GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - The aspen and conifer forests that cover most of Grand Mesa just east of here look peaceful from a distance. But up on top of the world's largest flat-top mountain, recreational vehicle drivers are engaged in a protracted war with other forest visitors. It's feet vs. machines.
Hikers, skiers, hunters and anglers say
all-terrain vehicle (ATV) users and snowmobilers noisily invade
more and more of the 368,000-acre forest managed by the U.S. Forest
Service. The result is frightened wildlife, trampled wetlands,
eroded trails and frayed tempers.
"On any sunny
summer afternoon, there are more people on Grand Mesa than lived in
the entire Grand Valley 101 years ago," says Forest Service staffer
Matt Glasgow. "It is only reasonable and right that we do something
to ensure that there is a national forest 100 years from now."
ATV users say plans by the agency to restrict
where they can go are unfair and out of proportion to their impact
on the forest. To address the situation, the Forest Service has
proposed closing 2,600 additional acres of the forest to motorized
vehicles and restricting their use on remaining land to designated
trails and roads. The travel management plan also bars ATV drivers
and snowmobilers from 31 lakes and reservoirs.
The proposal replaces a less restrictive one put
forward in 1990 by then Forest Supervisor Richard Greffenius. That
plan generated enormous outcry from ATV groups, including seven
appeals. After Greffenius' departure the following year, Grand
Mesa's new supervisor, Robert Storch, withdrew the plan and started
over, this time with a nine-member advisory committee composed of
concerned users of the forest.
motorized vehicle users, environmentalists, ranchers, resort owners
and water users, as well state and federal officials, met for a
year, then helped draft a 38-page revised environmental assessment
in December 1992. The committee reached remarkable consensus, with
the lone exception of the motorized vehicle representative.
"Everybody was basically in tune with the fact
that something had to be done to help preserve the ecology and the
environment," says outfitter Jack Lowe, who represented hunters on
the committee. "The only one we couldn't get together was motorized
John Martin, the motorized
vehicle representative who often cast the sole dissenting vote,
says the preferred plan, called Alternative 3, is based on a false
perception. "Motorized vehicle use isn't as large a problem as
Alternative 3 is trying to make it out to be," he says. Martin
believes the Forest Service would better solve the problem of
environmental damage caused by motorized vehicles by posting signs
and printing more accurate maps.
"We didn't come
up with something perfect," says Scott Kenton of the environmental
group Western Colorado Congress. "But in the spirit of compromise
and in the spirit of trying to really plan for the forest, we can
live with it."
Hunting spokesman Lowe agrees.
"There's a place for ATV users and they have the absolute right to
be certain places. But they don't have the right to be everywhere."
If the Forest Service pushes ahead with
Alternative 3, the agency faces the daunting task of enforcing it.
Forest users of all stripes admit that closing certain areas now
used by motorized recreationists could cause outright rebellion.
And the Forest Service doesn't have the resources to effectively
monitor the whole forest.
"The plan has to be
accepted by the public," says Kim Kokesh, president of Thunder
Mountain Four Wheelers. "If not, they're just pissing in the wind."
With such strong opposition from motorized
vehicle groups, passage of Alternative 3 is uncertain. Many believe
they will be able to force the Forest Service to back down on its
But they will have to do it without the
support of traditional allies. Both local ranchers and Club 20, a
Western Slope business promotion group, have agreed to a modified
version of the plan. The ranchers and Club 20 support restricting
ATVs to trails, but think Alternative 3 closes too many trails and
Supervisor Storch says that he also backs
Alternative 3, but admits that the plan will probably be altered
before taking effect. Storch says he will announce his final
decision no later than April 1, when it will again face public
scrutiny before being implemented in June.
for Storch, Grand Mesa is only the first battle. Beginning next
year, he intends to draft new travel management plans for the
adjacent Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests, again using
advisory committees. Unlike the Grand Mesa plan, however, Storch
says that travel in these forests will be decided by committees
open to anyone interested in the forests.
midst of these battles, the one thing that motorized and
non-motorized interests agree on is that similar struggles will
occur around the nation. "I think this is just the beginning," says
Storch. "As the population increases, there's going to be greater
demands on federal lands, especially national forests, because of
the values they have. This is a sign of the times."
For more information about the Travel Management
Plan for the Grand Mesa National Forest, contact Matt Glasgow of
the U.S. Forest Service, 2250 Highway 50, Delta, CO 81416
Hinnen, David Frey
reporters are former HCN interns.