OUT Sun Column June 14, 2009

DOW concerned over enforcement of road closures

Last week, this space wondered aloud why the Colorado Division of Wildlife apparently would oppose the White River National Forest from closing some ATV routes. Now we know.

The object of the discussion was a letter from DOW Director Tom Remington to the White River National Forest saying the state agency would prefer leaving open some ATV routes possibly facing closure under the Forest’s proposed travel management plan.

One section of the plan deals with ATV travel on roads in the forest.

Not limited to Forest Service roads but all roads, some of which are county or federal roads.

Which is where the matter started, or should have, anyway.

The DOW letter was a travel management letter, not a resource management letter.

The closures proposed by the White River are travel management closures, not resource management closures.

There’s a huge difference.

No one denies (well, almost no one since some ATV owners defiantly remain head-stuck-in-sand) that run-amuck ATVs have seriously hurt hunting in many places.

But it’s the riding experience, not the quality of hunting, that’s in part driving these White River rule changes.

The proposed closures, amounting to about 840 miles of roads and trails, are aimed at bringing some consistency to the forest’s travel plans and providing a “full ATV experience” when possible, said Wendy Haskins, travel planner for the White River National Forest.

It’s complicated because Colorado doesn’t require an ATV be licensed or made street legal.

The state also prohibits the operation of unlicensed vehicles on roads and streets except under certain specific conditions, one of which is when a federal agency allows such use on roads under its management.

There’s also those mixed or broken jurisdiction roads, such as the Buford-Newcastle road or the Coffeepot Road, where a country road changes to a Forest Road and perhaps back to a county road.

Legally, an ATV rider could unload at the forest boundary, ride through the forest, load again at the county marker, unload at the forest, etc, etc.

“That’s not a very good experience,” Haskins noted.

So it’s easier from a management and enforcement standpoint to eliminate ATV use in those places where riding distances are short and hassles are long.

The DOW letter pointed out that by eliminating ATV use on some roads and trails, hunters using ATVs will have to find new transportation or lose access.

“It’s not a change in policy,” said Ron Velarde, Northwest Region Manager, whose staff wrote all those comments. “We’re asking for a clarification of what the Forest is going to do to enforce those regulation changes.”

One concern is already busy trail heads may become more so when hunters have to unload ATVs from trailers instead of driving those ATVs to the trail head.

“We don’t have a problem when hunters are going legally from Point A to Point B,” Velarde said. “But we don’t advocate (user-created) trails or using ATVs for retrieval of game.” 

Some of the illegally made trails and roads will be closed while others, approximately 200 miles worth, may remain open as official routes.

“Some of the user-created trails are in really good shape and could add credence to our new plan,” Haskins said. “If they do, at this time we would make them part of our system.”

Those needing too much rehabilitation or in sensitive areas would be closed, she said.

The DOW still supports road and trail closures where doing so would benefit wildlife habitat and resource management.

But as Remington’s letter pointed out, hunters need some way to get to their hunting areas and for now ATVs seem to be the method of choice.

“Use of ATVs is always an issue,” Remington wrote, “but generally when ATVs are being used illegally and not while on designated roads.”

Which again points out the shortage in staff and funding the Forest Service, BLM and other agencies face when it comes to enforcement.

A little bailout money might help keep miscreants out of trouble and allow law-abiding ATV users, which likely is the vast majority of them, still to enjoy the ease of access a motorized mount affords.


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