Advocating for a Sustainable Public Lands Travel System

One of HCCA’s long-standing efforts has been to move the Gunnison National Forest towards a truly economically and environmentally sustainable travel system. To know whether or not this is being achieved, HCCA uses and will continue to use Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking insight into the Forest Service’s maintenance and budget for its travel system. In January HCCA used such information to inform comments submitted to the Gunnison Ranger District on the Forest Service’s proposal to change use designations and/or reopen ten motorized routes around Pitkin. HCCA has worked on this issue with concerned Gunnison County residents and quiet-recreation groups. Despite an abundance of motorized opportunity in the area, serious environmental concerns and an increasingly insufficient road maintenance budget, the Forest Service’s proposal responds to pressure from a usergroup that is discontented with decisions in the 2010 Gunnison Travel Management Plan (TMP).

The 2010 TMP is the result of a multi-year public process that seeks to balance all forms of recreation with the needs of protecting sensitive natural resources, like riparian areas and wildlife. Since the 2010 TMP was adopted, the Forest Service has faced many challenges with implementation, such as continued illegal use of closed and user created routes, as well as the removal of signage, barriers, and other mechanisms used for implementation.

The results of the FOIA requests revealed a backlog in upkeep of Forest Service-managed roads, with a significant decline in road maintenance over the past several years. For example, in 2007 a total of 106.2 miles of high-clearance routes received maintenance. In 2010 this declined to 87.3 miles. In 2014, only 43 high-clearance miles received maintenance. HCCA used this information in our comments to highlight the financial and environmental concern of changing use designations or reopening closed routes when the Forest Service’s travel system is already underfunded and backlogged. Given this reality, a proposal to change use designations that would increase wear and tear and/or re-open routes, such as those around Pitkin, is fiscally and environmentally irresponsible. With over 3,300 miles of motorized roads currently open on the GMUG, the Forest Service needs to make sure it is making the travel system more sustainable, not the other way around.

HCCA will continue to advocate for an environmentally and fiscally sustainable travel system on the Gunnison National Forest and Gunnison BLM lands.