December 09, 2011

Backcountry Hunters Group Sues Forest Service

In southwestern Colorado, the group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is suing the U.S. Forest Service over unauthorized motorized use in areas valuable as watershed and big-game habitat.

This is the news release:

MANCOS – The Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) took legal action today [Dec. 2, 2011] to protect big game habitat and hunting opportunity from encroaching dirt-bike traffic in the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest.

The Rico-West Dolores (RWD) landscape comprises 244,550 acres of prime wildlife habitat.  It contains the headwaters of the Dolores River and stretches from elevations of 7,500 feet to three peaks exceeding 14,000 feet.  The landscape’s value as wildlife habitat and a source of clean water is unmistakable, but it’s being degraded by encroaching motorized overuse and abuse.  This unmanaged traffic violates the Management Plan for the San Juan National Forest.

“Over the last three years, sportsmen have worked to resolve this issue with public lands agency personnel, exhausting all options available,” said Bob Marion, a BHA volunteer from Mancos.  “We have been left with no choice but to file this lawsuit.  We welcome any opportunity to settle this case in a positive manner.”

According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, “Motorized vehicle use … inhibits wildlife use of this important habitat by increasing fragmentation … [It] bisects important elk habitat, e.g., calving, nursery and summering area.”  Put simply, without the proper balance of secure wildlife habitat and motorized traffic, habitat suffers and becomes less desirable for elk and deer, and the hunters who pursue them.

“It is the Forest Service’s job to strike the correct balance between motorized access and secure big game habitat,” said David Lien, BHA board member from Colorado Springs.  “We are simply asking the judge to hold the agency accountable for its promises to the American people.”

In particular, BHA is seeking to correct that balance on fourteen trails in the RWD landscape where unlawful motorized use is adversely impacting big game habitat.  Given that there are some 2,800 miles of roads across the 1.8 million-acre San Juan National Forest (including 120 miles of single-track motorized trails in the adjacent Mancos-Cortez Travel Management Area), there is plenty of access for motorized users in the region.

“These motorized routes do not serve as important access points and are fragmenting prime hunting grounds,” said John Gale, Colorado BHA co-chair.  “We support recreational motorized use in a controlled manner and in places it’s allowed, but in this case the forest plan is being violated and sensitive big game habitat is negatively impacted.”

Colorado BHA is represented in this case by the Natural Resources Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School.

Key Facts:

• The Forest Service has a responsibility to manage America’s national forests for the greatest good, including traditional hunting and fishing opportunities.  The agency is failing in the Rico-West Dolores (RWD) country of the San Juan National Forest.
• The agency is violating its own forest plan by allowing fourteen dirt-bike trails to encroach into fragile alpine country and big game habitat, damaging traditional hunting and fishing opportunities we have enjoyed here for generations.
• There are thousands of miles of roads and trails for motorized recreation elsewhere in this region.  For example, across the San Juan Public Lands in southwest Colorado there are about 5,500 miles of roads and motorized trails.  If lined up end-to-end, these roads and trails would extend from Cortez to the State of Maine—and back.
• In the San Juan National Forest there are some 2,800 miles of roads, and 120 miles of single-track motorized trails in the nearby Mancos-Cortez Travel Management Area.
• The public land being impacted by motorized overuse and abuse on the trails in question is important big game habitat and inappropriate for dirt-bikes.
• The trails include: Bear Creek, Burnett Creek, Calico, Eagle Peak/Upper Stoner, East Fall Creek, Gold Run, Grindstone, Horse Creek, Johnny Bull, Little Bear, Priest Gulch, Ryman Creek, Stoner Creek, and Wildcat.

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