USFS sets decision for public access on 42 roads; forest supervisor retires later

By From page A1 | June 21, 2013

Future public access to a number of roads within the Eldorado National Forest was assured when Forest Supervisor Kathy Hardy “designated 24 routes for wheeled vehicle use.” However, those roads are not yet open and are not likely to be open before the annual seasonal closure this fall. Hardy’s action, effective June 14, is a step in the process of implementing federal policies on the national forest.

A statement from the Eldorado’s Public Affairs Office Thursday morning announced that Hardy had retired effective June 14, but as of press time there was no further information available on that issue.

A prepared statement from Public Affairs Officer Frank Mosbacher described some of the history and processes involved in the “designation” action. A court ruling in 2012 closed portions of 42 roads in the forest to vehicle traffic due to environmental concerns that included water quality and other related issues. The primary target was roads that cross meadows or otherwise may cause a negative impact on sensitive water courses.

The court ruling stated that the roads would remain closed until comprehensive analyses had been completed to determine whether or how much each route impacted its immediate environment.

Hardy’s decision releases 24 popular high-country routes with her “designation” that they are fit for off-highway vehicle use. In addition, 18 other routes are classified as “delayed designation.” That means work must be done to bring those into compliance with the requirements imposed by the court. The Forest Service statement noted that some of the roads require simple fixes while others will need more complex attention such as engineering design and more detailed environmental studies. The projects are required by and incorporated into the Eldorado National Land and Resource Management Plan.

“A supplemental environmental impact statement and a ‘Record of Decision’ were released Friday, June 14,” the statement reads. “Both documents are available on the Eldorado National Forest Website at: Twenty-four of the analyzed routes either do not cross or border meadows or meet water flow requirements and 18 have segments that affect water flow in meadows. The routes and their designations are identified in the Record of Decision.”

The statement further describes background and the rationale for Hardy’s action.

“The decision I made today affects two very important resources — healthy meadows and high country recreational opportunities,” she said. “We need both.”

In accordance with federal law, the decision is subject to public discussion and input from individuals who have “standing” with respect to the issue, Mosbacher explained in a phone call to the Mountain Democrat Tuesday.  In simplest terms, “Standing” is the requirement in federal law that individuals or entities must have a direct connection to a proposed action and demonstrate that they have been or would be harmed by a proposed action. Such entities have the right to appeal the proposed action.

The public appeal period extends for 45 days after which the Forest Service will have 45 days to resolve any appeals, Mosbacher explained. After that period, the Forest Service must update and print the routes in its Eldorado National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map to show final location of the affected roads. Therefore, if the maximum amount of time is used in the appeal process, 90 days from June 14, and another several weeks are needed for the maps and related documentation to be published, the winter closure would be imminent. Thus, Mosbacher’s estimation that the roads probably will not be open until late spring 2014.

“I know how important these routes are to people for high-country recreational experiences,” Hardy said. “A number of the routes have been adopted by clubs whose members help to keep them in shape. We’ll need to continue acquiring the funding necessary to complete site-specific environmental analysis and I’m sure there will be room for volunteers to help out.”

Volunteerism is a significant element in future plans as Hardy said, “The Forest Service roads budget has been declining over the years and she is not too optimistic in the near term,” according to the statement. However, “the Eldorado has already begun applying for grants from the California Department of Parks and Recreation OHV Division to help get some of the repairs started as soon as possible.”

Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.

Chris Daley

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