Letter: Berlaimont decision creates a downward spiral
The U.S. Forest Service’s Berlaimont access road decision disqualifies critical elk and deer wintering habitat as not reason enough to look harder at proposed high-end development in remote Forest Service lands. Colorado Wild Public Lands submitted 21 pages of detailed maps and technical comments objecting to Berlaimont’s proposal to allow for the questionable improvement of six-plus miles of Forest Service road that would impact the critical wintering habitat of Colorado’s elk and deer population. The owner’s goal is to procure year-round access to this remote inholding so it can be developed far beyond its current and historical use. Despite receiving over 1,000 public comments objecting to the proposal, the Forest Service recently issued a draft decision of approval.
The Forest Service decision maker winced, said “we hear you” but then offered a set of incomplete mitigations as it approved a new road plan that bisects critical elk and deer wintering habitat or “survival habitat” by approving Alternative 2. The decision creates a downward spiral. It has the potential to crash elk and deer populations in the area by pushing displaced animals towards places where winter forage is over-utilized with reduced nutrient content. It does not recover well over the increasingly hotter seasons. Additionally, the expanded frequency of human use on the new road will impact the survival calories that assure deer and elk are healthy enough to reproduce. Riparian habitat and rare plant species will be affected as well.
Technical glitches on which the Berlaimont decision hinges include: The 7th Circuit stated no decision is more important than that delimiting what these “reasonable alternatives” are. One obvious way for an agency to slip past the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act is to contrive a purpose so slender as to define competing “reasonable alternatives” to be “out of consideration.” If the agency constricts the definition of the project’s purpose and thereby excludes those reasonable alternatives, the environmental impact statement cannot fulfill its role.
This is exactly what the Berlaimont proposal does; narrow its definition of “reasonable alternatives” such that its only comparable property — out of scores that were considered — is not an inholding surrounded by National Forest six-plus miles into critical wintering habitat.
Colorado Wild Public Lands continues to collaborate with other environmental organizations, working in Eagle County and around the state, to help protect wildlife and public access. Our response documents for the Berlaimont proposal can be reviewed on our website, http://www.coloradowildpubliclands.org. Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
Franz Froelicher, Board Member, Colorado Wild Public Lands