The Dolores River watershed and backcountry needs your support.
The Dolores District of the San Juan National Forest recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for travel management in the Rico/West Dolores area. This process will determine the appropriate uses of various roads and trails, namely which trails will be open to motorized travel and which trails will be protected for quiet uses.
Home to big peaks, high alpine meadows and wetlands, aspen, spruce and ponderosa forests, and world-class creeks, the Rico/West Dolores landscape is Colorado backcountry at its best. It is as varied and rugged as it is beautiful and vulnerable.
Before discussing the specific options on the table for this Travel Management Plan, some background and context is needed.
According to National Visitor Use Monitoring data updated in 2012, just 6 percent of SJNF visitors participated in motorized trail activities. Ten times as many visitors chose to experience forest trails using quiet modes of movement. The 2014 Colorado Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan confirms these statistics.
While motorized trail users represent a small percentage of all trail use, their negative impacts on the environment and the experiences of other trail users are well documented. From displacement of quiet trail users to the displacement of wildlife and fragmentation of their habitat – not to mention extensive trail erosion and fouling of streams and wetlands – motorized use of our public lands simply extracts a disproportionately high cost relative to other forms of backcountry recreation.
Areas near and adjacent to the Rico/West Dolores landscape already heavily prioritize motorized use over quiet uses. Take two examples: A recent TMP for the adjoining Mancos-Cortez area provides two times as many miles of trails for motorized travel than there are for non-motorized users. Narrowing in even further, the TMP for the adjacent Boggy-Glade area provides 300 miles for travel by motorcycles on trails and native surface roads while just 61 miles for quiet users.
If this doesn’t already make clear why the Rico/West Dolores area deserves serious protections for quiet uses, when you consider the history of trail designations in this area, the rationale gets even more compelling.
Around 2004, 14 trails in the Rico/West Dolores area that were designated non-motorized in the forest plan were arbitrarily changed by the Forest Service from being closed to open for motorized use. In violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, no environmental analysis was conducted and no public comment solicited for these changes.
The result of this blatant and potentially illegal pandering to a vocal but very small minority of trail users has been predictable: the displacement of users in search of quiet-use recreational opportunities and the destruction of the environment.
Trail conditions have gotten so bad on some sections of these infamous 14 trails that the Forest Service took the extraordinary measure this spring of closing the Calico Trail to all trail users because of the rutting, erosion and destruction of high-alpine wetlands caused primarily by motorized traffic.
Through a process of “invasion and succession,” a small group of motorized users has been able to determine the use of trails in the Rico/West Dolores landscape. The damage is visible and obvious. It is time to regain some balance to travel management in the Rico/West Dolores area.
Please contact the SJNF to express your support for Alternative E, and your support for seasonal trail closures that restrict motorized use from July 1 to Sept. 8. These measures will ensure protections for the environment and the experience of the majority of backcountry users who prefer the quiet and solitude afforded by non-motorized recreation.
Bob Marion is a habitat watchman for Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.