County says proposal would have significant impacts on wildlife and quality of life; Forest Service seeks to provide more motorized opportunities
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposal by the U.S. Forest Service and the Summit County Off-Road Riders to develop a 30-mile trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain is facing some serious questions from the Summit County commissioners.
In a draft comment letter, the commissioners said the proposal doesn’t mesh with local land-use guidelines, as expressed by the Snake River Basin master plan. The commissioners also questioned the Forest Service’s intention to evaluate the proposal with an Environmental Assessment, a level of analysis that, for an approval, must conclude with a formal Finding of No Significant Impact.
“The County believes that a motorized trail system of this extent would have significant impacts on the community, wildlife and natural environment within the Snake River Basin,” the commissioners wrote in a letter to be finalized before the Nov. 20 comment deadline.
According to the county’s letter, those impacts could include: “significant impacts of noise on wildlife in the area, cumulative impacts to the Snake River Basin’s built and natural environment resulting from ski area development and other tourism-based recreational uses within the basin, and significant changes to the character of the environment and the recreational user experience within the area.”
If the Forest Service proceeds, the county believes the agency should do a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement, a level of analysis that generally includes several different alternatives, with a comparison of the relative impacts of each option.
That could potentially enable the Forest Service to consider a phased approach to developing a trail system, starting on a smaller scale to assess whether the motorized community can achieve a degree of self-policing and a culture of compliance.
The Tenderfoot Mountain area has been scarred by years of unauthorized off-road use, which resulted in an extensive network of damaging trails and displacement of wildlife in the area. Over the years, there has been very little enforcement by the agency. The damage extended to county land, as well, including illegal use of heavy machinery to work on trails near the county landfill.
The Forest Service is in the scoping stage of its analysis, seeking to identify issues that should be addressed in the study. The proposal includes the rehabilitation of 15 miles of existing trails in the same area. Some illegal user-created trails in the same area would be closed and rehabilitated. Read more about the proposal and find comment info at this Summit Voice story.
A long history of public comment on motorized use in the Tenderfoot area shows significant opposition from residents in the area, as well as strong support from the motorized community. Read more in this 2009 Summit Daily News story (by Bob Berwyn).
The county’s letter refers to earlier comments made during the travel management process, which indicated concerns about:
- Noise impacts on local residents and visitors;
- Decreased property values;
- Increased wildfire hazards;
- Displacing existing users;
- Enforcement problems; and
- Increased user conflicts and safety concerns.
In its scoping notice for the proposal, the Forest Service said it has at least partially addressed most of the issues in a pre-NEPA planning process, by avoiding sensitive wildlife areas and laying out the trail system in a way that avoids conflicts with other users and residents.
The Snake River master plan calls for non-motorized recreational trail use in the Tenderfoot area, with the exception of motorized use on a few traditional roads used for hunting and backcountry access.
According to the county, “The Tenderfoot Mountain Motorized Trail System proposal currently being considered by the USFS clearly conflict” with that plan. “Accordingly, the County has serious concerns with the proposal because of the inconsistency with the Snake River Master Plan,” the draft letter states.
The letter also points out that the final version of the forest travel management plan appeared to reflect the majority consensus desire for non-motorized recreation in the area.
“There was a lot of confusion about why the Forest Service would come in with a proposal that appears to be at odds with the travel management plan guidance,” said planner Kate Berg, referring to public comments at a couple of recent meetings, including the Snake River planning commission.
During this week’s work session, the commissioners also called on the Forest Service to address potential socio-economic impacts of the proposed trails, as well as how the proposal might affect other trail systems in the county.
Controversy blossomed around motorized use of the area in 2009, when the Summit County County Off-Road Riders applied for a state grant to plan a trail system in the area. The motorized users and the Forest Service said at the time that they had no intention of proceeding with the project before finalization of the White River National Forest travel management plan, but critics of the trail system said the application for the planning grant was premature. Read more in this 2009 Summit Daily News story (by Bob Berwyn).
During some of those earlier discussions, it was also pointed that historic motorized use of the general area predates local land use planning and regulatory efforts — long before neighborhoods like Corinthian Hills and Summerwood were built.
Read all of Bob Berwyn’s 2009 stories on the Tenderfoot issue at this link.
Draft version of BOCC comment letter: