Development of an Ecologically-Based Travel Management Proposal
For over a decade, SLVEC has been working to moderate the impacts of motorized vehicle use in the Rio Grande National Forest and on BLM lands that surround the Valley at lower elevations. Off-road vehicle use has increased substantially, and both citizens and staff at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), RGNF, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park are concerned about road density and its effect on the region's wildlife corridors.
SLVEC has been working with a consultant to conduct a GIS assessment of wildlife habitat and watershed values. We will augment this GIS assessment with expert input from Forest biologists and hydrologists, CDOW biologists, and other locals to refine the ecological prioritization and create a comprehensive database to inform transparent decision making. This data will guide the development of specific recommendations to produce a travel management proposal that provides appropriate access and recreation opportunities while minimizing ecosystem impacts and restoring key and sensitive habitats. In addition to ecological considerations, this process must also take into account economic and social costs. (See Ecological Report)
In practice, travel management on public lands is greatly complicated by a lack of funds to adequately maintain the network of authorized roads and trails. Typically, only about 20% of the routes within a system are maintained to Forest Service standards. Additional miles of illegal user-created routes further contribute to the management problem, which is then exacerbated by a seven-fold increase in off-road vehicle use over the past 30 years.
An ecologically-based travel management plan is one which defines such a network based on a set of criteria to ensure that ecological needs are addressed holistically rather than on a case-by-case basis, (road by road, trail by trail). SLVEC will be working closely with a GIS consultant (who has already been funded by The Wilderness Society) to define significant criteria and create an ecologically based Travel Management Planning model that can be used in other regions of the Forest Service throughout the country. The RGNF serves as an important area for development of this model because motorized recreation is not politically organized here, significant parts of the Forest remain wild and unpopulated, and critical baseline inventories have already begun. SLVEC will work with the local constituencies, governmental agencies, public officials and other environmental organizations to coordinate and get support for this effort. SLVEC will also advocate for a Travel Analysis Process (TAP), through RGNF to accomplish these goals.