By Gail Binkly and David Grant Long
The Montezuma County commissioners offered a ringing defense of motorized recreation in their appeal of the Forest Service’s latest travel-management plan for the Boggy-Glade area north of Dolores.
The 17-page appeal letter echoes virtually all of the concerns and talking points presented to the commission by motorized users and members of the local 9-12 Project/ Tea Party – including a suggestion that 164,000 acres on the Boggy-Glade landscape be left open to cross-country motorized use.
“We request that areas formerly designated as ‘F’ [an old category for land open to cross-country motorized use] remain designated for cross country travel with only minor modifications to protect specific resources,” the county’s appeal letter states.
It adds, “The Boggy Glade TMA is the one landscape where conflict between motorized and non-motorized remains at a minimum because it is just not heavily used by those seeking non-motorized experiences.”
Montezuma County was one of three local governmental bodies that appealed the Forest Service’s final decision notice on the Boggy-Glade travel plan. The others were Dolores County and the town of Dove Creek.
In addition, 17 individuals and five organizations had filed appeals by the Jan. 25 deadline, according to Derek Padilla, district ranger for the Dolores District, which includes the Boggy-Glade area.
He said the majority – though not all – argued that the plan does not allow enough motorized access. One appeal, for instance, criticized the Forest Service’s decision to allow motorized game retrieval in much of the Boggy area.
Since 2010, when the Dolores District released a draft plan for Boggy-Glade that proposed closing 62 miles of public roads (that was to be countered by 63 miles of new ATV routes), travel management has stirred up a whirlwind of controversy locally. The ensuing uproar included a protest march, heated public meetings with Forest Service officials, and threats by County Sheriff Dennis Spruell to arrest forest officials who closed roads.
That first Boggy-Glade travel plan was ultimately reversed on appeal because it allowed for a greater road density than that permitted under the overall management plan for the San Juan National Forest. To correct that problem, the Forest Service amended the overall management plan to increase the permitted road density.
Forest Service officials then sought more public feedback and revised the original Boggy plan. Among the changes in the new plan, released in October 2011, were:
• 20 more miles of motorized routes, for a total of 379 miles of open roads.
• A new OHV trail;
• A new non-motorized trail to be created between Dolores and House Creek.
• Motorized game retrieval in the former
‘F’ areas for hunters wanting to go crosscountry to retrieve carcasses. This was something that the Montezuma and Dolores county commissioners had pushed for, although it is contrary to general Forest Service trends nationwide.
But the revisions didn’t go far enough, critics charged and the Montezuma County commissioners agreed.
The board has been hearing regularly from motorized-access advocates and 9-12 Project members who say the Forest Service is not doing enough to “coordinate” with the county.
At a public meeting on Dec. 5, when Forest Service officials presented the revised Boggy plan to then-Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer, the audience was openly hostile to agency officials, accusing them of not listening to the public, violating laws, and slashing motorized access.
Some of the same critics were in attendance at a Jan. 14 commission meeting, the first one for newly elected commissioners Larry Don Suckla and Keenan Ertel, when Casey McClellan of the Timberline Trail Riders made a presentation. Padilla and Deborah Kill, also of the Dolores Public Lands Office, were also present.
This time the discussion was civil, but many of the same points were raised.
In 2005, the Forest Service issued a national rule ordering national forests to “designate those roads, trails, and areas that are open to motor vehicle use.” Driving motor vehicles off the designated system was to be prohibited.
McClellan complained that by ending cross-country motorized travel, the Forest Service is concentrating motorized users into small areas.
He said of the total 245,800 acres on the Boggy-Glade landscape, 164,100 were previously ‘F’ areas open to cross-country motorized use. Under the proposed plan, that is reduced to 41 acres of ATV routes and zero of single-track motorized routes, he said – but non-motorized users continue to have access to the whole landscape.
The county’s appeals cites the same statistics.
“How is it even possible to see what’s going on and be able to with a straight face say these are fair, balanced and non-preferential decisions?” McClellan asked.
Four-wheelers or dirt-bikers can ride on regular roads, he said, “but that’s not what they want. Single-track mountain- bike riders want single-track. Singletrack motorcycle riders want singletrack. It’s like telling a rafter to go raft on Totten [Lake]. Sure, you can, but it’s not the same experience.”
McClellan dismissed the decision to allow motorized game retrieval as “no victory.”
“It’s a victory for out-of-state hunters, but for people who ride ATVs on a regular basis, you’re going to have to kill an animal to get your ATV off a trail.”
He said the 2005 Travel Rule “is a mandate to designate roads, trails and areas, and not a mandate to close roads, trails and areas,” and that the Forest Service has the authority to allow broad swaths of land where cross-country motorized travel could still be allowed.
Echoing McClellan, the county’s appeal states, “The Final Rule is a mandate to designate roads, trails and areas and not a mandate to close roads, trails and areas.”
It also says, “We request that areas formerly designated as ‘F’ remain designated for cross country travel with only minor modifications to protect specific resources.”
Trumping other uses
However, Kill told the board that while the travel rule does allow forests to establish motorized-use “areas,” the Dolores District did not choose to designate one in the Boggy- Glade area.
“Traditionally, places set up for motorized use have had that as their primary use,” Kill said. “OHV use has trumped the other multiple uses in the area. In Boggy-Glade there were some trends of concern in wildlife habitat and watershed health…. We didn’t feel OHV emphasis was appropriate for this landscape.”
In a later interview, Padilla told the Free Press “it’s not common at all” for any national forest to offer a huge motorized playground. “There are a few areas where that was already in place,” he said. “There’s probably only three to five areas like that in the nation – large areas allowing that kind of motorized access.”
Opposing the appeal
The commission also took public feedback at a special meeting Jan. 16. Those comments included some from mountain bikers and Dolores residents who supported non-motorized uses and did not want the county to appeal the travel plan.
Dolores Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the town has a grant for planning the new trail from House Creek to Dolores, and an appeal may delay completion of the work. He spoke about the economic benefits of family-friendly trails and having a balance between motorized and non-motorized uses.
Dani Gregory said she sees the appeal as throwing away 10 years of work on the part of the Forest Service and others. “If you do appeal, be prepared to do it all the way through,” she warned, adding that it “will cost the county big to go to court.”
Shawn Gregory likewise questioned the wisdom of the appeal and said he would like to see more single-track non-motorized trails on the forest because there are lots of local mountain-bikers.
He said, though it’s a misconception that cyclists don’t like motorized users, sometimes the two uses shouldn’t be mixed. He spoke about a trail in Farmington, N.M., that mountain-bikers formerly enjoyed but that is “no fun to use any more” because it includes both motorized and non-motorized users.
John Chmelir from Dolores agreed, saying there should be places for motorized use, but he won’t use trails that are multiple-use. “Some uses are just not compatible.”
Bob Wright said non-motorized trails are not utilized only by mountain-bikers, but by families, ranchers, and hikers.” Trails become single-use if motorized uses are allowed,” he said, adding that allowing motorized use on the popular Phil’s World biking complex east of Cortez would destroy it.
Other people supported more motorized access.
“We need a lot more trails. We shouldn’t have to beg,” said Dave Dove. “I don’t see the degradation. The letter is absolutely the right thing to do.”
The board remained firmly in support of the motorized contingent.
“I’m for multiple use 100 percent,” Suckla said.
Another contention made by McClellan and reiterated in the county’s appeal letter was that there is not enough “site-specific” evidence to show that cross-country motorized travel is harming watersheds or wildlife.
“There’s nothing alarming [in regard to deer and elk populations] going on on the Glade in Boggy Draw,” McClellan said on Jan. 14. “There’s nothing happening up there that would raise a red flag. Populations fluctuate.”
Commission Chair Steve Chappell agreed, saying the Colorado Division of Wildlife (now Parks and Wildlife) “has run our game off the public lands for so many seasons. They’re just driving the game onto private lands and they’re blaming it on roads.”
Chappell said any decline in big game might be caused by the wildlife agency overselling hunting licenses to support its revenue stream, and added that they might be overstaffed.
In the appeal, the county wrote, “The TMP proposes to restrict access where forty years of motorized use has not resulted in compelling evidence that habitat or watershed conditions have deteriorated enough [to] warrant further restrictions.”
It also states, “The big game analysis. . . lacks the empirical and site specific data needed to account for big game behavior in this particular landscape. . .it remains questionable whether or not the level of road density is actually the cause of altered migration patterns seen in big game” in the Boggy area.
But Padilla told the Free Press the data relied on by the Dolores District was sound.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources and the capability to do the level of research that the counties and many other folks are requesting,” he said. “We do rely on more broad-scale analyses. Regarding the watershed, they have done a broad-scale assessment across the San Juan National Forest. We do rely on information that is from the San Juan forest, but we don’t have the level of detail the county has asked for to show that, because this specific road is here, it is contributing this many tons of sediment into the Dolores River.” Instead, the district extrapolates from the broader report.
Padilla said it’s a similar situation with wildlife data. “They have done research on road density and its effects on wildlife in Idaho and Montana,” he said. “An elk is an elk. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Montana or Dolores. They react the same, so specialists here use that information to assess how they will react in this area.
“We do have anecdotal information from my staff here and CDOW that in their professional judgment the animals will move very quickly through the Boggy-Glade area because of the number of ATVs and motor vehicles moving through the landscape.”
The county’s appeal asks that the Forest Service either adopt a “no-action” alternative and leave things as they are on the Boggy- Glade landscape, or reverse the Boggy decision entirely and start over from scratch with more county involvement.
Padilla said the Dolores District will offer the appellants the opportunity to meet informally with forest personnel to see if any of the appeal issues could be solved informally. Any that cannot will be analyzed and processed by the Forest Service’s regional office, which will convene an appeal-review team consisting of specialists throughout Region 2. They will decide whether the appeal points are valid, based on consistency with Forest Service rules and regulations, Padilla said, and will make their recommendations to San Juan Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles for his final determination. A decision is to be made by March 11. Anyone disagreeing with that decision must then go to court to pursue the matter further.