Groups claim agency acted illegally in designating motorized routes without an environmental study and without public input
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A coalition of conservation and recreation groups is suing the U.S. Forest Service over what they say is the illegal addition of 500 miles of motorized roads and trails on the Pike-San Isabel National Forest.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the groups charge that the agency sidestepped the law and ignored its own regulations by designating the roads as open for motorized use without showing any evidence that the decision was backed by environmental studies and without public comment.
“I’m really upset because this forest means so much to me and my family,” said Quiet Use Coalition president Alan Heald, an avid hiker who has dealt with years of ORV trespass problems around his family’s mining claim. “Everyone knows that this forest’s management and enforcement of ORVs has been lackadaisical for decades. But now, instead of utilizing the new rules to rein it in, they are attempting to officially lock in the decades of illegal use without a public and environmental process.”
The Pike-San Isabel National Forest is a Colorado treasure and one of the top 10 most visited forests in the country. Its rocky pinnacles, rolling ponderosa pine forests, and high peaks are recreational havens for mountain bikers, hikers, and climbers. Nineteen of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners are here, including the state’s highest, Mount Elbert, at 14,433 feet. The Forest’s abundant wildlife is a draw for sportsman and tourists. Its rugged canyons and remote plateaus are also home to a number of rare species including the threatened Mexico Spotted Owl, Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, and the Greenback Cutthroat Trout.
“There are rules to follow here, and the Forest Service, at the expense of me and my neighbors and many others, is just ignoring them,” said Mary Torres, who lives next to the Pike National Forest.
Michael Wallace, a former timber contractor on the Pike San Isabel and nearby resident of Mary’s for 25 years, said, “I have witnessed and endured years of illegal off-road vehicle use of these old timber tracks and now completely avoid the 717 trail system because it’s so dangerous and unregulated. For the Forest Service to simply reward this history of abuse by adding the routes to the system goes against everything that a democracy stands for … which is to have a fair and public process.”
The groups point out that Coloradoans have long cherished preserving their roadless lands and claim that these unlawful actions impact the way the Lost Creek Roadless Area in the South Platte District, Buffalo Peaks Roadless Area in the Leadville District, and Front Range Roadless Area in the Pikes Peak District are being managed now that the Forest Service is manipulating the official system.
“The last thing this forest needs is more roads through prime wildlife habitat,” says Bill Sustrich, a life and benefactor member of the National Rifle Association who has hunted in the area for more than 40 years. “In some places on this forest, the motorized routes look like a plate of spaghetti. Adding 500 miles of existing tracks without allowing public comment or ever considering the impacts is simply wrong.”
The groups claim that the Pike-San Isabel National Forest is overflowing with roads and motorized trails — so much so that fForest is $16 million behind in maintaining its thousands of miles of official roads. Grandfathering in nearly 800 additional tracks will only exacerbate the problem and is irresponsible management.
Alison Dunlap, former Olympian and World Champion mountain bike racer and business owner in Colorado Springs, laments that this move, if not reversed, will spread road and trail maintenance dollars even more thinly.
“The Forest Service needs to put its limited funds toward maintaining the roads and trails that are needed, and not drain it away on redundant roads to nowhere,” she said. “What the Forest Service did will not help ensure safe and reliable access to the places where I conduct business and where my family loves to bike, camp, and hike.”
Groups filing the lawsuit include the Quiet Use Coalition, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Native Ecosystems, Wildlands CPR and The Wilderness Society and are represented by Earthjustice. The groups want to make sure that, before even more off-road vehicle routes are added to the forest’s already busting-at-the-seams motorized network, the Forest Service figure out which roads are truly needed for public access and forest management and which roads are harmful to the environment. Moreover, they want to make sure that the public is involved in the process.
Filed under: Colorado, forests, recreation, Summit County Colorado, US Forest Service Tagged: | Alison Dunlap, motorized recreation, ORVs, Pike National Forest, Pike-San Isabel National Forest, San Isabel National Forest, Summit County News, U.S. Forest Service, United States, United States Forest Service