The U.S. Forest Service is right to step up efforts to educate snowmobilers about new boundary regulations in the Routt National Forest.
But we would caution the Forest Service against overzealous enforcement that might detract from users' backcountry experience. The focus should remain on helping users understand where the new boundaries are in a friendly way, not on issuing citations and arresting users.
During the Pres--idents Day weekend, Forest Service officers cited about 20 snowmobilers, warned 75 others and attempted to serve six arrest warrants to those who were caught violating the new boundary regulations on Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes. The arrest warrants were for previous violators who had ignored their earlier citations.
The new boundaries were put in place this winter as part of the Winter Recreation Management Plan adopted in the summer. The plan is the result of years of work that included significant input from several segments of the backcountry recreation community. The objective was to resolve conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized users by designating specific recreation areas for both types of users.
By most accounts, the plan is a fair compromise to what had been a hotly debated issue.
Part of the plan is a new permit process. When snowmobilers pick up their free permits, they are given maps that show the areas where they can ride. Maps also are available at trailheads, parking lots and on the Forest Service Web site.
These are reasonable steps to educate users.
Still, it is unrealistic to expect every user, even those with the maps, always to be clear about the boundaries. And lacking a fence marking the boundaries, lines inevitably will be crossed.
We hope that when such lines are crossed, Forest Service personnel will maintain proper perspective, especially when the mistake likely was inadvertent. In particular, first-time violators should be given some latitude.
Northwest Colorado is increasingly a destination for snowmobile enthusiasts from across the country. Their presence is vitally important to our tourism economy, and it is in our best interest for Forest Service personnel to facilitate, not impede, that experience.
No doubt, there will be some snowmobilers whose behavior will change only after they have been cited, arrested and fined. But we would venture that they are the exception, not the norm. Most snowmobilers are here for the same reason skiers and hikers are: to enjoy the backcountry experience.
The new boundaries are a good way to resolve past conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized users. But getting all users fully onboard with the plan will take time. That's why we urge the Forest Service to continue being patient in its efforts to educate users about the boundaries.