Thursday, January 18, 2001
Steamboat Springs Officials from the U.S. Forest Service are considering changing the way they manage about 50 miles of roads and 41 miles of trails in the Routt National Forest, which could result in permanent and seasonal restrictions on the public right of ways.
On Monday, the Forest Service will hold a public meeting to hear input about the use of roads and trails in California Park and the Black Mountain area. That public land is located in the Routt National Forest in the northwest corner of Routt County and the northeast corner of Moffat County.
There are a number of reasons the Forest Service is looking at the roads in that portion of the forest, said Sherry Reed, special projects coordinator for the Routt/Medicine Bow National Forest.
"The uses of roads and the footprints they make on the landscape isn't a new issue," she said. "This is really part of a national push to look at roads."
In the past few years, forest officials across the country have considered the purpose of roads on national forest lands and if the agency can afford to maintain all of them.
In 1999, the Forest Service estimated having responsibility of 380,000 miles of roads in the United States but only having about 20 percent of the funds needed to properly maintain them.
Reed said many of the local roads in question are leftover from heavy logging that happened in there in the '60s and might not serve a current need.
Instead, those roads, and some older trails, could have a negative environmental impact on the forest. Roads and trails can affect the watershed and have a significant influence on the health of surrounding landscapes.
"They are the biggest contributor of sediment to our streams," Reed said.
The local elk herd habitat also is a particular concern for the Forest Service and Colorado Division of Wildlife from the perspective of roads and trails, Reed said.
Some animals from Bears Ears Elk Herd live in California Park and the Black Mountain in the fall. Hunters use the roads and trails to access the herd. In the past few years, an increased number of hunters have popped up in that area to hunt. That caused the elk to move down to private lands earlier in the year before a good hunt can happen.
"We have too many roads (and trails) that are going to too many places that are disturbing the elk," Reed said.
Last year, the DOW estimated the elk herd had 17,000 animals, which is about 5,000 more than wildlife officials say is healthy. Reed said 4,000 elk from that herd spend the spring in California Park. That increased number creates the same negative impacts on the environment that overgrazing of cattle has on the land. That includes a decrease of edible plants and destructive trampling to the area.
"It's really concentrated to California Park," she said.
Restrictions on roads to decrease numbers of hunters could be just for the hunting season or permanent.
Local bow hunter Dennis Slunaker doesn't hunt in California Park anymore because it is too crowded with hunters. The last time he went hunting there was five years ago.
"There were a million people out there and we didn't see anything," he said.
However, Slunaker, who is a member of the Colorado Bow Association, said he doesn't know if road restriction is a cure-all to the problem.
"Personally, I think they are closing the gates after the horses have already gotten away," he said.
The problem with elk moving out of California Park and Black Mountain is primarily caused by too many people illegally driving off the roads on all-terrain vehicles. That puts the real stress on the herd, Slunaker said.
For the Forest Service, policing illegal off-road vehicles is a matter of not enough available hands, rather than not enough initiative, Reed said.