Men cited for damaging forest meadow

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— A pair of Steamboat Springs men who are suspected of driving their pickups through a fragile Alpine meadow on Buffalo Pass on Thursday have been issued federal citations.

The meadow, just off Forest Road 60, was crisscrossed with tire ruts that left a muddy quagmire.

The maximum penalty for each of the three violations the men have been cited for is a fine of $5,000 and six months in jail, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Dan Nielsen said.

"They churned that up into a soupy, nasty mess," Nielsen said. "The growing season is only three months up there. Damage like that can last for years."

The citations against the two men will be turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Grand Junction. Additionally, Nielsen said the Forest Service will seek restitution to cover the cost of rehabilitating the meadow. A dollar figure has not been assigned to the damage. Nielsen declined to name the 20-year-old and 22-year-old suspected of causing the damage, saying the investigation remains open.

Nielsen said Steamboat Springs Police assisted his efforts by contacting the two men at their residence.

Two mid-size pickups with Michigan license plates caused the damage, Nielsen said. The scene is visible from the road, which is commonly referred to as Buffalo Pass Road. The meadow is less than two miles below Summit Lake and less than a quarter mile from the junction with Forest Road 306.

Nielsen said he was at the scene when the two men arrived to attempt to pull one of the trucks out of the mud. It was mired up to its axles, he said. Nielsen feared that more damage would be caused if the men pulled the truck out by themselves. He required them to return with a tow truck. He added that he was on the verge of impounding the pickup when the men arrived. Nielsen said he cited each of the men with three violations of forest regulations. They include: driving a vehicle off road in the National Forest, operating a vehicle in a manner that disturbs the land and vegetative resources, and operating a vehicle in a careless or reckless manner that could put others at risk.

All three are misdemeanor violations.

"I think all three are appropriate," Nielsen said.

Every entrance to the National Forest is posted with a sign that reads "All motorized travel is restricted to designated roads and trails," Nielsen said. Roads open to motorized vehicles are marked with a bold white arrow. That means that all off-road areas, as well as some roads, are closed to vehicles.

The damaged meadow wasn't the only vehicle problem Forest Service officials dealt with in the Buffalo Pass area this week, Nielsen said. Someone broke the locked gate on Forest Road 310, which leads south from the summit of Buffalo Pass to Fish Creek Reservoir.

The gate was locked because the road is blocked by large snowdrifts. Nielsen said it was apparent that someone had attempted to drive around the snowdrifts, damaging the soft ground.

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