Vail Valley Voices: Keep forests open to all
Vail, CO Colorado
I don’t know Paul Chapman, but in response to his letter published on Sept. 8, I had to write to correct his assumption that the boundaries have been “delineated to exclude areas that are of the greatest interest to motorized and mechanized hob-byists.” I don’t want to “assume” what Paul truly knows about the issue, but anyone involved in snow-mobiling or motorized vehicles would not have made that state-ment. Even though I am not a snow-mobiler, I believe in keeping open access to all users of the White River National Forest and, frankly, all public lands in general.
The current Gems proposal will eliminate almost all of local snow-mobiling and motor-ized clubs’ favorite recreational areas, mak-ing remain-ing areas crowded.
Snowmobil-ers in particular would only be left with Baylor Park, as Twin Peaks, the Burn area, Clear Fork, Jones Trail, Spruce Mountain and Thompson Creek would all be designated as wilderness and inaccessible. Fur-thermore, the Gems proposal does-n’t stop at those areas but continues north of Interstate 70 to the Flat Tops. Once something is designated wilderness, that is it. There is no reversing it or going back.
The vast majority of motorized users respects the idea of ” tread lightly” and does more to improve the outdoor recreational experience than detract from it. If the legislation in the Gems proposal passes, it will shut these areas off to everything mechanical from mountain bikes to chain saws, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, etc. This has implica-tions for everything from dead- tree removal to people with back issues or handicaps. Without the ability to use chain saws, which are prohibit-ed in wilderness areas, it makes it extremely difficult to clear trails to be able to enjoy them whether on foot, horse or snowmobile.
Additionally, the Gems wilder-ness proposal bypasses the current process through the Forest Service for designating land as wilderness by going directly to Congress for the designation. This significantly cuts down on the time it takes to create wilderness designation and the abil-ity for groups opposed to the legisla-tion to provide input.
We are trying to maintain the freedoms of everyone to enjoy public land, which all Americans have a right to access. My family and friends began frequently trav-eling to the high country in the White River National Forest around 1980. There is little change that has taken place when you get up and see the vast beauty of the Flat Tops, Red Table and Upper Fryingpan areas.
The following comments were made by John Monarch, president of an ecological consulting firm in Colorado. His input reflects the reality of just how twisted the process of “protecting our envi-ronment” has become.
“I have been a wildlife biologist who has conducted wildlife studies for over 35 years in the Intermountain West. During that time, I have used snowmobiles to access areas where I have conducted studies. Hav-ing observed wildlife responses to snow-mobiles over that time, I would support Ed Klim’s (president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association) observation that there have been no stud-ies to support the notion that there have been significant impacts to wildlife. As a matter of fact, I would doubt one could prove even through studies that elk, deer or other wildlife are affected at not only the population level but the individual level. The potential risk to wintering wildlife by snowmobile activity is minimized by the fact that most snowmobiling occurs in non-winter use areas. An example is the White River National Forest, where less than 3 percent of the forest is considered to be winter habitat for big game animals. And, of this area, portions of that are not accessible to snowmobilers.
” The argument that snowmobiling affects humans is driven primarily by the cross- country skiers who feel the snow-mobilers are impacting their wilderness experience. As for the environment, there are no studies to prove snowmobiles affect the environment. The special interest groups don’t want to accept the fact that snowmobiling occurs on the snow and, with few exceptions, does not affect vege-tation or habitat. The few exceptions I ref-erence are those instances when snowmo-bilers ride during marginal snow condi-tions and tear up the vegetation. This is an education and self-policing issue that we must continue to work on and not a reason to close down national parks or portions of the forests.
“Whenever I deal with environmental issues, I find that they have an opinion and are pushing an agenda and don’t care what the facts, or lack thereof, show. What peo-ple need to do is spend as much time in the field as I have over the past years. Then maybe they would have a better under-standing of how wildlife reacts to not only winter but year-round recreation and other activities. Then, maybe they wouldn’t be so inclined to get on the bandwagon in oppo-sition of motorized recreation.”
Lisa Smith is an Edwards resident.