Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

20 Oct 2019

New BLM draft Environmental Assessment to make criminals out of mountain bikers

Posted by Adam Howell


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A new preliminary Environmental Assessment for transportation and access to BLM lands in southwest Colorado may criminalize mountain biking on parts of Hogsback Trail and Perins Gulch Trail where it was previously allowed for decades.

A mountain biker rides Hogsback Trail, a trail on BLM land where mountain biking will be criminalized.

This preliminary Environmental Assessment for Transportation and Access Planning in the Tres Rios Field Office will set the stage for the BLM to have more justification to enforce the bike ban based on their Resource Management Plan.

In 2015, a Resource Management Plan prohibited mechanized travel on the trails, and the current draft EA is intended to provide justification for the cultural division of recreational user groups in La Plata County.

Under the BLM’s Proposed Action (they already have their minds made up), the primary activity for Perin’s Peak would involve a public education effort to enforce the bike prohibition, as well as seasonal timing restrictions on the trails in their jurisdiction.

“Limiting the existing trail to pedestrian use would align recreation activities with the habitat management plan and improve conditions for wildlife,” the plan says on page 12.

Improving conditions for wildlife would be a worthwhile effort, if that’s really what the plan achieved in the end.


BLM hypocrisy in recreation management

Instead of improving conditions for wildlife, what the plan does is it allows mechanized travel on the trails to aid hunters in the removal of dead animals.

“Mechanized game retrieval would be allowed, during hunting season, on BLM managed lands,” the plan says on page 69.

Basically, what the BLM is saying is that improving conditions for wildlife is achieved by allowing hunters to kill them and haul them off with their bikes, but not by allowing them to ride past the wildlife in a peaceful way.

The BLM plans to criminalize mountain bikes on Hogsback Trail and Perins Gulch.

Keep in mind that this BLM plan to help people remove wildlife from their land comes at a time when elk populations in our area are at historic lows.

This hypocrisy is further exemplified by the BLM’s willingness to cooperate with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife in their attempt to bring in as much revenue as they can off of hunter’s desire to remove elk from the land.

Hunting is a great outdoor activity if the elk populations can sustain it.

In southwest Colorado, however, elk populations have dropped dramatically over the past 15 years as evidenced by the drop in the number of calves per cows that are observed in aerial surveys.

Elk populations in the Hermosa Herd, for instance, have dropped from 7,000 in 1999 to 4,810 today, according to the preliminary EA plan.

The recent drop in elk herds is not a result of increased mountain bikers on public lands, but more likely a result of pressures from hunters, farmers, ranchers on swaths of land that are increasingly fenced off to wildlife.

Thankfully, the preliminary EA report acknowledges the impact that hunting has on elk populations.

“Hunting and the quality and availability of food and habitat are the primary limiting factors for elk abundance in Colorado,” the plan says on page 19.

EA fails to suggest limiting elk hunting where calf populations struggle

Unfortunately, the preliminary EA does not make any suggestions to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for reducing the number of elk tags that are issued to hunters for units 74 and 75 in La Plata County.

Mountain Biking Hogsback Trail is part of Durango’s cultural history. Now the BLM is planning to criminalize it.

Instead, the BLM’s solution is to blame mountain bikers, and limit their access in the Perins Peak WMA. That is, unless the mountain bikers are hauling out dead animals that the BLM claims to protect.

Afterwards, the BLM will work to convince the City of Durango to reroute the existing “Slime Gulch” mechanized use off of BLM land, according to the draft EA.

On a side note, in the preliminary EA, Class 1 e-bikes are allowed on all routes that are open to mechanized travel, in conformance with national BLM policy.

In the end, the BLM will get their way in forcefully bullying and criminalizing the cultural use of mountain bikes that’s historically been allowed on Hogsback Trail and Slime Gulch.

“The BLM will begin with education efforts for the public about the specifics of the regulations; however, law enforcement officers can issue a notice of violation any time after the designation is publicly available,” the plan says on page 47.

However, you can resist the bike ban, in the spirit of mountain bike culture that we’ve seen in Durango’s past.

Public comments on the BLM’s Preliminary Environmental Assessment are due by October 21, 2019. Read about it online at https://go.usa.gov/xE6ZU.

Read the BLM’s Preliminary Environmental Assessment for Transportation and Access Planning in Travel Area 1 by clicking here: Preliminary Environmental Assessment

Read the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the Tres Rios Field Office by clicking here: View the approved Resource Management Plan for the Tres Rios Field Office by clicking here.

If anyone has any pictures of people mountain biking on Hogsback Trail, Perins Gulch, or elk that you would be willing to let me publish on this website, please contact me.

Adam Howell is a writer who is on the city of Durango’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board. This story does not reflect the views of the Board or the municipal government. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.


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