Regarding the recently published letter from U.S. Forest Service Norwood District Ranger Judy Shutza discussing boundary management: Ranger Shutza stated that “Upper Bear Creek isn't closed to the public. We rescinded the closure about three years ago....I made the decision to remove three access points along Gold Hill...” She goes on to explain that people are free to enter from Palmyra Peak, Ophir, La Junta Basin, Alta Lakes or “any other route they choose.” Sounds real nice doesn't it?
When she states that ”we rescinded the closure,” I assume she means the US Forest Service. Her further statement that “I made the decision” explains that Ranger Shutza, acting alone and without any public process or comment, decided to re-instate the original full closure of the Gold Hill/Bear Creek boundary. What we had previously determined was over-ruled.
Ranger Shutza has “made the decision” to enact two other closures encompassing all of the upper Bear Creek Basin. The first closure of the entire Upper Bear Creek drainage authorized by Ranger Shutza was for two full years of spring, summer and fall seasons. This was put into effect during the construction of lift 15 and the following seasons road construction and re-contouring of the Gold Hill ridge. An incredibly popular and vast basin was kept closed for two years because of a minimal amount of blasting and potential rock fall threatening a very short section of trail on a limited number of days.
There were closed signs placed as far as Bridal Veil Basin because there was going to be some occasional blasting 2 miles away on Gold Hill. During the Gold Hill re-contouring, crews were only working Monday – Thursday yet the entire basin was closed 24/7. A person with a radio stationed at each side of the construction zone would have been infinitely more effective, provided much better safety and kept this huge amount of public land open for most of the period. It was an outrage and I'm still upset about it. Second was a closure that was in effect from 6-10 a.m. during the 2009 ski area operating season. This was for “study of avalanche hazard.” Again Ranger Shutza authorized a closure of the entire basin to benefit the privately held Telluride Ski and Golf Co.
I also read with great interest former San Miguel County Commissioner Jim Bedford's recent
commentary regarding the closure of Lift 8 and the Telluride Trail. Mr Bedford wrote, “The region's largest landowner is the Forest Service. They allow the ski area to lease land (for a pittance) that they then restrict public use and charge for access. Before the Forest Service makes changes in their processes they hold open hearings and ask for public input.” Unfortunately this has most often not been the case with Ranger Shutza's closure decisions. No open hearings are held and public input is not considered. Last April Ranger Shutza, at the request of the ski area and without any public process, enacted a closure of the entire ski area for three weeks in April after the end of the ski season and for three weeks in November prior to the ski season. Then, when the gondola opened in May the Forest Service closed all of the adjacent hiking trails including the Telluride Trail. There was no reason given and no
public process, just a whole bunch of ugly orange mesh barricade fencing and closed signs greeting anyone who stepped out at the top of the Gondola. I asked why and was told that it was due to risk of resource damage on wet trails. Anyone who has ever hiked on the Telluride Trail knows that even during the wettest periods the Telluride Trail does not suffer from resource damage by hikers. Plus, we were under an open fire ban at the time and experiencing the driest May in a decade.
Mr Bedford went on to ask, “If the ski area owner can arbitrarily close lift 8 and open the Telluride Trail when he feels like it, what else can he do or not do?” The answer is that the ski area can close all of the public lands it leases for any amount of time they like because they know that Ranger Shutza will rubber stamp their request.
Ranger Shutza's final words are revealing. She writes, “The Forest Service is simply trying to work with landowners to discourage trespass. Boundary management is a complex issue...” Simple for private interests but complex for the public? How about working with and for the public to ensure access versus prioritizing requests from private entities to close public access? Is that too complex?
Managing public land is a great gig as long as you eliminate the public from the process. Ranger Shutza's type of “management” only meets the standard of the US Forest Service mission statement, "Caring for the Land and Serving People" if the “People” are ski area owners or real estate speculators posing as miners. During the past five years Ranger Shutza has authorized or “made a decision” to close more public land around and adjacent to Telluride than has been closed in the previous 50 years combined. It reminds me of something that came out of the South end of a North bound horse.
Why does Ranger Shutza hate public access and how can we bring a stop to the unrelenting closure of our public lands?
– Mark Frankmann, Telluride