Make the trail work with the wildlife
When trail promoters were unable to defend their destruction of wildlife habitat, they resorted to pointing out us NIMBYs as the “real culprits.” To justify RFTA’s negative impacts by criticizing other impacts and “bad guys,” one must assume that multiple wrongs somehow make things all right for the wildlife. If it is believed that existing development imposed excessive pressure on wildlife, does that really justify more development? According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, this corridor south of the river had continued to increase in wildlife value over the past 40 years in spite of increased traffic on the river and in spite of all the development north of the river during this same time frame. This trail by itself, without all the other local disturbances, would still have displaced all this wildlife under current management.
This is not a NIMBY issue. RFTA circumvented all environmental regulation by obtaining a Categorical Exclusion (CE) which is only available to transportation projects and only to those that can be proven to have no significant environmental impacts. The wildlife closures are required by the CE to assure there will be no impacts to wildlife. The preservation or sacrifice of wildlife was never intended to be at the discretion of RFTA but was a condition of the use of the CE. While the Bush administration’s neutering of environmental enforcements might allow RFTA to succeed with these infractions, it doesn’t make them any more legal or ethical.
If my neighborhood was objecting to the proximity of a solar or wind farm or of a truly environmentally sound transportation corridor, I wouldn’t be too sympathetic either. The Rio Grande Trail is none of the above. Any survey would show only the smallest fraction of one percent of all trail traffic involves commuting. I’ve never seen a trail user on this stretch with a briefcase, school books, groceries, or anything that might indicate routine travel. The overcrowded parking at either end of this short stretch might indicate increased fuel consumption.
While this trail has already been recognized by the tourist industry through its award last fall from the Colorado Board of Tourism, it’s not likely to receive any environmental or transportation awards. This, however, could easily be changed with minimal effort or sacrifice just by taking the advice of RFTA’s hired wildlife biologist. This could remain one of our regions best recreation trails while also reviving the wildlife haven. By extending closures for a year or two to allow the herons to habituate (herons are fortunately one of few species that can habituate without becoming a pest) the closures could eventually be shortened without losing the heronry. Morning and evening closures to allow feeding and watering access during these critical times might even allow further reductions in closures. The first step is to preserve what wildlife is left. RFTA is soliciting public comment on tabling wildlife closure issues for three years which would concede the loss of our valley’s largest heronry. If you value our wildlife, tell RFTA not to table closure issues until they have followed the advice of the DOW and their own wildlife biologist by e-mailing email@example.com.
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