Users gather to hash out travel management

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San Juan National Forest officials are working on a new plan for the Rico area

Nearly five years after a plan to regulate travel in the national forest around the Rico/West Dolores management area was scrapped, Forest Service officials and about 30 users of the forest sat down to discuss the plan again.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to discuss things,” said Debbie Kill, San Juan National Forest NEPA planner.

The meeting was the second of three meetings prior to entering the formal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, which requires the Forest Service to do environmental assessments or environmental- impact statements when making decisions about forest management.

A panel of hikers, mountain-bikers, motorcyclists, hunters, horseback riders and government officials sat at the front of the room in the Dolores Community Center to discuss the Rico/West Dolores Travel Management Plan.

“We are making the process more transparent and documents available as we go instead of at the end,” Kill said.

If any of this sounds familiar, it is. In 2009, the Forest Service rejected a new travel- management plan after six different parties appealed the decision, saying the Dolores district had not conducted adequate analyses, the public had not been adequately informed about portions of the plan and that the plan had designated some trails as motorized in areas that were supposed to be non-motorized.

The plan was remanded to the Dolores District Office to be rewritten.

After reviewing their concerns, a Forest Service appeal-reviewing officer sided with the appellants on most of the charges and recommended remanding the plan to the DPLO. Of 15 specific issues cited by the appeal officer, he recommended reversing the manager on 11 and affirming the manager’s decision on the remaining four.

Cherie Shanteau-Wheeler, director of programs for the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution and moderator of the meeting, told those that attended they were lucky to be involved in the process so early.

“This is rare,” she said.

Still, a few participants were not pleased.

“There has to be a stop to the never ending closing of roads,” said Rick Keck, who sat on the panel and represented ATV riders.

Kill explained how an interdisciplinary team of Forest Service specialists would help guide the travel-management plan with research and science.

Keck wasn’t so sure that science could explain everything about the process.

“Do you deal in broken hearts?” he asked. “Many people I know go down somewhere and when they see a brown closed-road sign, their hearts are broken.”

Keck said closing area roads is hurting local businesses. He said he had talked to a local sporting-goods store owner who told him that he was doing just 23 percent of the business he had in previous years.

“We are doing things that are really hurting us,” he said.

Casey McClellan, panel member and an advocate for motorcycle and dirt-bike riders, told the Forest Service officials that the area around Rico has a long history of motorized trails.

“There are 62 acres of motorized singletrack trails in the area,” McClellan said. “If someone can’t find a quiet place to go [in the remaining acreage], then there is a problem.”

McClellan said management of the area should be left alone.

“Leave it as it is. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise,” he said.

The travel-management area includes the Bear Creek Trail and the Calico Trail, both popular with motorcyclists. The Bear Creek Trail was a point of contention when the plan was discussed five years ago, as there was a push to ban motorcycle use on the trail.

Bob Marion, who represented quiet users, told the panel that when the Forest Service allows motorcycles and ATVs on a trail, they usually push out those that are hiking.

“Motorized users displace quiet users and then it become a single-use trail,” he said. “Most quiet users want to see wildlife. Protecting wildlife is an extremely important goal.”

Drew Gordanier of the Southwestern Livestock Association, who represented cattlemen, told the group he had documented cases of user conflict.

Dolores County Commissioner Julie Kibel said economics needs to be a big factor when putting together the plan, which will guide management for approximately 244,550 acres.

“There are reasons we live where we live and love what we love,” she said. “There are two communities that will be really impacted by this plan. In Rico, [the forest] is in their backyard and I guess it’s in their front yard too.”

Representatives of the towns of Dolores and Rico were not present at the meeting.

Montezuma County Commissioner Keenan Ertel said the Forest Service does not coordinate with the county.

“The closing-off of federal lands has been a very large part of what I’ve seen in this county,” Ertel said. “It’s been a very one-sided decision-making process.”

He asked the Forest Service to sit down and coordinate with different user groups and find ways to provide for them.

“It’s a multiple-use forest,” Ertel said.

Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla told Ertel that is why the meetings are being held.

“That is what this process is all about,” he said.

According to Kill, the next meeting on Rico/West Dolores travel management has been tentatively slated for Thursday, Sept. 11.

For more information, contact Kill at 882-6822 or dkill@fs.fed.us

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