The recent review conducted by an independent interagency team on the Mancos-Cortez Travel Management Plan in the Millwood and Haycamp areas was in response to concerns raised by the community about some of the methods we were using to close and restore the condition of illegal motorized routes.
The travel management plan for that area of the San Juan National Forest was finalized in 2008, after public involvement and environmental review. While the purpose of the review was not to revisit decisions made in that plan, we thought it was important to determine whether our methods are environmentally sound and will bring forth the desired results.
I would like to clarify that many of the routes being closed began as temporary roads built for timber sales that should have been barricaded and reclaimed after harvest activities. Others originated from someone driving cross-country through meadows, forests or along fence lines, leaving ruts for others to follow. Many of the closed routes are parallel to open routes that offer access to the same areas.
The Mancos-Cortez Travel Management Plan calls for closing some routes to:
n Reestablish native vegetation in order to control erosion, especially during storms and runoff;
n Create larger natural areas where wildlife can forage, breed and raise young and to keep herds on the forest for a longer period of time during the hunting season; and
n Establish a sustainable designated system of routes that provide for quality motorized road and trail experiences.
Motorized recreation is an important use of the San Juan National Forest. Lost in the controversy over Mancos-Cortez Travel Management Plan is that fact that, even after these route closures, we will still have more than 230 miles of roads and 47 miles of off-highway vehicle trails open for motorized recreation on this landscape alone. Included in that are new motorized loop trails and dispersed camping opportunities accessible from the main roads.
As part of the review, we invited along some key stakeholders, including Dolores and Montezuma county elected officials and staff, and representatives of motorized users and environmental groups. The conversations were open and honest, and I believe everyone felt free to express their opinions. The visiting specialists provided us with objective professional critiques, and our partners expressed valid concerns.
The review team is scheduled to look at one to two more areas of the Mancos-Cortez landscape at higher elevations (as the snow recedes) before submitting a findings and recommendations report to San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles.
In the meantime, the discussions at the field review have helped those of us at the Dolores Public Lands Office to reconsider some of the approaches we are using to restore natural areas impacted by off-route motorized travel. The work associated with the Mancos-Cortez decision is nearly done, with the last 10 percent expected to be completed this summer; however, we plan to make some modifications in our methods based on preliminary findings, including:
n Using boulders, rather than berms, where they will work effectively to close routes;
n Reducing the height of berms in other situations, as long as closed routes are effectively protected from illegal use;
n Providing for access to popular dispersed campsites by signing and recognizing preferred sites;
n Limiting the amount of heavy equipment work on soil to re-establish vegetation on routes and,
n Using gates and other methods, such as brushing and planting of native species of shrubs and trees, to bring areas back to a natural condition.
Since my arrival to the Dolores Public Lands office, I have met with some community members and am looking forward to meeting and talking with more folks. I will strive to listen to as many of you as I can as we move forward with travel management. It is our intent to step up our communication with the community to keep you informed on upcoming travel management processes. If you have questions about the Mancos Cortez project, please call us at 882-7296 and stop by the office for a FREE informational map of the open routes for motorized use.
Connie Clementson is the Acting San Juan National Forest Dolores District Ranger and BLM Dolores Field Office Manager.