Last fall Steven K. Beverlin, District Ranger/Field Office Manager for the Dolores Public Lands Office approved a Travel Management Plan for the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest (the “PLAN”). San Juan Citizens Alliance, Trout Unlimited, Robert and Nancy Marion of Mancos, Gene Story of Dolores, and Dunton Hot Springs appealed. They contended the PLAN would allow excessive damage in sensitive wildlife habitat, wetland, hunting and backcountry areas, leading to loss of traditional recreational opportunities.
The PLAN was reversed in whole last December by Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles for failure to properly analyze impacts of the PLAN. It was remanded with direction to perform additional environmental review and analysis. This spring Mr. Beverlin stated that “due to other priorities and workloads, the PLAN will be re-initiated after October 1, 2010…Given these timelines there is a need for interim management to comply with the national Travel Rule…all agree interim management direction needs to be in place before… late May or early June of this year.”
In its initial PLAN, the DPLO determined that many trails that are currently open for motorized travel should not be designated for motorized use. We joined the San Juan Citizens Alliance this spring in asking the DPLO to close these trails to motorized use on an interim basis until the PLAN could be finalized. We also asked that other motorized trails be closed – ones that have never received the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis before being opened to motorized travel. We believe some trails were illegally opened and signed for motorized travel by certain DPLO officials over the last six years without mandatory public environmental review, after they became aware the national Travel Rule was coming down. These trails include: Bear Creek; Burnett Creek; Calico; Eagle Peak/Upper Stoner; East Fall Creek; Gold Run; Grindstone; Grindstone Loop; Horse Creek; Johnny Bull; Little Bear; Priest Gulch; Ryman Creek; Stoner Creek and Wildcat.
On June 18, 2010, we were informed that no promised interim management meetings or closures would occur in the Rico West Dolores Plan area. Why not? Mr. Beverlin reportedly stated: “We just don’t have time to reanalyze the project, to comply with Travel Management Rule…There’s a whole host of issues that we have to deal with…”.
Where does that leave the Rico-West Dolores area for now? All existing Rico-West Dolores motorized trails will continue to be subjected to unrestricted dirt-biking in 2010, 2011 and probably 2012 unless an interim management plan is implemented.
The public should accept this abdication of DPLO’s duty to protect the Rico-West Dolores area trails on an interim basis pending completion of the Travel Plan. It is unacceptable that the Dolores District Ranger could disregard compliance with the national Travel Rule, particularly after performing a decidedly inadequate environmental study. That study summarily dismissed more environmentally protective alternatives and failed to properly assess motorcycle impacts on wildlife, traditional recreation and the surrounding businesses and communities.
Federal officials need to comply with the law instead of finding excuses not to. When they consciously flout the laws and authorities they are bound to protect, they come to behave as if they are the authority and ignore the law. This same type of attitude led to the failure of the Dept. of Interior’s (former) Mineral Management Service to properly regulate deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
If you are concerned about DPLO’s pro-motorized direction and lack of interim effort to protect the Rico-West Dolores trails this summer, or merely wish to protect your hiking, horseback riding or hunting opportunities, we suggest you speak out. Contact Mr. Stiles and Mr. Beverlin at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Please join our call for interim trail management, reversals of illegal motorized trail openings, and closures of trails badly eroded by motorcycle use.
Steve Johnson has practiced real estate and natural resource law on the West Slope for over 28 years and represents Dunton Hot Springs, Inc. email@example.com. Robert Marion is a retired engineer who resides in Mancos, Colorado and frequently recreates in the region; he is a Forest Watchman for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers of Colorado. firstname.lastname@example.org.