Forest Service may close roads

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Public road and trail closures in the Routt National Forest proved to be a sore topic for some people attending a meeting Monday night to discuss possibly restricting use on some Forest Service roads.

Around 50 people packed into a small meeting room at the Yampa River Legacy State Park building, west of Hayden, to gather information and give input about some 50 miles of roads and 41 miles of trails in the Routt National Forest that could be closed or restricted. The roads and trails in question are in California Park and the Black Mountain area. That's on the Routt National Forest in the northwest corner of the Routt County and the northeast corner of Moffat County.

U.S. Forest Service officials said they are considering restricting use on the public right of ways for three reasons: to reduce the environmental impact, decrease the number of people in the area in hopes that elk won't move onto public land before the first rifle hunting season, and to take roads that are being used by a limited number of people out of use so the Forest Service doesn't have to pay for the maintenance on them.

Right now, the agency is doing a road analysis to see which roads could be temporally or permanently restricted.

"This is not a witch hunt to go out to find roads to close," said Sherry Reed, special projects coordinator for the Routt/Medicine Bow National Forest.

Henry Vera drove to the meeting from Northglenn, near Denver, to voice his opinion. For 32 years, he said he has hunted in the California Park and Black Mountain area.

"I feel like I'm being pushed out," he said. "After 32 years, and my knees giving out, I see with the roads closing that (hunting) could be something that I can't do anymore."

Vera said he uses some of the roads in question to drive his truck to a camping spot. He said his main concern was the more roads that are restricted, the fewer places he can go.

Joe Tonso, an older Craig resident, said closing roads in popular hunting areas displaces a particular group of people.

"People who are getting up into my age, can't pack an elk out on our backs," he said.

As well as thinking about the people who would be displaced from the closure, Tonso said the Forest Service needs to consider who it is they are encouraging to hunt there.

"People who have horses won't have any problems," he said. Tonso explained, horse access could make the area exclusive for guides and outfitters, not the local hunter.

Local DOW area manager Jim Haskins said that Tonso concerns are being considered by the Forest Service.

"There's no doubt about it, we're displacing people," Haskins said.

Though guide and outfitter permits are not given in California Park, people are still engaging in the business there, Haskins said.

Rick Fisher, of Steamboat Springs, said he is concerned about the permanency of the closures.

"If the objective is to get the elk herd (population) down, great. But my experience is that road closures are forever," he said.

He said motorized users end up with the "short end of the stick" because road and trail closures are a means to an end. When that end is met, the roads stay closed.

Other issues raised included limiting all-terrain vehicles during certain hours of the day so elk won't be spooked and starting the first rifle hunting season earlier in the year to insure a good harvest.

The concerns raised at the meeting add to the issues the Forest Service and DOW have to deal with when it comes to California Park and Black Mountain.

First, the DOW now estimates the elk herd in the area is around 17,000 after the 1999 hunting seasons. That is around 5,000 more than agency officials say is healthy for the herd and the environment. With more hunters flooding into Routt County, the earlier they scare elk on to private land.

"One thing we are seeing about elk being killed on private land is that most of them are bulls," Haskins said. "We can't manage an elk herd by killing bulls."

Nationwide, the Forest Service has 380,000 miles of roads but only 20 percent of the money needed to maintain them.

Reed said it costs $5,000 a mile to maintain a road annually. If there are roads that don't need to be there, then they should be closed, she said.

The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the issue until Feb. 13. Reed said it is important for people who use the roads in question to express their opinions to the Forest Service.

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