A day after President Joe Biden ordered that masks be worn on federal lands as one measure to fight coronavirus, both federal agencies and the public are still trying to determine just how far-reaching the requirement will be.
For example — will it apply to people hiking on trails in Colorado National Monument?
“That is an excellent question, that we do not yet have the answer to,” monument spokeswoman Arlene Jackson of the National Park Service said Thursday.
Depending on how broadly the requirement applies, its ramifications could be far-reaching for people living in the West. For example, according to Mesa County’s website, 72% of land in the county is publicly owned, and controlled primarily by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
BLM media representatives weren’t immediately able to say Thursday how the requirement will affect the agency and its lands. But the Interior Department, which includes the BLM and National Park Service, said in a statement, “The Interior Department will have additional department-specific guidance in the days and weeks to come.”
The Forest Service is part of the U.S. Agriculture Department.
“We are evaluating the implications of the change and will provide updates as they become available,” Agriculture Department spokesman Larry Moore said.
Biden’s Inauguration Day order says that on-duty or on-site federal employees, on-site federal contractors, “and other individuals in Federal buildings and on Federal lands should all wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures,” as provided in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
It then states that agencies and department heads should act “to require compliance with CDC guidelines with respect to wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and other public health measures” when it comes to federal employees and contractors and public buildings and federal lands. That might leave room for agencies to determine that CDC guidelines warrant, for example, mask requirements at a trail head parking lot but not on a trail.
A mask order by Gov. Jared Polis generally doesn’t apply outdoors.
Jackson, who noted that it’s a slow season at Colorado National Monument, said the monument hadn’t gotten any inquiries for clarity on the new federal requirement as of late Thursday afternoon.
But she added, “An overwhelming majority of our visitors have been wearing masks over the last couple of days.”
John Lintott, co-executive director of the Colorado National Monument Association, which fund-raises for the monument, said that if it turns out masks are required on trails in the monument, “I can’t say I would be happy about it but I certainly would comply.”
He wonders about the challenges of enforcing such a requirement on the trail.
“If you’re the only one hiking on a trail and you don’t come in contact with anybody, what’s to say you’re wearing a mask at all,” he said.
Lintott said he doesn’t wear a mask while running in the monument because he’s not around people. He said he does come across people who will have a mask they’ll pull into place “sort of out of respect” when passing others. Lintott said he supports requiring mask-wearing where people cluster together.
He wears a mask while working in the monument’s visitor center on behalf of the association, with proceeds from sales of books and gifts at the center benefiting the monument. The visitor center just recently reopened after closing just before Thanksgiving as a COVID-19 precaution.
Martin Wiesiolek directs the ski school that uses the Grand Mesa Nordic Council trails on national forest land. He said he is looking into what Biden’s mandate might mean there. But he doesn’t think a mask requirement would be a problem. He already sees a lot of skiers wearing face masks or other coverings on the trails, and he wears one when giving lessons, as do his students.
“I get used to it,” he said of mask-wearing. “It’s not that big of a deal. I would prefer it without, but also prefer not to get sick or make anybody else sick, so it’s a no-brainer tradeoff for me.”
He said having to wear a mask might make breathing harder for cross-country ski racers, but he thinks people would put health above the amateur racing on Grand Mesa trails. Already, due to the pandemic, the only racing occurring there this winter involves people completing self-timed routes on their own.
Another question regarding Biden’s order is what if any impact it would have on skiing in Colorado. Of the 22 resorts that are part of Colorado Ski Country USA, 21, including Powderhorn Mountain Resort, operate on national forest land, said Colorado Ski Country spokesman Chris Linsmayer.
He said that under a mask requirement from Polis, ski areas already mandate mask-wearing in situations such as while on lifts, in lift lines and at the base area.
“We’ll have to wait to see if there are additional clarifications (from the Forest Service) but those are the policies that we’re operating under right now,” he said.