Sloan Shoemaker: Guest opinion
September 11, 2009
Wilderness designation is reserved for areas where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man. It is built on the idea that some areas should be set aside so that current and future generations may get the same opportunity to experience landscapes in their natural and primitive state.
There aren’t many such places left, and the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal is designed to preserve those remaining special places on public lands in this part of Colorado.
It is unfortunate that a recently formed mountain biking group, the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, is working against a broad and multi-year effort to keep Colorado wild.
The Hidden Gems proposal calls for preserving approximately 400,000 acres located primarily in four counties – Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit. It was crafted over six years by dozens of volunteers working with four environmental organizations – the Wilderness Workshop, the Colorado Mountain Club, Colorado Environmental Coalition and The Wilderness Society.
Some of these proposed areas are additions to existing wilderness areas and some are new, stand-alone areas. All contain precious wilderness characteristics that Coloradoans and our many visitors value so highly.
Hidden Gems representatives have met over the years with ranchers, individual property owners, firefighters, homeowner associations, municipalities, utilities, the Colorado National Guard, federal land managers, mountain bike organizations and climbing groups to name a few. We have dropped large areas of wilderness-quality lands from our proposal to meet their needs. Approximately 100,000 acres have been excluded in large measure because of the demands of mountain bikers.
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The proposal announced last week by the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association provides no guarantee that the roadless areas and mid-elevation gems in the White River and Gunnison National Forests will be protected at all.
The Wilderness Act, by contrast, sets uniform management standards for all Wilderness Areas. It embraces grazing and associated upkeep, it allows trail building for travel by foot or horseback. Hunting and fishing are allowed. So are mountaineering, backpacking and hiking, and other activities that leave no trace.
As a member of the negotiating team for the Hidden Gems Campaign, I can say that we were surprised by RFMBA’s proposal. It appears to be a hasty attempt to derail wilderness protections that so many support for the sake of a few disputed trails and the misguided notion that trails will someday be allowed in places that are now completely out of reach.
For example, RFMBA opposes wilderness on Basalt Mountain in hopes to one day complete a trail through the Lake Christine State Wildlife Area. In fact, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has already barred mountain bikes from Lake Christine because bikers built bandit trails through sensitive habitat and ignored important seasonal closures.
RFMBA opposes wilderness designation on Mount Sopris on the presumption it can cut a trail through private property owned by a Hidden Gems supporter who cherishes his privacy.
RFMBA is also fighting wilderness designation on remote Red Table Mountain, even though the U.S. Forest Service recommended wilderness designation for the area and is managing it to protect its wilderness qualities.
Are we to forego the protections for our land, water and wildlife for the sake of a few hoping to develop mountain bike trails across private property, and in areas already managed to protect wildlife and wilderness? A great many of us think such an idea is unreasonable.
The only way to guarantee protection of habitat that supports our majestic elk herds and the streams that are home to the last of the native cutthroat trout is with the assured protections offered by the Wilderness Act.
Hidden Gems invites RFMBA back to the table, so we can use the Wilderness Act where the landscape warrants it and work together to protect mountain biking and other quiet uses elsewhere.