Letter: Routt County deserves better than Mad Rabbit
The Forest Service recently released the draft environmental assessment of the Mad Rabbit Trails Project, proposing 52 miles of trails largely in the Rabbit Ears area. Unfortunately, the proposal threatens wildlife and wild places in Routt County and needs to be dramatically revised. If not revised, it needs to be canceled.
The proposal places mountain bike trails through elk calving areas and critical summer range. Over 20 miles of trails don’t even have seasonal calving closures, putting the lives of newborn calves at risk, and violating Colorado’s Guide to Building Trails with Wildlife in Mind, a guide the Forest service had previously co-authored.
Peer reviewed studies near Vail and Eagle showed a dramatic reduction in the number of surviving elk calves when disturbed by simulated recreationists during calving season, with a 40% reduction in surviving calves. Forest Service research has shown that this disturbance can occur up to 1,500 meters from a mountain bike on a trail. That’s why we have spring closures.
It’s not just wildlife, it’s also our wild lands that are threatened. The proposal places high-volume trails onto protected Colorado Roadless Areas. Mad Rabbit is part of the 2A STA proposal to attract 180,000 new summer tourists to Steamboat, overloading our town, our trails and critical wildlife habitat. These wild places remain one of the last areas that offer solitude and habitat that our wildlife needs. The Colorado Roadless Rule states, “Proposed actions that would significantly alter the undeveloped character of a Colorado Roadless Area require an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement).” A comprehensive EIS is warranted here and would go a long way to create a plan that supports both recreation and wildlife.
It’s time to ask ourselves, “When is enough enough?”
When do we finally achieve the balance supported by over 70% of the Routt County Master Plan respondents that “The County needs to balance recreation use and conservation of public lands” ?
Once habitat is lost, it is never regained. It’s time to demand that the Forest Service use best available science to create a new plan that delivers both, recreation and conservation. You can go to http://www.KeepRouttWild.com to learn how to submit a comment or comment directly to the Forest Service portal at Cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=50917.
You will be helping Routt County wildlife and wild places by doing so.
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