Boggy-Glade appeals denied

Forest Service upholds travel management decision

They marched in protest, leveled accusations of impropriety, lamented the loss of long-held recreational hobbies and, as a last resort, they filed letters of appeal. But it was all for naught.

Opponents of the Boggy-Glade Travel Management Plan were aghast and disappointed Tuesday after Mark Stiles, San Juan National Forest supervisor, upheld the decision given in December by Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla.

A total of 25 appeals were filed before the Jan. 25 deadline. Eight were dismissed without review for lack of specificity, and a ninth was withdrawn by the appellant, according to a U.S. Forest Service press release.

A team of Forest Service officials from the Rocky Mountain region then studied the remaining 16 appeals and sent recommendations to Stiles, who ultimately ruled that pertinent laws and protocols were followed.

"What's key in understanding our process is that it dealt with any violations of (existing) regulation and policy," Stiles said, not necessarily the merits for or against the plan itself. Just being morally opposed to restricted motorized access, for example, was not considered sufficient grounds for a valid appeal. Objecting parties had to cite specific procedural errors made along the way.

The verdict gives the Dolores District a green light to start enacting new travel restrictions inside the Boggy-Glade landscape this spring, barring any legal challenges.

"This is the final internal agency action on this decision. Anything further, (the appellants) could take it to federal court. That's an option." Stiles said.

Under the travel management plan, roads and trails deemed unnecessary or disruptive to wildlife and watershed health will be closed, but major decommissioning work isn't expected until next year. For now, Dolores District rangers will focus on finalizing the revised trail system and educating the public about unfamiliar - and to many, unwelcome - new rules.

The Boggy-Glade landscape encompasses 245,800 acres of SJNF land northwest of Dolores. It has long been a popular destination for recreation - motorized and non-motorized.

Tuesday's announcement came as deflating news to Montezuma and Dolores County residents who value the myriad off-highway vehicle and motorcycle trails that crisscross the landscape.

After closures, 379 miles of full-size vehicle roads and 68 miles of OHV trails (for vehicles 50 inches wide or less) will remain. Of those 68 miles, 26 are existing trails and 42 will be new, either by construction or converting roads into smaller trails, according to Debbie Kill, National Environmental Policy Act Coordinator at the Dolores Public Lands Office.

Stiles said he did receive one appeal critical that not enough was done to minimize environmental damage, but the rest - as was evident during several heated public hearings in Cortez - were against road and trail closures.

"The bulk of appeals definitely came from pro-motorized folks, those in favor of maintaining the status quo or who were otherwise concerned about (the exercise of) federal authority. Almost all had a stated preference of not restricting access," he said.

Casey McClellan, a former Montezuma County commissioner candidate and co-founder of Timberline Trail Riders, was among the most outspoken opponents to the plan. He traveled to Washington, DC last month to speak to members of the House of Representatives public lands subcommittee and requested a Congressional hearing on the matter. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, is on the subcommittee.

"I'm not at all surprised. If they repealed (the plan), it'd be admitting wrongdoing, admitting the public was misled," he said Wednesday.

McClellan expects that one or more of the appealing parties will pursue federal litigation despite the cost involved.

Montezuma and Dolores counties filed appeals of their own, as did the town of Dove Creek. By contrast, the town of Dolores, which lies on the Boggy-Glade's doorstep, backed the plan.

"We're disappointed by the result," said James Dietrich, Montezuma County Community Services Director and the commissioners' point man on public lands. "We felt we had some valid points. The Forest Service was able to refute each one of those points, at least in their own minds.

"What happens from here, I'm not sure. (The County Commission) will need to have further discussions," he added.

An earlier version of the Boggy-Glade Travel Management Plan was successfully appealed in November 2010, ironically for keeping too many roads open. The second time around, despite vehement outcry, Forest Service officials maintained they had listened to citizen complaints and made concessions, such as conditional motorized game retrieval.

While opponents were more visible during the appeal process, the plan is not without supporters.

"We're pleased about the reduction in roads on the Boggy-Glade, which will help to keep habitat, especially for deer and elk, the same time saving taxpayers a lot of money relative to road maintenance," said Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. "However, we're concerned how the motorized game retrieval will play out. Hopefully residents realize this is a luxury afforded to almost no other forest users in the state and strictly follow the guidelines."

The impetus for travel management came in 2005 when then-Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth mandated that all national forests designate a system of roads and trails specifying which ones were open and off-limits to motorized travel. The rule was necessary, the Forest Service said, because increased OHV and motorcycle use on public lands had degraded landscapes and impacted wildlife migration patterns.