Snowmobile Groups Oppose Proposed Terrain Closure

News Randy Wyrick, Vail Daily
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Vail, CO - A statewide snowmobile group is running full throttle against a Forest Service proposal to close terrain north of Vail.

The Colorado Snowmobile Association is opposing a U.S. Forest Service plan to close some terrain around Piney Ranch.

The Forest Service counters that the 1,200 acres in question were never snowmobile terrain, said Dave Neely, an Eagle-Holy Cross District ranger in the White River National Forest. It would be closed to let the forest regenerate after a timber sale clears out pine beetle-infested trees. The goal is to give a variety of new trees time to root and grow, Neely said.

That has never been an issue before in other areas, said Scott Jones, vice president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association.

"We were quite shocked by the proposal," Jones said. "There is a long history of fuel mitigation projects that have been done in cooperation with the snowmobile community. We are not opposed to temporary closures while they're actively logging these areas."

There are a number of open areas available in the area, Neely said.

"While I understand they're not getting anything new, it's a stretch to see how we're taking anything away," Neely said.

The Forest Service asserts the young trees need protection. They're proposing to allow snowmobilers in the areas they already ride, but not in places that were just treated, Neely said.

"We've been ordered to regenerate the stands as quickly as possible," Neely said. "Our forests aren't that resilient, and anyone who has looked up a hillside has seen that for themselves."

Jones points out that in other areas there have been no issues with young trees coming back up.

"I was quite surprised that this was brought up as an issue here," Jones said. "There's so much snow you never come into contact with the young trees. When there's not enough snow in an area, people stay out of there."

"I don't know if they can predict how much snow we're going to get any better than I can," Neely said.

The Piney area of the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District was found to be suitable for open riding area under the 2011 travel plan. This Forest Service proposal would permanently close riding areas, Jones said.

The proposed closure extends well beyond areas mitigated, making any cause and effect relationship between alleged management and boundaries questionable at best, Jones said.

"Permanent closures of these areas aren't based on best available science and make little sense as the trees grow to sizes where snowmobiles simply are not a risk," Jones said.

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