Letter: Berlaimont decision sets a dangerous precedent
It would be a gross understatement to say I was disappointed in the recent decision by the U.S. Forest Service to approve the Berlaimont Estates proposal to pave two Forest Service roads in order to enable the development of a new, upscale gated community.
What will it take for Forest Manager Scott Fitzwilliams to recognize, acknowledge and address the dire circumstances that have led to deterioration of our local big game populations.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists, deer and elk herds in this region have declined by as much as 80% in the last 20 years. Their own studies attribute most of the decline to habitat encroachment and increased levels of development, recreation and roads. And it’s not going to get any better as more and more people — especially in this current health environment — choose to move full-time to the mountains.
The current U.S. Forest Service Forest Management Plan regarding this area’s designation as a critical winter range for wildlife, including mule deer, elk, sage grouse, lynx, and other species, has been established since 2011. The owner of this inholding knew this was the case when entering into the purchase. The needs of a single developer are not compelling enough to amend that management plan. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act requires the Forest Service to provide adequate access. Nothing else. The viability of a yet-to-be-developed, speculative endeavor is not the responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service. As a developer, the owner certainly must know the term caveat emptor.
Typically what an owner does with his private land is his business as long as it meets all requirements and regulations of regional governing agencies. However, in the case of a proposed project of this size and nature, the level of finished road required by ANILCA and the mission of the Forest Service should not bend upward to meet the needs of the developer, but rather the developer should plan the use of an inholding around the limitations dictated by the minimum obligation of ANILCA. Based upon that, and with an existing road already in place, a 26-foot wide paved road, with hundreds of feet of retaining walls and massive cut-and-fill engineering, is unwarranted and excessive.
And, to add insult to injury, Fitzwilliams amended Alternative 2 to include a new recreation trail and parking lots. The area surrounding FSR’s 774, 780 and 783, is already riddled with both historically established trails and recently “pirated” trails from increased use by mountain bikes, ATVs and dirt bikes. This goes in the completely wrong direction relative to the overwhelming objections of wildlife experts and the community, whose voices have been well documented.
I recognize that the vast majority of our valley worships at the altar of second home development, leading to a sense of manifest destiny when it comes to approving every development that comes across the table. But there are more important things than perpetuating a boom economy when the very thing that draws people here in the first place is so aggressively under threat. This would set a dangerous precedent that will surely be leveraged again and again. For these reasons, the Forest Service should only approve Alternative 1, the “No Action” alternative.
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