County commissioners should listen to alternative voices on BLM travel plan
The Mesa County commissioners recently encouraged “the public to come forward and provide as much comment as possible regarding the BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan before the June 24 deadline.”
Seems like an excellent idea, and who better to provide a forum for the community to speak out on the issue than the county commissioners?
Since the commissioners represent all their constituents, they should recognize that off-highway vehicle riders are only one user group interested in the frequency and locality of existing and proposed roads. Ranchers, hunters, fishermen, wildlife viewers, mountain bikers, hikers and other quiet-use groups also should have a voice in travel management decisions.
The public can send in comments to the BLM until the June 24 cutoff date. But people should also have the opportunity to have their positions acknowledged in the commission’s comments to the BLM. This is particularly important since local BLM offices frequently give greater weight to comments by public officials than individuals or interest groups.
It appears only the proponents of OHV access to public lands have the ear of the commissioners. A pro-OHV organization has been contracted to help write the commission’s comments for the BLM.
Pan Pacific Services “offers professional services to the public that will help you save your present trail systems,” the group’s web page advertises. Among other services, PPS also writes “comment for draft NEPA documents and TMR plans, and ... appeals, for the client’s signature.”
It would seem reasonable to expect county commissioners to draft their own comments for the BLM, but they have apparently elected to outsource their comments to these specialists. Jim Cooper, known locally for his years as a travel planner for the Grand Junction BLM Field Office, now represents PPS. He testified before the county commission on March 25.
As a travel management planner for 27 years, the last several in the Grand Junction BLM Field Office, Cooper was responsible for the development of several roads and trails he is now called upon to evaluate. Additionally, he and his group will be asked to evaluate many user-made roads that were created illegally.
Cooper departed the BLM, only to reappear as the representative of an organization whose aim is to protect the status quo for OHV roads and trails on public lands.
PPS isn’t the kind of organization a county commission should choose for an objective opinion on the best options for the county. Yet, Cooper will help the county commissioners decide which of the routes he has championed should be closed and which kept open.
Cooper points to the “cultural importance” of OHV roads to justify keeping public land open to use by such vehicles, but his most substantial argument is financial. “This area gets a great deal of its money from recreation and recreational access to public lands. There’s a big financial incentive to keep these routes open,” he explained.
The claim of substantial local income from OHV operators is largely unsubstantiated. A Headwaters Economics study of Moab, Utah, — a veritable holy grail for OHVs — indicates that hikers and mountain bikers brought in far more income than the motorized crowd.
The increasing bike traffic and growing number of out-of-town hikers in the Colorado National Monument appear to offer far more potential for increasing the local economy than OHV routes.
A Sonoran Institute study of public land accessibility as an economic driver attributed positive effects for attracting both industry and tourists to a city to protected areas like national parks and monuments, wilderness areas, quiet recreation and other non-motorized activities.
Those who have not had a public forum to present their views on the issue should not remain silent.
Instead, demand a forum before the county commissioners to make a public case for better management of OHV traffic and more respect for the many public land users who do not appreciate the degradation and destruction of vast quantities of public land for the amusement of a very small percentage of the population.