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OHV travel restrictions eyed

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Photo by Pat Sunderland Motorcyclists and ATV riders have enjoyed open access to over 8,500 acres of BLM land in North Delta. The BLM is considering restricting travel to designated trails to protect the fragile soil and the Colorado hookless cactus.

An area in North Delta open to cross-country ATV travel could be subject to limitations under the BLM Uncompahgre Resource Plan now under review.

The open area covers 8,560 acres about six miles northeast of Delta. While it's open to cross-country travel of all types, including biking and hiking, the heaviest increase in use is attributed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs) such as four-wheelers and side-by-sides.

"Current OHV use exceeds historic levels and new, more-powerful vehicles are capable of accessing steeper and rougher terrain," the RMP notes. "In the past, visitors drove principally Jeeps, trucks and motorcycles. Today the BLM has seen an increase in use of OHVs of all types and sizes.

"Increased visitation and the use of more powerful vehicles have contributed to the widening, deepening, braiding and eroding of some existing vehicles routes, and an increasing number of hill climb, play and camping areas."

One potential solution is limiting motorized and mechanized travel to designated routes, eliminating the cross-country travel that is unique to the North Delta area.

BLM believes that move would protect habitat for the threatened Colorado hookless cactus, limit erosion of the fragile soil, and protect downslope waters from saline and selenium runoff.

The Thunder Mountain Wheelers ATV Club, which has about 450 individual and business members, says any attempt to limit open travel "would be an enforcement and signage nightmare."

In a letter to the BLM, Walt Blackburn, the club's government liaison officer, said, "The motorized community has recreated and enjoyed the area for decades and policing such a major change would be next to impossible."

While the club recognizes the BLM's environmental concerns, the ATV club believes those concerns could be addressed by eliminating the open riding only in the northern third, where the hookless cactus grows. Reducing the open area and changing to designated trails in that area only would also have a positive effect on the salinity and erosion concerns, TMW states in the comment letter. That move would cut the open area by about 2,000 acres.

"TMW would suggest the team give full consideration to leaving the open area intact at least in part for the OHV community that has lost over 75 percent of their trails and riding opportunities over the past two decades," the letter concludes. "We also would like to remind the interdisciplinary team that the 'open area' has a very positive impact on the socio-economic impact on the City and Delta County with the many out-of-town visitors that use the area."

The Uncompahgre Field Office is revising the BLM Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan for over 675,000 surface areas within the Uncompahgre Area. The RMP details the current state of resources and guides management actions for the next 20 or so years under the BLM dual mandate of multiple use and sustained yield.

Four alternatives for the revised RMP are currently under review. For the open area in North Delta, three call for designated routes of varying degrees and one would leave the area open to cross-country travel. The plan can be viewed on the BLM website. Public comment will be accepted until Nov. 1.

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