Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Motorized users eye alternative plan

BLM travel plan flawed, surveyor says

Express Staff Writer

Professional land surveyor Bruce Smith said he doesn't object to the BLM's proposed travel management plan—he just thinks his plan is better.

"Instead of opposition, we're giving them a proposition," Smith said.

The proposition is a series of maps created by Smith and his staff at Alpine Enterprises, a surveying company. Smith is an active motorcycle rider, as are many of his employees, and they've been taking to the trails to figure out the impacts that the BLM's proposed closures would have on trail riders.

The BLM plan would close 115 miles of existing trails and roads for rehabilitation and limit off-highway vehicle use to designated routes only.

The proposal would close the Little Wood River and Friedman Creek wilderness study areas, and the region from Elkhorn to East Fork to all off-highway vehicles. In addition, many of the trails stemming from Ohio Gulch and the Croy Creek trailhead would be closed for rehabilitation.

One of the main problems, Smith said, is that these closures would cut off users from some Forest Service trails and eliminate heavily used connector trails, such as those around Driveway Gulch. The BLM maps also show several trails marked for closure that appear to start and end in the middle of nowhere, Smith said, when actually the trails connect to others on private or Forest Service land.

"That's our job, closing in all those gaps," he said. "There's a lot of stuff [the BLM maps] don't show you. People just see these little red squiggles for closures. The first thing we set out to do is make a map you can understand."

Smith and his crew have created a map using aerial photographs, topographic markings and GPS tracks tracing the trails in the area, rather than just the trails marked on the BLM maps. This includes trails on private lands, Smith said, that connect to BLM trails slated for closure.


"So many of their closures will close miles and miles of trail because it goes 100 feet through someone's property," Smith said.

John Kurtz, outdoor recreation manager for the BLM's Shoshone field office, said last month that agency trails need to avoid private land to prevent future conflict if property owners decide to close off the trail from public use.

"It's really challenging to design a trail," he said at a public meeting in August, adding that many objectors don't want to see their favorite trails closed, but the agency has to consider criteria that the public often overlooks.

Smith said he was working closely with the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a group that lobbies for motorized access statewide, and other organizations such as the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. He also said he was "trying to cooperate" with the BLM.

"On a lot of this stuff, we'll go with their recommendations," he said.

For example, the restriction against cross-country off-highway vehicle use will be in place in Smith's proposal, and Smith does not plan to suggest any changes to seasonal use restrictions for snowmobilers.

Smith must submit a plan to the BLM before the public comment period ends Oct. 14. Though he said he "underestimated" the amount of work involved in the proposal, he plans to pull something together in time.

"They only gave us six weeks," he said, as opposed to the six years the BLM has taken to develop their own plan. "That's not fair, but we can do it."

Katherine Wutz:

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