Behind the Headlines: Seeking a balance in the forest

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Q. The U.S. Forest Service recently expanded the suggested nonmotorized area on the forest to include a portion of the Routt National Forest known as the Toutes. What brought about this decision?

A. Winter recreation in the Routt National Forest is becoming increasingly more complex to manage. The popularity of the Rabbit Ears/Buffalo Pass area continues to draw new and returning users, and user conflicts continue.

We are trying to seek a balance between snowmobilers, skiers and what the land can handle.

I want to emphasize that the Forest Service is simply trying to establish an appropriate balance of motorized and nonmotorized recreation opportunities. I believe this forest can offer both.

The Winter Task Force (snowmobilers, skiers and the Forest Service) has been at work for several years creating separate areas for snowmobilers and skiers. It has made agreements and has done a great job of information and education.

In this case, the Task Force could not agree on boundaries, so, as agreed to by the Task Force, the Forest Service makes decisions on specific areas when the Task Force cannot come to agreement.

I have added an area behind and adjacent to the ski area known as the Toutes. I feel the out-of-bounds skiing this terrain provides is a unique recreation opportunity, dependent on this specific part of the forest accessible from the ski area.

In the Buffalo Mountain and Soda Creek areas, snowmobilers are asked to stay on groomed routes. This addresses concerns raised by snowmobile-assisted skiers (hybrids), including those on the Task Force, to have motorized routes to access nonmotorized areas.

It also helps a snowcat skiing company that provides a unique recreation opportunity under permit by the Forest Service.

These are suggested boundaries that I hope will be respected by all users.

Q. The Forest Service also will embark on planning that will change where snowmobilers can go in the forest. Has there been any decisions on the scope of this planning?

A. The Forest Service will be taking the next step in management of winter recreation by starting an environmental analysis this winter. The scope of this analysis is not yet determined.

There will be ample opportunity for public involvement in this process. In the least, the Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Pass areas will be analyzed.

The range of alternatives will include suggested-use boundaries and enforced closures separating recreation users.

Q. How would the Forest Service enforce motorized and nonmotorized boundaries?

A. If the decisions are suggested-use boundaries, all winter recreationists will need to respect the boundaries for the travel plan to be successful.

So, the better winter recreationists can make suggested-use boundaries work now, the better the suggested-use alternative will display in the winter recreation travel plan analysis.

If the decisions become regulation, then people caught disobeying these regulations will be ticketed and fined.

Q. What are the biggest challenges when planning winter transportation in the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears District?

A. Being fair to all users is the biggest challenge. It's important to note that these are extremely complicated areas to manage. There are commercial users, skiers, snowmobilers, skiers being towed by snowmobiles, snowshoers and snowboarders all using the same areas.

Each user group has certain desires for a quality winter recreation experience. The biggest challenge faced by the community and the Forest Service is establishing an appropriate balance of motorized and nonmotorized winter recreation opportunities. I believe this forest can offer an abundant supply of both.

However, we are managing for the future, not the past. Some users may find that to have the quality experience they are seeking, they will be recreating in a different part of the forest.

Q. How will the public be able to participate in the process of winter transportation planning?

A. When we begin the environmental analysis for a winter recreation travel plan, we will notify people through the media and in person about what we are proposing. This initial notification is called "scoping." We will ask people to write us with their ideas and concerns. We then take this information, along with information provided by Forest Service specialists in the areas of recreation, wildlife, water and other resources, and create a Draft Winter Recreation Travel Plan.

People will again be given the opportunity to comment on this draft plan.

Using these comments and any additional specialist information, we will do a final document and make decisions about winter travel management.

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