Thanks to Patrick McKay for this guest post. Note that this post has been updated as of 3/11/19, thanks to Patrick getting more information from Conservation Colorado. Thanks to Patrick and Conservation Colorado![/caption]
Lately I have been seeing a steady stream of articles and editorials in publications around Colorado advocating for Senator Bennet’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, based on the fiction that there is a strong consensus among stakeholders in favor of this bill. There is no such consensus. The CORE Act is simply a combination of failed wilderness bills that were each too unpopular to pass on their own. Those who support multiple-use of federal lands for all forms of recreation, rather than locking them up for the exclusive use of a single user group, unequivocally oppose it.
The motorized recreation community especially opposes the bill, because it would convert thousands of acres of land currently open to motorized use into wilderness. Almost every area of proposed wilderness is either currently open to motorized use or is considered a motorized expansion area under current Forest Service travel planning.
This bill will be devastating to snowmobilers, dirt bikers, Jeepers, and mountain bikers, who will all either immediately lose access to existing recreational opportunities or potentially lose opportunities in the future as a result of the bill. Snowmobiles would be hurt the most, as vast tracts of land that are currently open to that activity would be closed. In one of the most callous corporate land grabs imaginable, the popular Sheep Mountain area near Silverton would be closed to mountain biking and snowmobiling (which has been allowed since 1983) but would remain open to a private heliskiing operation.
This comes amidst an ongoing feud between local snowmobilers and the outfitter, which has long sought to secure exclusive first-tracks usage of the area for its clients. The CORE Act picks a firm winner in that conflict, favoring corporate interests over the public (including quiet use) in giving the company the exclusive right to mechanized access. Members of the public would be forbidden to even fly toy drones in the area, but a corporation would still be allowed to land noisy helicopters in what would otherwise be managed as a wilderness.
While it will not close them directly, the bill threatens several important Jeep trails including Imogene Pass between Ouray and Telluride (a Jeep Badge of Honor Trail), and other routes that would be “cherry-stemmed” by the bill. The wilderness boundaries would be placed within 50 feet of the edges of these roads, making future trail maintenance or re-routing impossible. Requests by the motorized community for larger buffers surrounding existing trails have been rebuffed.
These boundaries are based on the Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps, which are frequently inaccurate regarding the actual locations of roads on the ground. With so little buffer, any mapping errors could result in the permanent closure of some of the best off-road routes in Colorado. Moreover, there are no additional protections in the bill ensuring cherry-stemmed routes will remain open in the future, which is a significant concern given that roads cherry-stemmed by past wilderness legislation have frequently faced immense pressure for closure in subsequent travel planning due to conflicts with the surrounding wilderness areas.
Even where this bill does not directly close trails, permanent wilderness status will preclude any future expansions of existing trail systems. It will also deprive the Forest Service of much-needed flexibility in caring for forests already suffering from poor health, beetle infestations, and wildfires.
While I agree that wilderness areas are important and I enjoy hiking and backpacking in them myself, Colorado has plenty of wildernesses already. The CORE Act claims to promote recreation in Colorado while in fact decreasing existing opportunities for recreation. This site has previously covered the issue of manufacturing wilderness by kicking out existing users, and that is exactly what is occurring here.
If new wildernesses are to be designated, that should be done without closing areas currently open to other incompatible forms of recreation. If not, wilderness proponents should at least be honest about the fact that they are deliberately sacrificing certain forms of recreation in order to promote others, abandoning any pretense that they are anything other than a majority steamrolling a disfavored minority. Consensus, that is not.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that this bill would directly close motorized trails in the Spraddle Creek and Tenderfoot Mountain areas near Vail and Dillon, and would put wilderness boundaries next to the Holy Cross City trail near Leadville. After a discussion with one of the proponents of the bill, I discovered these statements were incorrect, and were based on inaccurate information in my source material as well as low-fidelity maps that made it difficult to determine the precise boundaries of proposed wilderness relative to nearby motorized routes. I apologize for these errors.