To: Gary Medlyn, Field Manager
Egan Field Office
Ely, Nevada 89301-0408
Attn. Erin Rajala
Comments to draft EA Silver State Trail:
Thank you for this opportunity to comment. Some of our members have been deeply involved in ORV management planning, and this project in particular, in White Pine County for years.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a national organization of outdoor enthusiasts who prize the tradition, challenge and solitude of America’s backcountry. Founded around an Oregon campfire, we now have members in 43 states, including members in Nevada who enjoy and use the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. BHA is a 501c3 non-profit that works to conserve big, natural habitat and healthy rivers and streams. We work so our kids and grandkids will be free to enjoy the high-quality hunting and fishing we cherish.
We believe in recreation opportunity for all, yet understand that healthy wildlife habitat, rivers and streams are the foundation supporting the American traditions of hunting and fishing. We believe there is a place for off-highway vehicle routes on public lands, but that greater controls and better enforcement are necessary in the face of growing human population and ever-more-powerful machines. In order to protect the future of hunting and fishing traditions we treasure, we want to protect large areas of public forest completely separate from the noise, disturbance and pollution that comes with off- highway vehicles.
The irony is that irresponsible ORV users spoil hunting opportunity for themselves, as well as for any quiet user within a mile or more of their noise. Extensive research over decades has established beyond dispute that ORVs impact a wide variety of wildlife and displace game animals. In addition, motor vehicle use shatters the quiet sense of solitude that traditional sportsmen seek.
All of our members tell a familiar story — working hard and playing by the rules, only to have illegal or inappropriate riders on ORVs shatter their experience, scare away the wildlife and damage the habitat. It’s happening all across the country, over and over again.
First, we want to make this message clear: We support the Duck Creek, South Steptoe and similar travel management planning efforts . We do support a well-planned and managed network of designated ORV trails and routes. Our comments below must not be mis-construed as pressure to close more trails at this time.
Most if not all of the existing routes proposed as alternatives for a SST are routes that happened without planning or consideration of motorized conflict with other resources and opportunities. None of the travel management planning work has been done. An intensive look and conflict analysis is required. The fact that the routes are curently open and in use has little relevance to this analysis.
It is important to understand that the legislation directing this EA establishes the very high hurdle of “no significant impact” for approval of an alternative. The selected alternative cannot “significantly” impact other resources or any traditional land use activity. This criteria is not the usual “multiple use” concept of minimizing negative impact to other activities. Even minimized impacts from the inevitable increased ORV use of this trail system will very likely exceed the “no significant impact” mandate. The draft obviously does not recognize this fact, but is treading down the invalid track of thinking that minimizing or mitigating impacts to traditional activities and resources is sufficient.
It is hard to imagine how ORV impacts to traditional uses can be mitigated. ORV impacts to the land can be mitigated any number of ways. However, ORVs damage many traditional uses simply by being there with their inevitable noise, and often, dust.
The EA has a fatal shortcoming: the failure to make any attempt to analyze, define, or discuss the “significance” of increased ORV traffic, over time, on each of the legislatively specified traditional uses and resources.
Displacing a hunter from a favored hunting spot may seem minor to a non-hunter, but it is most “significant” to the individual impacted. The same is true for non-motorized recreationists: Displacement from a favored and traditional use spot is very significant to that individual or family.
Any route located within the noise, dust, disturbance radius and/or sight distance of any water source or guzzler cannot escape creating “significant” disturbance even if the users stay away from the vulnerable mesic habitat.
A rancher having to cope with any newly attracted increase in ORV use will find most any resulting increase in management costs, or livestock disturbance, “significant”.
Any damage at all to cultural resources is likely to be “significant”. It is well established that motorized access to cultural resources greatly increases the likelihood of damage.
Even with the “No Action” alternative, traditional uses will likely be impacted and displaced, over time, as ORV use naturally increases. Accelerating this phenomenon by establishing and promoting a SST cannot be justified. Besides, the legislative intent prohibits a designation which damages existing uses.
We do think it most important to keep in mind best available recreation use statistics. The following are drawn from the Forest Service Visitor Use Monitoring Report:
- The latest(2004) report shows that only 2% of visitors to the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest are there primarily for ORV riding. Another 3% ride incidental to camping or other activities.
- The national ratio of NF quiet users to motorized users increased from 5 to1 in 2001 to 10 to 1 in 2003.
- The National BLM web site once posted their estimate of ORV-focused visits to BLM lands as 9% of total recreation use.( The Bush administration shut down the web site)
In addition, off-road machines, ATVs, are very expensive, around $9,000 for a single passenger 4x4 machine, plus truck, trailer and fuel costs . Most families simply cannot afford this kind of recreation.
It must be noted that Wilderness use is also a relatively minor portion of the total. Wilderness availability does not replace opportunity for families and others who drive to a destination and participate in the many motor-free activities like hiking, hunting, picnicking, camping, bird watching, etc.
No other recreation use of the NF has the potential for so few to displace and damage
the experience of so many. The damage to natural resources by this user group far exceeds the impact of any other recreation use. A visitor using an ATV or dirt bike occupies far more space per visit than any other users, traveling up to 100 miles of trail per day and impacting
at least ¼ mile radius with noise, dust and disturbance all along the way. The expense for the management, enforcement, maintenance of facilities, and rehabilitation of damage far exceeds the cost per visitor day of any other recreation activity on this Forest.
The EA adequately describes the displacement effect of ORV recreation on non-motorized users but does not analize this effect vs. a SST designation. It would seem a rare situation where good policy would favor motorized recreation over non-motorized when displacement of non-motorized use will occur.
Purposeful attraction of increased ORV use through this SST proposal clearly tilts a balanced use concept towards the minority use of ORV riding.
In places, the EA predicts no impact because use is on existing routes, other topic areas predict increased use and the inevitable increased impacts.
The EA in general fails to project any estimate of future use increase precipitated by designation and promotion of a Silver State Trail extension into White Pine County. We note that use estimates simply assume that current use in Lincoln County are use levels that will occur and continue to occur in WPCo. There is a basic fallacy here because there are no baseline use figures showing use in Lincoln County before designation of the SST. Further, there is no prediction of as to how that use will likely increase over time.
It seems inevitable that significant increases in use will occur in the foreseeable future. It is basic: use levels that may cause acceptable disruption to existing uses will cause unacceptable levels as use increases in the foreseeable future. The EA must analyze effects, well into the future, of increased ORV traffic on the traditional uses and resources.
The EA states that “The diversity of topography associated with Alternative A would contribute to the enjoyment of those recreationists seeking backcountry motorized touring experiences.......” The no-action alternative closes no routes and the experience opportunities described here already exist. The SST analysis proposes only to designate a specific existing route and promote its use.
All action proposals only increase impacts, the opportunities already exist.
The Cumulative impacts section simply lists activities which may or may not cause cumulative impacts with a SST. There is no analysis evaluating the likelihood or effects of cumulative impacts as required.
The EA fails to consider at all the cumulative effects of attracting additional ORV traffic, via this special route, to existing ORV use and and impacts. Assumption of non-compliance with designated route and other restrictions must be assumed in this analysis.
The route over Telegraph Ridge crosses through an area of very high wildlife values which is also under threat from a wind farm proposal. We see no analysis of this cumulative effect.
The EA makes an estimate of potential financial benefits to the County from designating a SST.
This estimate is fundamentally flawed. It makes the mistake of estimating financial benefits without deducting costs to the County, community, BLM and Forest Service to administer and maintain the trail. It also fails to value the predictable loss of non-motorized uses or the cost to ranchers induced by increased ORV traffic. The EA does list some of these impacts but does not assign cost values necessary to display a valid of cost/benefit analysis.
White Pine County government is concerned about their liability, especially where mixing of full sized vehicles (OHVs ) and smaller ORVs will occur.
The following is a quote re: the cost/benefit issue from The New Mexico State Senate Joint Memorial's in-depth look at management of ORVs (Page 106):
…............Perhaps the most serious flaw in all of the (economic) studies is that none accounts for the costs associated with ORV recreation. These costs are likely significant and would include:
- Damage to and depletion of natural resources including water delivery and other ecosystem services.
- Costs of routes – maintenance, construction, removal, restoration, blockages, signs, etc.
- Costs of accidents – medical costs from injuries , deaths, County liability
- Costs of managing ORV recreation including education and enforcement.
- Costs of emergency response.
- Costs of displacement of non-motorized recreationists.
- Costs of invasive species removal
- Costs of fire.
It is disappointing to see the Egan field office and Ely District continue to use invalid science to asses ORV impacts to wildlife. This flaw has been brought to District attention before.
For instance, the Devol 1999 citation does not appear to be peer-reviewed, apparently it is an article from an ORV advocacy group. More importantly, it deals with white-tailed deer in dense southeastern forested land. Even if it were valid, peer-reviewed science, it can have no value to predict behavior of mule deer in White Pine County habitats.
Your primary citation predicting mule deer behavior, “Rock Creek Off -road-vehicle deer study” did not show that OHVs had no negative impact on deer. The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG, who contracted with Jones and Stokes to conduct the Rock Creek study,) provided an addendum to the final report which stated:
“No conclusions could be reached regarding the effects(neutral, positive or negative) of OHV on mule deer in the study area, because the sample size and and statistical tests lacked the statistical power to draw a conclusion one way or the other.” Personal Communication: Ken Mayer, CDFG Statewide Deer Program Coordinator ( retired).
Again, even if this article were valid, peer-reviewed science, it studies a different species of deer in different habitats than found in White Pine County. The Kulac, M et al 1989 paper on black-tailed deer is likely a poor reference for the same reasons.
There is an abundance of literature available especially for elk. Some of these papers facilitate quantifying impacts of road density, traffic levels, and road location on elk.
By not including these, the literature search, and appropriate application of the available science for this EA is clearly inadequate.
The EA does do a fair job of describing effects of ORV disturbance to wildlife, ranching, hunters and non-motorized recreationists. Yet it fails to quantify these impacts or specify areas where such impacts are significant.
The EA fails to discuss the fact that vandalism to cultural resources often increases seriously when the sites become open to motorized traffic or if there is an increase in motor vehicle use.
The EA does acknowledge the disturbance factor of ORV traffic in critical wildlife habitats. However, it fails to acknowledge that hunting takes place in most all habitats, “critical” or not. Thus, impacts to hunting are not fully analyzed.
Open road densities are key for assesing wildlife effects by motor traffic, SST or not.
The EA does not even mention open road densities, thus wildlife impact effects are not adequately considered.
The EA must acknowledge that effecting ORV compliance with regulations is slow to take effect. This resistance to regulation must be considered in any assessment of likely impacts and management decisions. The BLM must not promote increased traffic by an activity which has a solid reputation of being resistant to even rudimentary regulation.
The Egan Field Office has recently completed travel management for the South Steptoe Valley. We find that effort worthwhile and do not dispute the concept of providing motor access to the areas planned. However, implementation and then gaining reasonable compliance with that plan has a long way to go. We have reports that BLM efforts to obtain compliance with the Duck Creek Travel Plan still falls far short of effectiveness.
The EA fails to even discuss the inevitability that the regulation compliant SST users will likely drive off of the SST onto most any open route the official trail intersects.
It is short-sighted to overlook the likelihood that inviting additional ORV recreationists will compound travel management violations. In turn, the increased violations almost certainly will result in impacts past the “significant” threshold.
We refer to objective studies of difficulties related to ORV management:
- A study by Utah State University found that 49.4% of ATV riders prefer to ride off established trails, while 39% did so on their most recent excursion. Of the dirt bike riders, 38.1% prefer to ride off established trails, while 50% did so on their most recent excursion.
- A similar study was conducted in Colorado and found that an educational gap does not exist. The riders are well versed in the rules and stay on the routes most of the time, yet over 2/3 of users deviate from the sanctioned routes ”some of the time”.
- Sand Mountain, an area managed especially for OHV use on the nearby Carson City BLM District, has been intensively studied for the effectiveness of user education and “encouragement” of proper use without enforcement, as well as for damage caused by OHV riding.
The following are excerpts from two reports produced by the Carson City Field Office of the BLM in Nevada:
Monitoring of Voluntary Compliance to an Encouraged Route System at Sand Mountain Recreation Area , 20003-2006, Dean Tonenna, Carson City Field Office, BLM.
Conservation Plan Sand Mountain Butterfly: 2006, Carson City Field Office, BLM.
After it was recognized that OHV recreation was causing significant damage to the Sand Mountain ecosystem and threatening existence of the Sand Mountain Butterfly...
After very intensive signing, fencing and direct user contact the results were:
“Placement of signage and increased efforts by the BLM and the OHV groups to educate the public has not reduced the number of incursions at this time.”
“Efforts by OHV groups to erect fencing along routes to improve voluntary compliance have not been effective due to defective materials, vandalism and the lack of commitment on the part of the groups to maintain the fencing over time.” (underlining added)
Predicting impacts must assume that trespass off of intended routes will be a significant factor well into the future.
Refer to pages 31 through 43 of the New Mexico State Senate Joint Memorial 40 report.
It is a requirement that a proposal of this nature predict potential for increased use into the foreseeable future. This EA only looks at use likely to occur shortly after completion.
The description of impacts to ranching operations is adequate. The descriptions of impacts to hunters is adequate. However the assumption is made that use will not increase, so there will not be any impacts. This is arbitrary and not realistic. It denies the concerns of most people in White Pine County that increased ORV use will occur.
Recent experience in the County, such as Duck Creek and Surprise Pass certainly points to significant increases in use. Increasing use, over time, must be assumed especially if programs, such as the Silver State Trail, specifically designed to invite and promote more ORV use to the County are implemented.
Wildlife focused recreation and hunting impacts
The EA states that an SST traffic in August and September “would not result in long-term changes to hunting experiences”. This statement makes it difficult to believe the authors have experience as deer or elk hunters. More seriously, it would appear they made no effort to interview hunters using the area.
The EA essentially fails to predict and evaluate impacts to wildlife or wildlife-oriented recreation.
Impacts to wildlife oriented recreation from any increased use resulting from designating a SST are significant. A few that have been identified by experts are:
The White Rock Mountain area: Routes pass close to several springs just fenced by the BLM. Existing route badly eroded.
- Both routes on the north flank of MT. Grafton follow a high ridge in an important area for wildlife recreation and hunting. (high elevation routes are particularly threating to wildlife and related activities.)
- <West side of Kimberly Mountain. Blue route passes close to big game guzzlers.
- The route through the North Schells passes through critical sage grouse and other wildlife habitat.
Telegraph Ridge is prime Sage Grouse and other wildlife habitat. A wind project is proposed for this area. Cumulative impacts are certain to be unacceptable.
The EA lists a number of riparian and spring sites. The EA stops at prohibiting ORV use within one or two hundred feet. This may protect the riparian from machine damage but it does nothing to protect wildlife, wildlife recreation, non-motorized recreation and hunting from disturbance by ORVs. Allowing significant ORV use within sight or sound radius of wet areas cannot help but disturb traditional uses occurring near the wet sites.
The proposed routes border several designated Wilderness areas. Normal BLM project management need not consider impacts into a Wilderness area from outside areas. The legislation mandating this study apparently over-rides that exception. The noise, dust and human activity associated with a popularized ORV route such as the SST will certainly impact wildlife and recreation well within the wilderness area . Such disturbance must be considered significant and thus disqualifying for route proposals within sight and sound distance of designated wilderness areas.
In summary, even our minimal amount of solid information gathered from a few hours of inquiry, makes it clear that only the “no action” alternative can comply with full legislative intent. The SST proposal proposes only to designate a specific route on existing routes and promote its use. All action proposals only increase impacts, the opportunities already exist.
Chairman, Nevada Chapter