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White River National Forest, Colorado, Announces New Travel Management Plans
The White River National Forest in central Colorado has just announced the start of a new Travel Management Plan for the Forest. The White River just completed their revision of the Land and Resource Management Plan, the overall master plan for the forest, and the Travel Plan is an extension of that effort that gets down to site specific decision on roads, trails, and open areas.
Unfortunately, the Land & Resource Management Plan (LRMP) that was just finalized was not friendly to recreation--both motorized and non-motorized. Accordingly, the BlueRibbon Coalition, along with the Colorado off-Highway Vehicle Coalition and the Colorado 500, have filed appeals against the plan.
The plan recommends several new Wilderness additions. But since the Forest Service can only make recommendations for new Wilderness areas, those areas will not actually be designated as Wilderness until Congress decides to either designate those lands as Wilderness, or the areas are released from further consideration as Wilderness.
While it is common to have areas that are recommended for Wilderness designation on many National Forests, how the White River proposes to manage those lands is not common. The Forest Service has a duty to "preserve the Wilderness characteristics of those areas until Congress acts." In almost all cases, these recommended areas have been left open to the uses that were allowed prior to the recommendation. As examples, these areas often have four-wheel drive roads and single track trails that are open to motorized use; even more commonly, snowmobile use has been historically allowed. Since the area has Wilderness attributes with motorized use already occurring, continuation of that use would not change the character of the area. In the case of snowmobiles, they do not alter the Wilderness attributes at all because once the snow melts, there is no sign the snowmobiles were ever there.
Not only would motorized recreation be eliminated from those areas recommended for Wilderness in the White River Plan, mountain bike use, and even hang gliding, will be prohibited in these areas.
The White River LRMP also created a new land use category that they call Back Country. Unlike the BlueRibbon Coalition Back Country Recreation Area concept, the White River designation would also prohibit all motorized use.
All of these recommendations for more Wilderness and more non-motorized zones are in direct conflict with the data presented in the LRMP. The plan acknowledges that Wilderness use is growing very slowly, and that it is not expected to reach the Carrying Capacity of the area during the next 10 to 15 years the LRMP would cover. On the other hand, motorized and mechanized recreation is growing very rapidly and is expected to exceed Carrying Capacity during the next 10 to 15 years.
If you recreate on the White River National Forest, I would urge you to get on the mailing list for the planning process. While there will be a series of initial public meetings to introduce the planning process, those meeting will already have taken place by the time you read this. Our notice letter was dated September 4th, and we received it September 10th, the date of the first meeting. The last meeting scheduled was on September 18th.
To get on the mailing list, you can call the Forest at 970-945-2521, or write them at P.O. Box 948, Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81602. You can also get information from the White River Web Site at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver, although no information was on the site at the date of this writing.
Gallatin National Forest, Montana, Also Announces New Travel Planning Process
The Gallatin National Forest is starting a travel planning process to determine which roads and trails will remain open for motorized and mechanized travel, as well as allocate lands for snowmobile use. If you recreate on the Gallatin National Forest, you need to get involved to protect the opportunities we have today.
The approach of the Gallatin is a little different than other travel planning efforts we have seen, in that they have already developed portions of a preferred alternative called a "starting benchmark." This "starting benchmark" is extremely alarming, as it proposes draconian reductions in open roads and trails. You can view the starting benchmark at http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/travel_planning/pdf/Chapter3.pdf. Some examples of the proposed closures: High Clearance 4x4 roads will be reduced from 680 miles to 420. Motorcycle trails will be reduced from 900 miles to 447. ATV trails will be reduced from 500 miles to 258. Even mountain biking and equestrian trails will be hit hard. Mountain bike trails will go from 1100 miles to 738. Equestrian trail miles will be reduced from 2320 to 1780.
The BlueRibbon Coalition will aggressively defend the opportunities we have today on the Gallatin, but we will need everyone's help. We especially need the local folks who have personal knowledge of the roads and trails to get involved and help everyone identify the areas we need to focus our efforts. To get a copy of the starting benchmark on CD, you can call the Gallatin NF at 406-587-6701, or write the Gallatin, attention Steve Christiansen, P.O. Box 130, Bozeman, Montana 59771.
The initial public comment period runs until November 22, 2002. We will do a thorough analysis of the starting benchmark and develop a response letter during September. By the time you get this magazine, our website should have a response letter posted and more information. Go to www.sharetrails.org for more details.
--Bill Dart is the Public Lands Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition. He may be contacted at: 4555 Burley Drive, Suite A, Pocatello, ID 83202-1921. Phone: 208-237-1008. Email