Friday, August 27, 2004

Sheep but not shoes on trail?

For as long as old-timers around here can remember, hale and hearty hikers who like their trails to create sweat and huffing and puffing have relished the climb of Sun Peak trail near the Sun Valley Gun Club on Trail Creek Road.

So, what a jolt for this small but dedicated band of trail loyalists to learn the Bureau of Land Management is declaring it off limits, invoking a 1987 BLM ?Area of Critical Environmental Concern? notice.

Habits aren?t easily changed. Coming as it does 17 years after first published, the authority to close the trail to only a handful of daily hikers will be an enforcement struggle for the BLM, not to mention addicted trail users being disinclined to comply with an order depriving them of Sun Peak?s wondrous view from the summit.

But that?s not the half of it.

While the 1987 order bans human feet from the area, the BLM permits sheep grazing as well as exploration for oil and gas in the same area, although none is evident at the moment.

Sheep devour acres of vegetation in no time. And the petroleum drilling rig hasn?t been invented that can leave foliage in tact after poking holes in the ground.

But hikers? boots? That?s the BLM?s idea of an environmental menace.

Not much logic in that. But neither is there much sense in the BLM closing a small, almost iconic hiking trail while the Bush administration opens up roadless areas for lumbering and petroleum exploration throughout the West, and pleads that exploration companies need even more access for their rigs.

Not so fast.

The Environmental Working Group has jumped on this claim with an impressive study of 125 million Interior Department and BLM records.

The finding shows that Washington has leased 229 million acres for energy development since 1982 in 12 Western states--an area equal to the combined acreage of Montana, Utah and Wyoming. President Bush also has removed barriers to drilling on 45 million acres, handily disputing Vice President Cheney?s recent claim that ?large parts of the Rocky Mountain West are off limits.?

Outdoor recreationists properly and understandably resent Washington flinging open the doors of public lands in the West to extractive industries without regard to the environmental consequences--then padlocking a small trail to hikers with the lame reasoning that they, not sheep and petroleum exploration, are the real threat.

Add to this the requirement for Americans to purchase trailhead permits to enjoy their public lands and the loathing for erratic Washington policies on public lands increases.

Never in the history of outdoors recreation have average citizens been so antagonized by high-handed policies that make simple foot power access such an ordeal.

Closing Sun Peak trail only adds to public scorn.

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