLM-sanctioned motorcycle races that took place there throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and use has multiplied in each subsequent decade. This increased demand for trails warrants adjusting the scope of the EA to provide for increasing the supply of designated trails in the Dubinky trail system, as decreasing the supply would only concentrate and exacerbate negative impacts.
  9. The importance of adhering to the 2008 RMP and using the current EA as a tool to further implement the 2008 RMP, has already been stressed above. Here are some more particulars to include in the scope of the EA in the name of honoring the 2008 RMP:
    • The 2008 RMP designated Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Rims as a SRMA, and it includes the OHV focus areas of Dee Pass Motorized Trail Area, White Wash Sand Dunes Open OHV Area, and Gemini Bridges / Poison Spider Mesa Backcountry Touring Area. The EA should be properly scoped to protect those RMP sanctioned uses.
    • The 2008 RMP also rejected some pressure from
      wilderness-expansion groups to close hundreds of miles of routes in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Rims TMA that have been left open since then. The wilderness-expansion groups continue to pressure land managers, but their position generally continues to be unjustified. We ask the BLM to show more of its work as needed, but not to capitulate to the threat of sue-and-settle tactics, as Rider Groups stand ready to continue to defend travel plans that provide OHV opportunities.
  1. The EA should be scoped to consider this important socio-economic resource value: OHV recreation is without question a major component of Moab’s tourism industry, and OHV riders tend to spend more per day than other recreationists. Putting this important socio-economic value in context, the 2008 RMP’s conversion of motorized recreation in the TMA from open cross-country or existing routes to designated routes (with the minor exception of White Wash Sand Dunes) means the surface impact to the land is less than 1% of the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Rims TMA.
  2. Comprehensive travel planning should obviously consider adding routes along with subtracting routes from the current TMP. Only when planners consider both options can they identify creative solutions. The 2017 settlement agreement does not direct the BLM to limit its scope to existing routes, let alone to currently-designated routes. If the BLM chooses to limit the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Rims EA’s scope to existing or currently-designated routes, as was done in the Canyon Rims EA, it should exercise great caution when considering the closure of any routes. Subsequent travel planning may determine that an existing route has potential value, for example, when an unremarkable spur route is extended to create a looping opportunity that organizes travel. Closing that spur in the interim would require field work to get compliance, followed by NEPA work to reopen it along with the extension, so it makes more sense to just leave the spur open on account of its potential use.
  3. When it comes to routes that are currently designated open, the EA’s scope should recognize that any lack of positive evidence of on-the-ground motorized use does not necessarily mean that:
    1. The routes have received no OHV use in recent years (as some terrain is prone to disguising evidence of use),
    2. The routes have no current value for OHV use (as a lack of use could be due to a lack of wayfinding signs),
    3. The routes have no potential value for OHV use (as the amount and types of recreational use increases), or
    4. Use of the routes would cause significant adverse impacts (as some routes are essentially innocuous).
  4. Consistent with the two previous points, the EA’s decision matrix should put the onus on requiring justification before closing any existing route, rather than requiring justification to keep an existing route open.

Sincerely,

/s/
Mark Ward, Legal Counsel BALANCE RESOURCES

For and On Behalf Of:

Ride with Respect
A Utah Nonprofit Corporation

Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition and Trails Preservation Alliance
Colorado Nonprofit Corporations and Signatories to the 2017 Settlement Agreement

 

1 See, Moab FO RMP FEIS 2008 at pg. 2-23
2 See, Moab Field Office 2008 RMP FEIS at pg. 3-90.
3 In 2003 RwR submitted the Copper Ridge Motorcycle Loop, but the BLM rejected the data as being redundant with the BRMC data despite the fact that the BRMC data was entirely west of U.S. 191 while the RwR data was entirely east of U.S. 191. In 2007 RwR submitted several more Dubinky routes that the BRMC data had missed in 2003. After all, the BLM had provided only two months—November and December of 2003—for the public to submit route data across the entire field office, most of which was covered in snow during the second month. The routes submitted by RwR in 2003 and 2007 were never considered for designation by the BLM; they deserve consideration in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Rims EA. At the very least, they should be part of the baseline for analysis in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Rims, as all of them existed prior to the area being limited to designated routes.

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Book Cliffs (Utah) Travel Management Area Comments

COHVCO TPA RWR logos

Book Cliffs Travel Management Area Comments

Bureau of Land Management Vernal Field Office
170 South 500 East
Vernal, UT 84078

Dear BLM Planning Team:

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on your draft Environmental Assessment of the Book Cliffs Travel Management Area (TMA). COHVCO and TPA are signatories to the subject 2017 settlement agreement, and RwR provided consultation to the OHV signatories. We encourage you to work with us in addition to local entities such as Uintah Riders All Terrain (URAT), Uintah County, and the state’s OHV Program that has expanded its Fiscal Incentive Grant program for all OHV trail work in addition to its own trail-work crews.

Our members access the Book Cliffs TMA from Vernal, from Moab or Green River via the road up Hay Canyon, from Grand Junction via the motorized singletrack toward Baxter Pass, and from Rangley via the Wagon Wheel OHV trails. These singletrack and doubletrack trail systems should be connected for day loops as well as overnight trips that connect the towns, which would support local tourism economies.

The Book Cliffs TMA is suitable for a high concentration of OHV routes because most of it is an oil-and-gas field. Routes utilized by the Outlaw ATV Jamboree form a great foundation, but additional routes are needed to provide diverse recreational opportunities. In particular the more primitive routes provide quality OHV riding, and these routes may appear to be partially “reclaimed” or hard to find, particularly if they have been closed since 2008. This appearance doesn’t justify closure since it doesn’t mean that:

  1. The routes have received no OHV use in recent years (as some terrain is prone to disguising evidence of use),
  2. The routes have no current value for OHV use (as a lack of use could be due to a lack of wayfinding signs),
  3. The routes have no potential value for OHV use (as the amount and types of recreational use increases), or
  4. Use of the routes would cause significant adverse impacts (as some routes are essentially innocuous).

Most of the routes closed in 2008 simply weren’t inventoried, thus they weren’t given due consideration, which is why it’s key to start this Travel Management Plan (TMP) process with a more thorough inventory to make a more informed decision. Even if the TMP were to designate all of the existing routes open, it would still occupy less than 1% of the acreage, which is important context since the area was open to cross-country travel until the 2008 decision that lead to the 2017 settlement agreement.

A more thorough inventory of resources might also identify more potential conflicts. We ask that you consider the full array of options to mitigate those conflicts. Route closure is often not needed or even the most effective solution. Alternatives include educating visitors how and why to practice minimum-impact guidelines, trail work (e.g. marking the trail / blocking off the sides / stabilizing the tread in order to prevent erosion and discourage bypassing), and rerouting the trail to avoid sensitive sites altogether. The environmental assessment should identify these solutions and set a course to pursue them rather than unnecessarily closing a route even temporarily. Route closures tend to have their own costs in terms of public relations, noncompliance, and the displacement of negative impacts. They should be done only as a last resort after fully pursuing less-restrictive measures.

Sincerely,

Scott Jones
Vice President
Colorado OHV Coalition

Chad Hixon
Executive Director
Trails Preservation Alliance

Clif Koontz
Executive Director
Ride with Respect

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Input on the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad

Department of Interior
Via email only @ oiea@ios.doi.gov

Re: EO 14008 – Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad

Dear Sirs:
Please accept this correspondence as the input and vigorous request of the motorized recreational community to participate in any collaborative efforts required under the Executive Order 14008 entitled “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” issued by President Biden on January 27, 2021. The motorized community is the single largest partner with public lands managers in providing sustainable recreational opportunities on public lands. This is a result of almost 50 years of NEPA analysis subsequent to EO 11644 and 11989 which mandated motorized route sustainability in the early 1970s and the hundreds of millions of dollars that our community provides to federal state and local land managers for sustainable recreational opportunities every year. Often this funding is leveraging resources such as AmeriCorps that are also sought to be expanded in the EO.

While we are in vigorous support of a healthy environment and eco-system and improved access requirements of EO, we are also generally confused by certain provisions of this EO such as the 30×30 provisions found §216(a)(1). As a result of this confusion, we are asking for more information on the Proposal and to participate in any discussions around implementation of the requirements moving forward. The Organizations are also keenly interested in the goal of improving access to recreation found in §214 of the EO. Given the almost 50 years of NEPA analysis of motorized recreational access on federal public lands, we cannot think of an interest group that would be better suited to provide input on the goals of improving access in the EO. We would like to avoid impacts to recreational opportunities on public lands and we would also like to understand what the process and ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars in direct funding from our community is used in the most effective and efficient manner it can be. This can only result from alignment of our programs and interests with the efforts under the Proposal.

1. Who we are.

Prior to addressing the specific input of the Organizations on the EO, we believe a brief summary of each Organization is needed. The Off-Road Business Association (“ORBA”) is a national not-for-profit trade association of motorized off-road related businesses formed to promote and preserve off-road recreation in an environmentally responsible manner. One Voice is a non-profit national association committed to promoting the rights of motorized enthusiasts and improving advocacy in keeping public and private lands open for responsible recreation through strong leadership, advocacy, and collaboration. One Voice provides a unified voice for motorized recreation through a national platform that represents the diverse off-highway vehicle (OHV) community. The United Snowmobile Alliance (“USA”) is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of environmentally responsible organized snowmobiling and the creation of safe and sustainable snowmobiling in the United States. United Four-Wheel Drive Association (“U4WD”) is an international organization whose mission is to protect, promote, and provide 4×4 opportunities world-wide. For purposes of this correspondence ORBA, One Voice, U4WD and USA will be referred to as “The Organizations”.

2. The Organizations vigorously support the goal of improving recreational access on public lands.

The Organizations vigorously support the goal of §214 in providing improved sustainable access to recreational opportunities on federal lands. For purposes of this section, we are using the term “sustainable” to reflect the broad range of goals and objectives including protecting resources, protecting against climate change impacts and reduction of greenhouse gases. The motorized community has devoted the last 50 years of effort to partnering with federal land managers to provide sustainable opportunities on public lands. As outlined in other portions of these comments, part of this sustainability has resulted from the large amount of funding that the motorized community has voluntarily created.

While these registration programs have been largely successful in providing sustainable opportunities, often planning efforts occurring at the same time have greatly reduced the overall levels of access for all types of recreation on public lands. As a result, in many areas public access to numerous areas is at levels that are 60% of access previously available, which has pushed many existing facilities to or beyond capacities. Over utilization of any resource causes impacts, and often the impacts of the utilization of limited facilities beyond capacities has been highlighted during the COVID outbreak, where visitation increases that might have been projected to take a decade to reach occurred in a year. We believe this impact can be resolved by expanding access in a thoughtful manner that reflects the large number of resources that are now available.
As a result of the history of increasing sustainability and reducing access the Organizations are uniquely situated to address the need for increased access for recreation. We are also uniquely situated to share successes and challenges of our experiences and share these with other interests seeking to improve recreational access in a sustainable manner.

3. What do we do for resource protection and sustainability?

As generally addressed above, the motorized community is the single largest partner in sustainable recreational access with all types of land managers, as a result of our user pay model effort being widely adopted with states. The coverage of this user pay model of sustainability is significant as each of the 22 snowbelt states have a snowmobile registration program that funds sustainable winter trails on USFS lands. The summer-based trail programs have generally encompassed more western states but this is not exclusive by any means, as numerous mid-western and eastern states have vigorous voluntary registration summer programs as well. An example of some of these programs are as follows:

California
$60 million in annual combined budget
Total funding in excess of $530 million dollars
Colorado
$7 million annual combined current budget
Total funding approaching $100 million
Idaho
$3 million annual combined budget
Total funding approaching $50 million
Utah
$5 million in current combined budget
Nevada
$5 million in annual budget
New York
$ 6-7 million annually predominately winter
Vermont
$ 3-4 million annually predominately winter

This funding goes to a wide range of sustainable trails efforts and programs, such as providing management and maintenance crews on many Field Offices and Ranger Districts and these programs not only provide sustainable trails but also protect other resources as well. Many of these crews already directly fund or partner with AmeriCorps, Youth Corp crews and other resources that are sought to be developed in the EO.
An example of how these programs protect other resources would be the fact that Colorado Parks and Wildlife OHV program funds crews throughout the state. These crews cut more than 20,000 dead trees off of routes last year. This not only provided sustainable recreational opportunities but also ensured that routes were open for firefighters if wildfires broke out. We are aware of the use of hot shot crews to open trails in areas where maintenance has not been provided, and this seems like a horrible underutilization of the hot shot crews expertise. Being able to effectively respond to the outbreak of a wildfire is protecting a huge range of resources from impacts but also is not a benefit that is readily apparent from our programs.

3. We have often received conflicting information on the 30 by 30 effort generally.

The Organizations are respectfully requesting to participate in any discussions within DOI on the EO, and more directly the implementation of the 30 by 30 concept reflected in §216(a)(1) as our efforts to engage a wide range of resources to gain this information has not been successful to date. We have actively participated in numerous town hall meetings with Senators, Congressman and state level interests. These meetings have not provided any detailed information and often even generalized concepts and questions are answered in conflicting manners. Our basic questions on foundational issues with the 30×30 effort would include:

  • What is the scale of lands that qualify for conservation? Does the 30×30 effort apply to federal lands, federal and state lands or all lands within an area?
  • What is the sought-after level of protection for the resources on the qualifying lands? Is a National Park protected? Wild and Scenic River? Federal lands generally? If the effort only applies to Federal lands, how is an adjacent Conservation Easement on private lands being addressed?
  • What are qualifying lands being protected from?
  • How does the 30×30 effort align with multiple use mandates and other congressional designations, such as National Recreation Areas, National Conservation Areas or other Special Management Areas?
  • How are general usages already on these lands addressed as each are different in terms of sustainability?
  • How are unintended impacts from management actions avoided?

While these are very basic questions around the implementation of the 30×30 effort, we have not gotten any information on these issues in our due diligence. These are critically important questions to our membership and to improving recreational access in a sustainable manner. As a result, we are asking to participate to allow us to understand this effort more completely.

4. Conclusion

The Organizations would welcome discussions with DOI regarding the management and sustainability of trails on federal public lands and more importantly how to expand access for all forms of recreation in a more efficient and effective manner. Please feel free to contact Don Riggle at 725 Palomar Lane, Colorado Springs, 80906, Cell (719) 338- 4106 or Scott Jones, Esq. at 508 Ashford Drive, Longmont, CO 80504. His phone is (518)281-5810 and his email is scott.jones46@yahoo.com.

 

Respectfully Submitted,

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

Sandra Mitchell
Public Land Director- Idaho Recreation Council

Don Riggle
Director of Operations
Trails Preservation Alliance

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