Letter: Who does the US Forest Service represent?
I have received a letter from the U.S. Forest Service regarding their Draft Decision to provide paved access to Berlaimont. For as long as I can remember, the Forest Service has closed the existing dirt road to the property to protect the winter habitat of the dwindling elk herd. Now, they are going to pave a road with massive cut-and-fill and retention walls that will be an impenetrable barrier for deer and elk in the midst of their migration corridor. That will be a major disruption to all wildlife in the area.
There is ample precedent for granting only dirt road access to Berlaimont. The ANILCA law that governs access to inholdings like Berlaimont does not require the Forest Service to grant access across our public land for every use of the land that a developer may envision. Rather, ANILCA says the Forest Service must determine what gives the owner “reasonable use and enjoyment” of the land.
In Berlaimont’s case, the Forest Service could determine that a development for summer cabins and homes, which would require only dirt road access, gives the owner “reasonable use and enjoyment,” especially given Berlaimont’s high and remote location. Similar summer homes and cabins on National Forest inholdings in Eagle County, including those at Fulford, Woods Lake, Homestake Creek, Tigiwon Road, and Piney Lake are accessed only via dirt roads in summer and snow machines in winter.
Another huge concern I have is the risk of wildfires. Rather than give a green light to develop 19 home sites, I think it is the Forest Service’s responsibility to discourage massive development by denying a paved road. Has anyone considered that big equipment can easily spark fires?
I am heartened by the efforts of Vail citizens to protect the bighorn sheep in East Vail. I am hopeful that we can encourage the Forest Service to do the right thing and adopt a No Alternative Action rather than a paved road to Berlaimont.
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