What’s that sludge?

December 31, 2007

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

December 30, 2007

Boo. Our history is still coming back to haunt. A surge of toxic metals washing out of Peru Creek into the Snake River killed hundreds of trout in August, showing why local officials are putting a focus on cleaning up abandoned mines.With some new initiatives from the federal government and the involvement of Trout Unlimited, there was some progress in tackling the Pennsylvania Mine in Peru Creek, one of the worst sites in the county. A model agreement covering volunteer cleanups could help speed a remediation project at the Pennsylvania Mine.

In the Blue River drainage, Breckenridge and Summit County have started construction of a water treatment facility at the site of the Wellington-Oro mine. When it’s finished, the plant will remove zinc from French Gulch and improve water quality downstream in the Blue River.

And in another cleanup project, the EPA and the Forest Service removed tons of rock tainted with high levels of lead from the federal Claimjumper Parcel along Airport Road. The material was moved to a repository in French Gulch, where it will remain indefinitely.

The project stirred local opposition, as residents of the French Gulch area questioned why they should have to live with new mine waste in addition to the large piles of tainted rock already present near their neighborhood.

But federal officials touted the Claimjumper cleanup as a win-win, citing improved environmental conditions in both locations.

DENTRY: Hunters and fishers fight for public land

December 31, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

To the hunters and anglers whose hackles are up, may you enjoy even more successes in 2008 sticking up for America: the place, the land and our descendants’ heritage.

While mega- corporations have ravaged public lands in the West with hurricane force and the blessing of big government, many sportsmen have rallied to the defense.

Hunters, fishermen, ranchers and other guardians of the scraps of America’s wild lands and hunting and fishing heritage have lost much in the past seven years.

But they also have formed coalitions that have won battles recently against public lands abuse.

Some examples:

* The Valle Vidal, New Mexico. A coalition of more than 400 organizations, including sportsmen and outfitters, protected the 100,000-acre basin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from coal bed methane drilling. Congress passed the Valle Vidal Protection Act in December 2006.

The coalition (ValleVidal.org) also saw to it that the wildlife- rich valley was added to Gov. Bill Richardson’s 2006 petition seeking federal roadless protection.

* The Wyoming Range. The coalition Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range is gaining ground in the fight to keep the 100-mile-long mountain range in western Wyoming in its natural state.

In October, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. It would withdraw 1.2 million acres from energy development.

Coalition members include The Mule Deer Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Wyoming Backcountry Horsemen of America, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Wyoming Game Wardens Association. See WyomingRangeSportsmen.org.

* Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. Conservation groups including sportsmen and ranchers won a congressional ban on future leasing on the treasured Front, where the shortgrass prairie meets the Rockies. See SavetheFront.org.

* North Platte River, Colorado and Wyoming. This autumn, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew thousands of acres proposed for headwaters energy leasing after protests from sportsmen’s groups, rural residents, wildlife officials and Wyo. Gov. Dave Freudenthal.

* Roan Plateau, Colorado. The above victories against unbridled industrial invasion of public lands should serve as inspiration to a new Colorado coalition.

Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau announced its formation this month. Composed of more than 20 groups, it calls for no new leases on public lands on the Roan until a plan is developed allowing “continued, responsible drilling on existing leases and private industry lands,” including wildlife winter range at the base of the Plateau.

‘ABSOLUTELY’ ROAN: Mike Gould says he’s not an activist, but he sings like one. The third-generation western Colorado native and hunting guide has written a song about greed destroying western Colorado.

Gould, a songwriter and performer, guided grouse hunters on the Roan until an energy company broke his lease in the early 1990s, sending him packing to Idaho, where he famously trains Labradors and writes books.

The song, Absolutely, introduces an overheard conversation between a congressman and an energy developer who make much of their fortunes and little of the “common country people.”

“I would love it if every single ranching family in Colorado could hear this song,” Gould said in a telephone interview Sunday.

“Nowadays, when I cruise through (the Grand Valley) . . . I just see greed,” he said. “I see the amazing natural intricacies of what used to be western Colorado are being sold out. And it’s permanent. It’s forever and it’s gone.”

Gould dedicated the song to Keith Goddard, the Rifle-based big-game hunting guide who has been very much an activist on behalf of sparing the Roan.

Absolutely is on Gould’s DVD, Look In My Eyes, $12, available from him by e-mail at GrandRiverWebster@comcast.net.

To people like these – with roots in the land, wildlife, hunting and fishing – Happy New Year.

Stick to your guns.

A Poor Roan Decision

December 31, 2007

David Lien, co-chair of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, articulates his feelings about Governor Ritter’s Roan Plateau decision in a Rocky Mountain News op-ed.


Surge in Off-Roading Stirs Dust and Debate in West

December 30, 2007

This article features a quote from TU’s Dave Petersen 

The New York Times
Published: December 30, 2007

DURANGO, Colo. — In the San Juan National Forest here, an iron rod gate is the last barrier to the Weminuche Wilderness, a mountain redoubt above 10,000 feet where wheels are not allowed.

Near the San Juan National Forest, Colorado A hunter from Houston uses an A.T.V. Some hunters say the noise scares away the prey.  But the gate has been knocked down repeatedly, shot at and generally disregarded. Miles beyond it, a two-track trail has been punched into the wilderness by errant all-terrain-vehicle riders who have insisted on going their own way, on-trail or off.

From Colorado’s forests to Utah’s sandstone canyons and the evergreen mountains of Montana, federally owned lands are rapidly being transformed into the new playgrounds — and battlegrounds — of the American West.

Outdoor enthusiasts are flocking in record numbers to lesser-known forests, deserts and mountains, where the rules of use have been lax and enforcement infrequent.

The federal government has been struggling to come up with plans to accommodate the growing numbers of off-highway vehicles — mostly with proposed maps directing them toward designated trails — but all-terrain-vehicle users have started formidable lobbying campaigns when favorite trails have been left off the maps.

Even with the plans, federal officials describe an almost impossible enforcement situation because the government does not begin to have the manpower to deal with those who will not follow the rules. To keep the lawbreakers in check, said Don Banks, the deputy state director in Salt Lake City for the federal Bureau of Land Management, the biggest land owner in states like Utah and Nevada, “You’d have to have Patton’s army.

The growing allure of the federal lands coincides with marked changes in how people play, with outdoor recreation now a multibillion-dollar industry. It also comes at a time, according to data compiled by Volker C. Radeloff of the University of Wisconsin, when more than 28 million homes sit less than 30 miles from federally owned land that millions of people increasingly view as their extended backyards.

“Forty years ago when I was out cowboying I never saw a soul,” said Heidi Redd, who operates the Dugout Ranch near Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah. “Now it’s at a point where you realize the public land is not yours, you’re just one of the users. And whether it’s A.T.V.’s, horses or climbers, it’s a traffic jam.

Any user can contribute to the traffic jam, but the off-highway vehicles do damage disproportionate to their numbers. In addition to loud engines, they have soft tires and deep treads that bite more deeply than a foot or a hoof. When they go off-trail, consequences often follow: erosion, destruction of fragile desert soils or historical artifacts, and disturbance of wildlife habitats.

The temptation to go off-trail, legally or not, comes from the desire for variety, federal land managers say. “The more a route is used, the less challenging it becomes,” said Mark Stiles, the San Juan forest supervisor. “You end up getting lots of little spurs off the main route.” Even a few errant riders, he said, “can do a lot of damage.

Soaring Numbers of Visitors

The federal government does a spotty job counting the visitors to public lands — most do not have traditional visitor centers or staffed entry gates — but recent estimates by federal land managers in Utah signal the trend.

About 2.7 million people participated in outdoor activities on federal lands near Arches National Park so far this year, roughly double the estimates for 2000. And the number of participants in off highway vehicle trips grew twice as fast as those in other activities, including things like rafting and

This explosive growth — coming at a time when attendance at many of the country’s prized national parks has been below historic highs — has reignited the debate over just what should be done with the country’s public lands.

In eastern Utah, six offices of the federal land management agency recently released proposed land use plans that, among other things, cover recreational uses and the closing of areas to all-terrain vehicles. The proposals have drawn fierce reactions.

Campaigns to save popular trails have cropped up on the Internet. “Help us Save Factory Butte,” says one appeal, in reference to a rock formation, a favorite of daring motorcyclists, that was closed on an emergency basis last year to protect cactuses. Another appeal says that a proposal to fence off
cottonwood trees at White Wash Dunes near Moab, Utah, a popular playground for all-terrain vehicles, “must be opposed, en masse, by the off-highway community.

On the other side, opponents of the trails have been alarmed that the proposed networks of authorized paths would permanently eliminate large areas of Utah’s unroaded wild lands from consideration as federally protected wilderness areas.

Members of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an environmental group that wants greater restrictions placed on motorized users, have tallied the total miles of motorized trails that would be allowed (about 15,000 miles) and the number of currently roadless acres that would no longer be eligible for federal wilderness protections (more than 2.5 million acres).

Lawyers for the group estimate that 82 percent of the lands in Utah that the Bureau of Land Management said had wilderness character in 1999 are now open for energy, mining or motorized recreation.

“Everybody’s losing something they thought they had,” said Clifton Koontz, an avid dirt motorbike rider and co-founder of Ride With Respect, a group that teaches people about the bikes and how to minimize damage to the environment.

A Delicate Balancing Act

The preservation movement that coalesced around John Muir in the late 19th century focused on setting aside public lands, first as parks, then wildlife refuges, then after passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, as wilderness areas “untrammeled by man.

But by the 1990s, federal designations were increasingly disputed by the mining and energy industries. Groups representing makers and riders of off-highway vehicles also had objections, casting the suggested wilderness designations as hostile acts designed to strip riders of their rights.

“They want everybody out,” said Russ Englund, who owns a motorcycle shop outside the Bitterroot National Forest, which straddles the Montana-Idaho border and is one of the many flash points. “They think it has to be kept in this pristine state. These people don’t even use it.

Riders of all varieties complain that their critics are off the mark, that motorized sports are about more than a handful of renegades. They say the activities are enjoyed in large part by law-abiding families, and that the motorized vehicles allow older people and the infirm to visit beautiful and remote places otherwise inaccessible to them.

“I don’t like being looked at as a bad guy all the time,” said Bob Turri, 79, who likes to ride his all terrain vehicle near his home in Monticello, in southeastern Utah.

On a recent trip to Hidden Canyon, 20 miles from Moab and two miles from the nearest paved road, Mr. Koontz of Ride With Respect said it was possible to design trails that separated the machines from the wildlife.

Bighorn sheep sometimes visit Hidden Canyon, and Mr. Koontz pointed to the faint sheep tracks crossing the imprint of tires. “You build the trails below the ridgelines,” he said, explaining that sheep, when startled, are more comfortable heading up to ridges rather than down into canyons, and therefore would naturally stay away from the riders.

But federal managers say the outlaw fringe of motor-vehicle users is driving the need for more regulation. While sales of all-terrain vehicles have dipped slightly since 2004, the slippage comes after astronomical growth. Registrations of all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes in California, Colorado, Idaho and Utah tripled from 1998 to 2006; in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles and a couple hours’ drive from the popular Algodones Dunes, registrations went up fourfold. In Wyoming, the registration increases were starker: up fivefold, to 45,000, from 2002 to 2006.

Many motorized users say wealthy homeowners are selfish, pushing for restrictions to preserve postcard views. So-called quiet users, those who do not use motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles, often portray those riders as reckless people in their 20s who seek out meadows simply to shred them.

Not So Black and White

In truth, there are some young thrill-seekers and wealthy armchair environmentalists, but the demographics on both sides are complicated. Many all-terrain-vehicle riders take their grandchildren with them and go fishing. In Utah, where in some rural counties there is one off-highway vehicle for every three or four people, 8-year-olds ride scaled-down versions and older people use them for Sunday outings.

Many quiet users, meanwhile, are not rich newcomers but longtime locals who spent their lives in the forest. One of them, Tom Powers, a backcountry hunter in Montana who first hunted elk in the Bitterroot as a young man in 1969, still takes his horse into the woods, but less than before, to avoid the summertime traffic of motorcycles, pickups and all-terrain vehicles.

“They’ve ruined what used to be a quality experience in the backcountry, where you were just up there with nature,” Mr. Powers said.

The list of complaints is long and varied.

Though some hunters enjoy all-terrain vehicles, others complain that hunters using them get so close that their engines spook the game. “There are so many of these machines,” said Dave Petersen, a bow hunter who monitors public lands issues here in Durango for the environmental group Trout Unlimited. “It’s made our big public lands much smaller, for the wildlife and for us.

Environmentalists worry about the destruction of fragile soils and erosion, when outsize Western rainfalls course through the ruts left by hill-climbing all-terrain vehicles. There are also concerns for streams, rivers and wetlands, precious resources in the arid West and magnets for those who think all-terrain-vehicle riding is best when muddy. “They wouldn’t do this in their backyard,” said Liz Thomas, a lawyer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “But it’s not their backyard.

Trespassing is another problem. Since most land used for outdoor recreation is publicly owned, some riders and hikers pay little heed to “No Trespassing” signs on property that abuts popular federal lands. The hikers are not hard to identify and prosecute, but the all-terrain-vehicle riders can be. A Colorado man, Joe Jepson, ordered two riders off his land last year. One ran him down,
breaking his leg. The riders were never identified.

Perhaps the biggest damage to the sport’s reputation has come from mass holiday gatherings that have turned ugly or dangerous on public lands like Algodones Dunes in California, a favorite spot at New Year’s. Last Easter weekend at the Little Sahara sand dunes in Utah — a popular spring-break getaway like Florida’s beaches — there was a near-riot, with, among other things, drunken riders forcing women to expose their breasts. A.T.V. fans argue that drunken rowdies are not unique to any particular group.

“We have two groups, one that wants to be quiet and then one that wants to have motorized use,” aid Mary Laws, the recreation program manager for Bitterroot National Forest. “They both want to be in the forest, so we get the great task of coming up somewhere in the middle.”

Farmers Ponder a Super Ditch in the Ark Valley

December 30, 2007

The eighth in a series by Chris Woodka – Pueblo Chieftain

Seven ditch companies, some of which have seen farms sold or past leases, could pool resources and lease water directly to municipalities or other customers, taking corresponding acreage out of production. …


Arkansas Valley Conduit Moving Ahead

December 29, 2007

The seventh in a series in the Pueblo Chieftain. Worth reading.


Framing Key Water Issues for the Future in Arkansas Valley

December 27, 2007

This article – the fifth in a series – discusses the loss of productive agricultural land as water rights are sold for municipal use.