Esson: What is the Forest Service thinking?
I have protested permitting the building of any destructive 25- to 30-foot road through White River National Forest lands for the Berlaimont owners’ access to the inholding they purchased since they first proposed using Forest Service roads and land, instead of the existing four-wheel-drive seasonal road crossing their own land. But then I had not had the personal, very moving experience I want to relate to you, my community, fellow residents.
When four of us rode up toward Berlaimont on Saturday, June 8, last year with Susie Kincade driving, we crossed the public land on the existing Forest Service road, which the owners hope to greatly improve, planning to park at the “stock tanks” and then walk on up to the home sites above. Upon climbing out at the tanks, we looked up to the ridge, immediately spotting at the top against the sky a female elk. I pulled my binoculars up and saw just to her left a small elk calf, lying in the shrubbery with head up. The female elk grew agitated, pacing, then spinning, all the while making pleading bleating calls to the calf. We assumed it was a very new baby, perhaps just birthed, and she hoped to get it on its feet, to follow her. It was a pathetic scene.
Sickened by our intrusion, we piled back in the truck and descended to the Forest Service track just below, parked out of sight of the elk mother, and chose to follow Plan B. We walked up the Forest Service road around the ridge to a point where we could see the markers for the Berlaimont west “leg” and the continuing road along the power line. We did not now have time to hike to the actual Berlaimont property but could see up to it with binoculars, spying the conifers on top at near 10,000 feet.
This drive and walk uphill gave us a sense of the difficulty the owners would have in building and maintaining a year-round access road. We learned they plan to haul water up in big trucks having currently no water rights on their property. Just imagining the drive up and down in winter, or any season, is a daunting prospect. Will they just use a helicopter? How intrusive will either means be all year, not just during calving season?
Any pretense of sensitivity to wildlife was utterly destroyed by what we had just witnessed as well. Why is that Forest Service road we drove and walked not currently closed seasonally as are so many other areas? What is Forest Service thinking? What will be the level and zone of disturbance once road and home construction start? Is the National Forest to be managed to suit developers or to preserve natural resources?
Now the newest decision from Forest Service requires the Berlaimont owner-investors to seek the permission of our County Commissioners to use county land, still held for the public, instead of National Forest land for part of the new access road but through land nonetheless sensitive than as had been demanded.
I am also a longtime birder and am crazed thinking of the impact also on sage grouse on the lower road. But when I moved here 30 years ago I could never have imagined our large elk and deer herds would dwindle to such puny numbers as at present. It may be death by a 1,000 cuts, but please, fellow residents, do not let the last and final cut be at the hands of elected representatives of our community. Message our County Commissioners, who want to hear from you, to not permit this awful road. Require the owner-investors to improve and use the existing road on their own property.
Anne Esson is a longtime local who lives in West Vail.
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