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Outdoors: Public lands access advocates win another round in the battle over federal recreation fees

Summit County hiking Colorado

The legal battles over Forest Service recreation fees continue

District court judges nixes Southern California Adventure Pass

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The see-saw legal battles over public land recreation fees took another twist last week, as a judge in California decided that the U.S. Forest Service can’t continue selling its Adventure Pass for heavily visited recreation areas in Southern California national forests.

According to the judge, the pass violates federal law — specifically the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act — because it makes visitors pay to use public lands even if they’re not using any developed facilities.

“The Forest Service is prohibited from charging a fee solely for parking. If a visitor does nothing other than park, the fee is solely for parking and is, therefore, plainly prohibited by the REA,” the court ruled, referencing previous court decisions. Continue reading

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Travel: National Forest map app now available for Android, iOS devices

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White River NF map app now available.

New app puts national forest info at your fingertips

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with the many mapping apps already available for smartphones and tablets, the U.S. Forest Service is also putting its popular national forest maps online for Android and iOS devices.

“This mobile app makes it easier than ever to plan your visit to a national forest or grassland,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a press release. “By putting important forest information right at your fingertips, it will encourage more Americans to get outside and explore their forests.”

The PDF Maps Mobile App, developed by Avenza Systems Inc., is available as a free download from iTunes and the Android Play Store. The app provides access to Forest Service maps, such as motor-vehicle-use maps, which are free while pages from national forest atlases are 99 cents and forest visitor maps are $4.99. Prices are pending for other agency maps.  Continue reading

Motorized users lose bid to ease restrictions on off-road travel in California’s Tahoe National Forest

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A Federal judge upholds modest limits on motorized use in the Tahoe National Forest.

Modest forest plan limits will remain in place

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal judge in California this week upheld a plan that limits off-road motorized use in the Tahoe National Forest. Motorized users had challenged the rules as too restrictive, but conservation advocates said the plan strikes a good balance, enabling motorized access on much of the forest, but protecting sensitive areas.

Several conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, intervened in the lawsuit in defense of the plan, arguing that there is no way to adequately protect a forest while allowing motor vehicles to trammel all over the forest with no restrictions or limits. Continue reading

Wildlife: Bear encounters already reported in Aspen area

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The U.S. Forest Service is trying to get a jump on unwanted bear encounters in the Aspen area. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Forest Service orders campers to keep food in sealed storage bins at campgrounds

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A spate of bear encounters in the Aspen area has prompted the U.S. Forest Service to require campers to store their food, cooking equipment, cooking utensils, and coolers in bear-resistant containers, such as a closed, locked vehicle or a food locker.

The order affects all developed recreation sites on the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District in the upper Roaring Fork Valley of Pitkin County including the designated campsites along Lincoln Creek and Castle Creek. Nineteen sites on the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District in Eagle County are also included.

The Forest Service is trying to get an early handle on unwanted encounters after a series of incidents in late May, when a large bear approached campers at one or more camp sites and was undeterred by human presence, shouting, car horns, and other noise and commotion.

One camper reported that the bear tried to open a car door with people and a dog inside. Other campers that improperly stored food and garbage probably played a major role in these incidents. When bears associate food and garbage with humans and their belongings, they will become habituated to the human environment.

The food storage order helps break the bear’s link between human presence and a possible reward of food or garbage. If bears don’t get rewarded, their natural behavior is to avoid humans and their belongings. Compared to natural foods that bears eat in the wilds, human foods and garbage have a tremendous amount of calories, fat, and nutrients.

Any odorous substance can attract bears, including garbage and refuse, cooking oil, dirty dishes, and toiletries.  It is important to prevent bears from associating any such odors with people.

Violators could be fined up to $5,000 or up to six months in prison. Visit the White River National Forest online to get more information on national forest lands camping and addresses and telephone numbers for local ranger stations.

Outdoors: Forest Service touts June 8 fee-free day

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Get out on and play on public lands this coming Saturday, June 8, because it’s fee-free day.

Public land agencies promote outdoor activities

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Four times a year, the U.S. Forest Service “gives” you something that’s already yours — free access to public lands that you own.

The next fee-free day is coming up in just a week (June 8), when you won’t have to pay to park and hike in areas that were funded by taxpayers in the first place. The other days are Sept. 28 for National Public Lands Day and Nov. 9-11 for Veterans Day Weekend.

“The country’s forests and grasslands beckon people from coast to coast to come hike, bike, fish and camp this weekend,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “A tank of gas can give you memories with family and friends that will last a lifetime. It’s worth the trip.” Continue reading

Link between global warming and wildfires becoming more clear

The Eagle Creek Fire in Montana burns late in the 2012 wildfire season. Photo courtesy Inciweb/Air Attack.

Report outlines surge in fires since 1970s, as spring and summer temps increase and the snow melts earlier

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly all western states have seen a huge surge in wildfires during the past 10 years, as warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt make old forests more susceptible to large-scale blazes, according to a report issued by Climate Central.

The report also cites changed land-use practices and insect infestations as additional factors, and decades-long intensive fire suppression has also resulted in more widespread areas of fire-prone forests.

But the preponderance of evidence suggests that global warming will increase the likelihood of large fires into the future, with fire seasons up to 75 days longer than just 40 years ago — about the time the greenhouse-gas heating cycle kicked into high gear. Continue reading

Morning photo: Early Colorado wildflowers

From forest to tundra

Alpine forget-me-not blooming at 11,900 feet near Loveland Pass, Colorado.

SUMMIT COUNTY — On our way up to Loveland Pass to watch the solar eclipse we stopped at Pass Lake (still frozen) for a quick look-see. Tromping around the tundra we noticed how the tops of the krummholz were burned red by frost after a low snow year, when the tips of the shrub-like trees stay exposed to the elements. Not a big deal — that’s why they grow the way they do. Then, looking down, tiny patches of bright blue, the season’s first alpine forget-me-nots blooming about two or three weeks earlier than usual. It made us realize that wildflower season is likely to come earlier than usual this year, and it could be sparse, especially compared to last summer, when abundant moisture made for an overdose of flowers. So get out and enjoy while you can … all images by iPhone. Continue reading

Forest Service set to finalize Colorado roadless rule

Colorado's national forest lands, with roadless areas roughly depicted in blue. MAP COURTESY SOUTHERN ROCKIES ECOSYSTEM PROJECT.

Conservation groups favor national version

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — At long last, a roadless rule for more than 4 million acres of National Forest land in Colorado may get some final shape this week, as state and federal officials announce what they’re calling the “next steps” for a state-based version of the rule.

The roadless rule, in its various incarnations, would essentially prohibit road building on almost 60 million acres of public national forest land across the country, based on its value for wildlife, water, buffers against invasive species. In first proposing the rule, former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck also talked about the almost overwhelming maintenance backlog on existing roads.

Read more Summit Voice coverage of the roadless saga here.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will unveil those next steps at a media event in Denver Wednesday (May 2), with the conservation community watching to see if the newest state version closes loopholes for water development, backcountry logging and energy extraction. Continue reading

Colorado: Vail Resorts boosts new wilderness plan

Eagles Nest Wilderness, Gore Range, Colorado. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Sen. Mark Udall still seeking community consensus for new national forest designations in White River NF

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposal to add more wilderness and other specially designated conservation and recreation areas in the White River National Forest got support from a key economic stakeholder last week, as Vail Resorts announced support for what’s now being called the central mountains wilderness proposal.

“The special nature of the economies in Colorado’s resort communities relies on the successful balance of offering thoughtfully developed recreation opportunities on our public lands with the preservation of pristine wilderness areas,” said Beth Ganz, Vail Resorts vice president of public affairs and sustainability. “Vail Resorts is proud to support this effort to strike that important balance. We believe this proposal and the protections it will provide are critical for Colorado.”

“The areas under consideration in Eagle and Summit counties have been identified as important ecological areas that provide wildlife habitat and serve as our community watersheds, including Hoosier Ridge near Breckenridge and West Lake Creek outside of Edwards. These areas will benefit greatly from the contemplated higher levels of protection and will contribute to the quality of life in our iconic mountain communities,” Vail Resorts announced on its web site. Continue reading

Forest Service recreation fees take another legal hit

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the agency can’t charge people for roadside picnics, or parking and hiking in undeveloped areas

A federal court of appeals ruling makes clear that the Forest Service can't charge fees simply for parking at a trailhead and hiking.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service can’t charge recreation fees for simple access to public lands, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously last week, rejecting the agency’s bid to include undeveloped areas in the fee program.

The San Francisco-based Appeals Court found the U.S. Forest Service at fault for charging parking fees to people who go for a hike without using amenities such as picnic tables, trashcans and bathrooms located nearby, or who camp in dispersed, undeveloped parts of a National Forest.

If the ruling stands, it will be binding in nine western states and sets a nationwide legal precedent. The ruling doesn’t cover Colorado, but the fee program at Mt. Evans is currently being challenged in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals — which does cover Colorado, and the recent ruling out of San Francisco could be a factor in that case. Continue reading

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