Now that representatives of Montezuma and Dolores counties are meeting regularly with San Juan National Forest officials, Montezuma County Commissioner Steve Chappell is hopeful that the counties will be better-informed about what the Forest Service is doing.
However, he said the Montezuma County commissioners remain frustrated with what they perceive as inflexibility on the part of the agency.
“My overall feeling is it’s like beating on a brick wall,” Chappell said. “I just don’t think we’re moving even the littlest bit.
“I think if we’re going to accomplish anything, it’s going to have to be at a higher level. The people we’re talking to just carry out the orders of people higher up.”
Chappell cited as an example the agency’s new policy against motorized game retrieval, which was implemented in local travelmanagement plans and has proven unpopular with a large portion of the local public.
He recounted that at an Oct. 4 meeting with Dolores County regarding its appeal of the new Boggy-Glade area travel-management plan, Dolores District Ranger Steve Beverlin asked if they would give up that appeal in exchange for having motorized game retrieval reinstated.
“They said, ‘Sure, if you can guarantee it,’ and he said, ‘I can’t guarantee anything.’ So they said no. Basically, he doesn’t have anything to throw on the table.”
Chappell said game retrieval is a particular sticking point with locals because many of them hunt not for recreation or trophy racks, but simply for food.
“A lot of families depend on this for their meat, especially in the rural areas like Montezuma and Dolores County,” he said. “Every family member will get a [deer or elk] tag in the hope of getting one or two animals. That’s their meat supply.”
Chappell said his family is among those who depend on game. “Honestly, we could afford to buy hamburger, but we prefer elk,” he said. “It’s leaner, and that’s important for people with heart problems.”
Chappell said he understands banning cross-country motorized travel in general, but believes hunters should be able to use an ATV to pack out their meat.
“Limit the off-road travel to only game retrieval, so you don’t have guys running all over the place with their four-wheelers and guns, trying to hunt,” he said. “Nobody really appreciates that, not even good hunters.
“But once you’ve got a 700-pound animal on the ground and you’re in your 50s or 60s , it’s a problem. Sure, you can quarter it up, but you can’t pack it out. With a fourwheeler you can.”
Chappell said the other aspect of the travel- management plan that frustrates many locals is the closure of some roads to motor vehicles in the Boggy-Glade travel plan. A total of 155 miles of roads are scheduled for closure, though 93 of those were for administrative use only and were not open to the public.
When decommissioning roads, agency personnel may place large boulders and berms across them. In addition, the pathways are sometimes mechanically torn out to discourage people from driving on them illegally.
Chappell said these acts strike many people as needlessly destructive to the terrain. “One thing hunters and recreationists are saying is that the Forest Service damage to the roads when they’re closing them is so severe, you couldn’t do that much damage with a four-wheeler. They are taking rippers and ripping up rocks, pushing down live trees, making a mess. People who really appreciate the forest – they are appalled.”
He said the impacts of such travel-management decisions on local counties were not adequately considered when agency personnel approved the plan.
“Agencies are supposed to coordinate with state and local governments to make sure they’re not affecting their economies or their land-use plan, but I don’t think there was much consideration of the economic effect of these road closures and no game retrieval. It wasn’t apparent to me.”
However, Chappell said the Montezuma County commissioners – like their Dolores County counterparts – do not approve of vandalism to Forest Service signs, gates, and other property, even if it is prompted by frustration over new policies.
“None of us approve of vandalism and we don’t condone it at all,” he said.
Chappell also said he wants issues to be worked out without the need for dramatic clashes. “I don’t think we want to be confrontational, but we definitely want to work on things.”
He said the county-appointed publiclands committee is working hard to find roads that might qualify as RS 2477 routes, a designation for old byways that pre-date the formation of the national forest. However, Chappell acknowledged that getting that designation involves a difficult court process and a judge’s approval.
In the meantime, he said he is pleased that the counties are having regular meetings with Forest Service representatives.
“I think it will really help. I don’t think we have a problem other than we’re upset, as well as our constituents, that we aren’t kept in the loop and really weren’t considered in all this. At least the process is there for future hits that the public might take – at least their representatives will be at the table and have a bit of forewarning.”
Neither Beverlin nor National Environmental Policy Act Coordinator Deborah Kill of the Dolores Public Lands Office could be reached for comment over the holidays.