Former Dolores Public Lands Office Manager Steve Beverlins departure for a job in Durango is an opportunity to get the local dialogue about travel on the forest back on the right track.
Discussion about road closures has become so polarized that anyone unfamiliar with the issue could be forgiven for thinking Southwest Colorados population is divided among two groups: those who think anyone should be able to drive anywhere on public lands at any time, and those who think all motorized travel should be banned.
Thats not to say that the fault was Beverlins, just that its time to get past the polarization and a change of voice may help. Theres plenty of room to maneuver. Road-closure opponents could acknowledge that vehicle traffic can be damaging and that that some roads could be closed with little negative result. They could and absolutely should back off from their demonization of federal agencies and employees. The forest service could acknowledge that people feel very deeply about their access to public lands and could mitigate some of their concerns by being willing to talk about that.
The forest service does have a side, a valid side, and it hasnt been presented effectively. Apparently feeling embattled for good reason USFS staffers who are authorized to talk about the issue have clammed up, and the result has been that very little progress has been made in mending the deep rift. Montezuma County has more than a few people who would be responsive to data and candid conversations about the delicate balance between access and protection. After all, no one wants strangers racing ATVs or four-wheel-drive trucks across their lawn.
As the snow melts, past damage from uncontrolled travel will become visible, and new damage no doubt will be wrought by people who dont feel the need to confine themselves to the roads the forest service says they can drive on. Recreationists who have been stewing all winter can begin to see on the ground what has, all winter, only been abstract information on the map. How much more difficult will access to their favorite places really be after the road closures? Are all of those roads really necessary?
Theyre not or they werent, until the forest service moved to close them. Its time to separate the discussion of protecting our public lands from damaging uses from the discussion of what the federal government is allowed to own and how it is allowed to use it. We believe there is more common ground on the first topic than is currently being admitted, and that even more can be identified in open, honest discussions about resource values.
We thank Beverlin for his service here, which encompasses much more than this latest controversy, and wish him the best in his new job as Colorado Service First Coordinator for the USFS and BLM. We hope he remembers that good communication makes every effort more productive.