To Motor or Not-To-Motor in Leadville
Heads up you woodsy-loving highlanders because the US Forest Service (USFS) under directive from the US Department of Agriculture has finally dialed in the dates for those upcoming meetings concerning their “travel management” plan which will ultimately designate the roads, trails, and other forest-managed areas to either remain as they are, or change when it comes to motorized use and access. So, if you enjoy the woods, or do business in the woods, stay informed and stay involved.
Last week, officials from the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Comanche and Cimarron National Grasslands (PSICC) released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for public motor vehicle use. The Notice of Availability published in the Federal Register on September 20, 2019, initiating the formal 45-day public comment period that ends November 4, 2019.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is part of the 2005 Travel Management Rule, requiring National Forests and Grasslands to designate roads, trails and areas that are open for motorized use. It offers five alternatives for a system of designated roads, trails and areas by class of vehicle and season of use. The alternatives reflect input from forest users, partners, and state and local governments.
“Feedback on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement will help strengthen our analysis,” said Forest and Grassland Supervisor Diana Trujillo. “Hearing the voices of various forest users is extremely important to us. Our goal is to designate a motorized system that works for the public while caring for natural and cultural resources.”
The alternatives address a range of concerns about resource impacts from motor vehicle use, reduced motorized access, and potential conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users. The five alternatives are summarized below.
- Alternative A, Public Motorized Routes Prior to Settlement, is the Forest’s public motorized route system prior to the November 2015 settlement agreement.
- Alternative B, Settlement Action Proposal, removes all roads and trails not previously analyzed as identified in the November 2015 settlement agreement. Alternative B reduces the Pike and San Isabel National Forest’s motorized network by 34 percent.
- Alternative C, Proposed Action, emphasizes a safe and environmentally sound system of roads, trails and areas that allows for existing forest uses and access to private property. It decreases roads open to motor vehicle use by just under 11 percent and increases trails open by almost 22 percent. The 4 percent overall reduction in roads and trails specified under the proposed action aims to reasonably address and balance the expressed concerns of motorized users, non-motorized users and environmental groups.
- Alternative D, Motorized-Recreation-Focused Proposal, emphasizes public motor vehicle use and recreation. This alternative combines parts of Alternative C with motorized routes proposed during public scoping. It proposes new motorized areas. Alternative D decreases motorized access by about 3 percent overall.
- Alternative E, Non-Motorized-Recreation-Focused Proposal, emphasizes natural resource protection, habitat quality and non-motorized recreation while providing the least amount of public motor vehicle access across the forest. Alternative E decreases motorized access by just over 50 percent overall.
The Travel Management Rule exempts the following from designation: aircraft, watercraft, and over-snow vehicles; use by the military, law enforcement, firefighters, and Forest Service for administrative activities; permitted special uses, such as livestock grazing, mining, logging, and collecting fuelwood, Christmas trees and other forest products; and access to pipeline and utility corridors, as well as access to private land.
Written comments must be submitted in person, through the online comment portal, or mailed to John Dow, PSICC Forest Planner, Travel Management, 2840 Kachina Drive, Pueblo, CO, 81008. Comments, including the names and addresses of respondents, will be part of the public record. Anonymous comments will be accepted and considered, but those submitting comments anonymously will not have standing to object to the final decision. Only those who commented during this process will be eligible to object the final decision. Comments should be clear and specific to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and must be submitted by November 4, 2019.
After considering the comments submitted, Forest officials will prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement and designate a system of roads, trails and areas open for motor vehicle use by class of vehicle and season of use. The decision is expected to publish in the Federal Register in November of 2020. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement can be found HERE.
What Does USFS Changes Mean for Leadville?
When harvesting information, the city’s rich mining history comes in handy because most residents living in Leadville Today would need to dig deep to find out exactly what the revised Travel Management plan really means for Leadville and Lake County. And – unfortunately – the (acting) Leadville District Ranger isn’t much help either. In fact, after setting a meeting with the media, Ranger Erich Roeber refused to go on-the-record regarding growing concerns about his district’s management of local areas, particularly when it comes to dispersed camping. Social media platforms have been particularly active this past summer with reports of violations concerning a host of issues from squatters over-staying their welcome to illegal parking along Forest roads which limit access to emergency vehicles, to the growing piles of debris and trash left behind by users. In a series of emails exchanged with Leadville Today, Roeber initially seemed interested in meeting to address concerns about the areas he is temporarily in charge of as the “acting” director.
Roeber is one of four Rangers the Leadville District has seen in 2 years. And while the Lake County boots-on-the-ground USFS staff are mostly long-time, dedicated members of the Leadville community, the rotating door of Ranger management is starting to show its impact in the woods. The scheduled September 13 media meeting was to involve areas identified as concerns after online reports captured the attention of USFS regional officials. Roeber was sent links to the online story as well as the social media platform that displayed pictures from a resident who was attempting to clean up campsites managed by the Leadville Ranger District. On the morning of the scheduled interview, Roeber refused to go “on-the-record” in an official capacity, abruptly ending the meeting.
So last week when the regional office announced the dates for upcoming public meetings concerning proposed changes to areas within the district, LT went digging for the details. While the aforementioned links will bring readers to a general overview, the page does little to provide details about what that will mean for specific roads and trails in Leadville and Lake County. LT was able to secure the following Excel spreadsheets which outline more formally the proposed “travel management” revamp.
- Alternative A outlines the Forest’s public motorized route system prior to the November 2015 settlement agreement.
- The Other Alternatives are entitled “B” “C” “D” “E” and these are outlined in this one document.
Some of the changes involve road and trail re-classifications for the following areas: Halfmoon, Mt. Zion, 10th Mountain Hut. The proposals address everything from “revise seasonal closure or make temporary seasonal closure permanent,” to “convert to trail open to all vehicles.”
As with most federal documents, it’s cumbersome and not always easy to connect the dots, but for those whose business involves access to these areas, or for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in the woods near Leadville Today, you have about a month to digest the proposed changes and then let your voice be heard!