Uncompahgre Group supports road closings in western Colorado

no treads with deer and elk 2 sm

A more natural and larger habitat for elk, deer, raptors and other wildlife in western Colorado’s wilderness areas is a pleasant thought for Eric Rechel.

A Rocky Mountain Chapter Uncompahgre Group (UG) co-chair, Rechel and other UG members are supporting a draft proposal by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that would, if approved, greatly limit or prevent motorized access to about 2,500 miles of public roads in the western part of the state.

“Wildlife have been living here for what: 100, 10,000, or a million years?” asks Rechel. “People, however, have been going to their picnic areas for what, 50 years? When their picnic is over they go home. Where can the wildlife go? What options do they have?”

The potential road closings are part of BLM’s plan to revise and update its 25-year-old Regional Management Plan. The plan includes several options for changing the permitted uses of some of its trails and roads while potentially closing others altogether. One option is geared toward conservation, another for more development and a third with no changes. The public comment period has been extended to June 24, 2013. The final RMP and Record of Decision is expected in late 2014.

“Of the four alternatives offered by BLM, we support Alternative C, the conservation alternative,” Rechel said. “Another alternative, B, also has good attributes, with numerous roads being closed and several important areas being designated as “land with wilderness characteristics.” However, we need to push the BLM toward Alternative C.”

Another component of the updated proposal is related to energy development, including which areas should be open to oil and gas leasing, coal mining and uranium development.


Earth Day message

Rechel, along with UG members Shelly Weiss and Katey Buster, took their message about the proposed road closures to an Earth Day event in April in Grand Junction. They staffed the booth all day, talking about the road proposals and other Sierra Club issues, including recycling, to more than two dozen people who stopped by. They also handed out maps of the wilderness areas where the roads could be closed.

“BLM updates its RMP every 20 to 25 years, and given the cultural changes that have occurred during past decades, it’s about time,” said Rechel. “I didn’t have much hope for a real change, just more of the same, so I was surprised when I first saw the draft RMP. It included more than 15 inventoried lands with wilderness characteristics and lots of roads being closed. We like to see roads closed. It’s good for wildlife and much more.”

Rechel understands that many people do not like the proposed road closings, especially those who will no longer be able to drive their off-highway vehicles (OHVs) into certain areas.

“The motor heads aren’t going to like this,” Rechel warns. “It will deprive them of access, which is sacred to them. I don’t know why they are so attached to these roads; some are routes that are parallel to other routes and some are roads to no-where. In some cases there are two or more roads going to the same location. I think they just see BLM land as a place to play and run around (in their vehicles) which, I guess, is their definition of recreation.”


OHV impacts on natural areas

In 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey completed an extensive study on how OHVs have impacted BLM areas, concluding that OHV activity is detrimental to wildlife populations and habitat, soil, vegetation and water and air quality.

The wilderness areas that could be closed to motorized traffic include critical winter habitat for elk and deer, rare and endangered plants and raptors in BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office (GJFO) area. “I have wondered about prairie dogs and mice, too,” Rechel said.

“We are trying to get the public to support these wilderness lands with comments of their individual experiences in them,” Rechel urges. “As of now the enviros are not commenting to the degree I would like. The motorized community is really organized and sending in letters all the time.”

He asks all Sierra Club members and supporters to go to the GJFO Website to get more information about the proposal, including how to provide comments before the June 24 deadline.

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