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Donovan: Don’t urbanize our forests

Diana Donovan
Valley Voices
Diana Donovan
Special to the Daily

The Forest Service’s recent draft decision on a paved road to Berlaimont Estates is disappointing, wrong, and worst of all, precedent-setting. The impacted public lands essentially become private and urbanized. Wildlife is displaced and dies, as does part of the valley’s soul.

Legally, the Forest Service cannot facilitate the over-development of multiple estates on an inholding (private land surrounded by public lands) when there is already reasonable access to accommodate reasonable use and enjoyment. Berlaimont is entitled to its existing seasonal access, not a boulevard on public lands to support a risky development. If that means the land owners can’t develop their high-end enclave at the expense of wildlife and all other natural resources, too darn bad!

The developers gambled on a speculative purchase when they bought the property. It is not the mission of the Forest Service to bail out this developer and approve a paved road. This would set a devastating precedent that could urbanize our national forests. There are thousands of inholdings on national forests: mining claims, abandoned homesteads and “summer camps” used by ranchers and hunters. Our wildlife cannot survive paved roads winding their way up every valley to estates that don’t belong in these locations for a multitude of reasons.

Estate developments like Berlaimont, deep on public lands, are devastating to the natural environment for miles beyond the property lines. Traffic to and from is constant as services for everything imaginable must be provided, and activities the owners desire are on the valley floor. Speed limits are ignored and there is no enforcement. The public lands are used as though private. Trails are created and pets roam free. Wildlife cannot survive in these conditions.

A couple nights ago my car was almost run into by a young buck a few yards east of the Edwards roundabout on Highway 6. He was terrified and I wondered where he was running from and where was he running to? We have destroyed his world and it is only getting worse. That is wrong and it will be magnified by the Berlaimont proposal, right in the middle of the last critical winter habitat between Vail and Eagle. In approving a paved road, the Forest Service will have to remove this habitat protection, effectively cutting off the lifeline for elk and deer. Think about the precedent this sets.

I came here in January 1965 for the winter. Like so many who came early on, I stayed for the environment, the immediate access to nature and the restorative visual beauty in nearly every view.

Sunrise and sunsets were inspiring. The night sky was a blanket of stars. Citizens fought to protect these essential elements including the free-flowing streams. We even sued the Forest Service to prevent a timber sale and we won.

But now the lights of huge homes high up the sides of our valleys and the traffic they generate compete with what is left of the night sky. Our large mammals are dying off. You must hike a long way to find any peace and then there may still be bikes and cell phones.

Berlaimont would sacrifice our public lands and wildlife for a development that adds nothing positive to our community and fills no need. It will encourage other similar requests, full of false promises as usual, and the Forest Service will be unable to say no because the precedent will be set. In government and law, precedent is everything.

Promises and conditions of approval and memorandums of understanding are worthless once a project is started. The damage is then done. This project must not be allowed to start by approving a paved access road through our public lands.

As citizens living adjacent to national forests, we must help safeguard them for all Americans, not just for the wealthy few, and certainly not for special interests and developers. Sometimes, as with Berlaimont, it means holding the U.S. Forest Service and its superintendent, Scott Fitzwilliams, accountable for their decisions. Mr. Fitzwilliams, you can’t put the genie of urbanizing our national forests back into the bottle once it is out.

No action is the only viable alternative regarding the road to Berlaimont.

Diana Donovan served on the Vail Town Council and has been involved with environmental issues and wilderness protection since she came to Vail in the 60s.


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