Sandwash future in question

OHV and snowmobile access would be limited by preferred management plan alternative

Jared Alpe enjoys riding his off-highway vehicle in the Sandwash Basin.

It's one reason the Hayden resident has issues with a proposed plan that would limit his ability to ride in the area.

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"That's why we go to Sand-wash, to ride the whole area," he said. "Wherever you see a gap, you jump off it. It would be better to keep it open."

The plan he speaks of is the Bureau of Land Management's preferred alternative proposal -- known as alternative C -- for the Resource Manage-ment Plan.

The BLM relies on its RMP, which is re-evaluated and updated approximately every 20 years, to administer the 1.3 million acres of public land in Northwest Colorado.

The RMP is used as a guide for everything from OHV use to drilling for energy, while also considering preserving the land and natural resources for future generations.

The BLM currently is looking at four alternatives in regards to an updated RMP.

Under the current plan, the Sandwash Basin -- located northwest of Maybell -- is open to riding on an OHV or motorcycle anywhere the rider desires.

Consisting of nearly 160,000 acres in Moffat County and home to a herd of wild horses, Sandwash is a concern to many Northwest Colorado residents.

Alternative C on the proposed RMP would limit the places riders can travel in Sandwash Basin to already-existing roads and trails. By doing so, it would close completely an additional 14,000 acres to riding. Currently, 72,480 acres are closed to OHV riding in Sandwash.

"The most intensive (OHV riding) area is the southern Sandwash area," Jeremy Casterson, BLM planning and environmental coordinator said. "The OHV play areas will stay open, but they will be kept in a limited area."

A playground

Sandwash Basin is a playground to motorcycles and OHV riders, is advertised in national riding magazines and is well known to locals out for an afternoon adventure.

Gary Saxe is part owner of the Tap House Sports Grill in Steamboat Springs, and he and his partner enjoy riding Sandwash in the spring and the fall when it's not too hot.

"There's great riding in there. I would hate to see it go away," he said. "I would rather have the rules because it's better than losing the whole thing. I'd be OK with that."

Joe Tonso, of Craig, no longer rides dirt bikes, but he is worried about the RMP for other reasons.

As a member of the Routt Powder Riders Snowmobile Club, Tonso became "very concerned" when the RMP proposal was made public.

"There's not much in the west end of the county for snowmobiles," he said. "We had Cold Spring Mountain and Douglas Mountain. And what about outfitters that hunt mountain lions? If they can't use machines to get in there, they can't even do it."

Over-the-snow travel will be limited in some areas under the preferred proposal, with a large portion of Cold Spring Mountain closed to the machines.

"When it comes to over-the-snow vehicles, we are putting alternatives together and looking for consistency," BLM field manager John Husband said. "Snowmobile riding is not effected on county roads or crossing BLM land to get to trails on Black Mountain."

Husband said even if preferred alternative C is selected, actual designated routes for OHV riders should be selected during a five-year period, while the BLM determines appropriate routes.

Luke Schafer, with the Colo-rado Environmental Coalition, agrees with the BLM on closing areas of Sandwash to riding.

"The overall changes are miniscule, and most riders stay on the trails. It's one of the friendliest plans for OHV use I've ever seen," he said. "BLM-designated routes are a stop-gap solution for the short term. The first rider to leave the trail is in violation. The second rider is following an existing trail."

Closed areas in the proposal include wilderness study areas, the Serviceberry hunting area (where hunters prefer to pack in and out) and Irish Canyon, considered environmentally sensitive and home to dozens of ancient petroglyphs.

Some seasonal limitations also are in the proposal, especially for areas where energy exploration mixes with sage grouse habitat, Husband said. Biologists will be consulted on that issue before a final plan is approved.

The time for anyone with concerns about the proposal to speak is ending. The public has until May 16 to let the BLM know how it feels about the RMP.

"This is the comment period. That's what we're looking for," Husband said. "We want to work with folks before making decisions."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com

Who: Bureau of Land Management

What: Resource Management Plan

Deadline for public comment: May 16

Where: 455 Emerson St. Craig

To view or make a comment on the proposed RMP, go to www.co.blm.gov/ls...>

Click on: download the draft RMP/EIS

Click on: 2-45 for current OHV and snowmobile map

Click on: 2-47 for preferred alternative (C) OHV and snowmobile map

Click on: comment on draft-for public input

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