Ski-doo’s and don’ts
A half-dozen conservation and non-motorized user groups have teamed up to prod the White River National Forest into paying closer attention to the needs of backcountry skiers and snowshoers – and to habitat requirements for wildlife – as the agency works to revise the travel management plan for the forest. The travel plan addresses specific trails, determining whether they are open to snowmobiles, mountain bikes or four-wheel-drive vehicles, for example.Together, Colorado Wild, the Wilderness Society, the Backcountry Skiers Alliance, The Center for Native Ecosystems, the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, Sinapu and the Colorado Mountain Club hope to counter the well-funded motorized lobby, which includes the Colorado Snowmobile Association, the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, and the Blue Ribbon Coalition.Snowmobilers and four-wheelers also claim they are being pushed off public lands, Several motorized groups jointly appealed the WRNF plan, hoping to gain access to additional terrain, above what they’ve been allotted in the revised plan.Under the 1984 forest plan, snowmobilers were permitted nearly everywhere outside wilderness areas, so it’s natural that they now feel like they’re losing something, said Chuck Ogilby, a member of the Vail Pass Task Force and the Backcountry Skiers Alliance.The environmental and non-motorized groups recently filed their comments on the travel plan, beginning with the fundamental premise that the White River forest has not set aside enough areas for skiers and snowshoers.Backed by Forest Service statistics, the groups claim non-motorized use is a major and rapidly growing use, accounting for twice as many recreation visitor days as snowmobiling. Since 1984, when the first WRNF plan was approved, cross-country skiing usage has increased 16 percent, as compared to 9 percent for snowmobiling.Forest Service also finds that cross country skiing and snowshoe use are expected to increase by 3.9 percent annually, the highest of any of recreational use category on the White River. Snowmobile use, by contrast, is expected to grow by 2.7 percent each year.The groups argue that the White River National Forest should set aside special areas, reserved for non-motorized use. Several similar areas have been established on the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, including the Fraser Experimental Forest and the Butler Gulch and Jones Pass area.On the White River forest, the agency has tried to separate uses in the 55,000-acre Vail Pass recreation area, but Ogilby said the revised forest plan doesn’t reflect the long-running management effort. Ogilby hopes the agency can address those concerns in the travel management plan."The prescriptions on the ground don’t jibe with the way we manage the fee area," Ogilby said.As Colorado’s population grows, the demand for recreation opportunities of all types will only increase. Without good management at Vail Pass and other high-use areas, conflicts are inevitable.But finding the resources to properly manage its land is one of the biggest challenges facing the agency."They have more roads than they can take care of already," said Ron Mitchell, a guide with Nova Tours who has been four-wheeling around the White River forest for 15 years.Mitchell said there are numerous areas where the Forest Service has failed to prevent resource damage, including near Muddy Pass. "I guess people thought it was too rough, so they made a new road through a meadow," Mitchell said. "They’re ridiculously understaffed for enforcement," Mitchell said, adding that the agency needs to levy stiffer fines for violations if it wants to deter abuse.Once again, lynx are at issue. In its comments on the travel plan, the environmental-non-motorized coalition is asking the Forest Service to consider restrictions on recreation in lynx movement corridors, including the area between Tennessee Pass and Vail Pass and the area between Georgia Pass and Loveland Pass in Summit County.Some of the comments also pertain to backcountry areas around Vail Mountain. For example, the coalition requests that Mill Creek Road be closed to motorized use "to allow Commando Run Skiers to safely finish their trips and to avoid the possibility of motorized use in Mushroom, Benchmark Bowl, and Northeast Bowls, which could disturb lynx."The comments also raise the possibility of limits or prohibitions on recreational use in Mushroom Bowl, Benchmark Bowl and Northeast Bowl, where a federal study cites historical use by lynx.Sidebar: Backcountry Skiers Alliance holds fundraiserIf there’s anything to be learned from the recent push-and-pull over the White River National Forest plan, it’s that access to public lands can’t be taken for granted.For backcountry skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts interested in preserving access to national forests and making sure there are quiet, non-motorized areas set aside, there’s probably no better cause to support than the Backcountry Skiers Alliance, a 10-year-old group that has been instrumental in representing the interests of human-powered winter backcountry users, including skiers, snowshoers, and snowboarders. The BSA advocates for the creation, preservation and management of non-motorized areas on public lands, working to preserve backcountry areas for non-motorized use, promoting winter backcountry safety and ethics, and cooperatively resolving conflicts among backcountry users.The BSA is holding its annual fundraiser at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden on Nov. 22. The event features a slide show by Brian Litz, as well as live and silent auctions with prizes like ski passes, hut and yurt nights, packs and other winter goodies.The fundraiser is co-sponsored by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, with refreshments provided by the New Belgium Brewing Company.Litz’s slide show is called "Ride the White, and Intercontinental Powder Quest." It features skiing scenes from Europe, Japan, Canada and the United States.The event is limited to 200 people, and tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. More information is available at the BSA Web site (http://backcountryalliance.org) or by calling 303-494-5266.
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