Forest Service cracks down on ORVs

In response to major growth in all-terrain vehicle and dirt bike use on public lands, the Forest Service recently developed a national policy to restrict them. Interestingly, the San Juan National Forest already has similar restrictions in place, putting the local forest ahead of the national curve. However, there is widespread agreement that enforcement of new and existing standards may be a stumbling block.

Nationally, the number of ORV users has climbed dramatically from five million in 1972 to 36 million in 2000. This growth combined with increasing use of public lands prompted the Forest Service to release a proposal last week. The proposed rule would require each forest to designate a system of roads, trails and areas slated for motor vehicle use. Once the process is complete, ORV use would be confined to designated roads and trails and cross-country travel would be prohibited.

Thurman Wilson, assistant manager for the San Juan Public Lands Center, said that the local forest is a couple steps ahead of this new national standard. "What they're proposing is actually what we're already doing on the San Juan National Forest," he said. "The gist of the proposal is to get a consistent national policy on off-highway vehicle use."

Wilson said that the measure is needed, based on the huge growth in motorized recreation. "It's certainly a growing use," he said. "There are a lot more people out there doing it these days. But we do consider it an acceptable use for certain areas of the forest."

However, there are doubts that the proposal or the existing San Juan National Forest rules will actually be effective. Clare Bastabel, Western Slope coordinator for the Colorado Mountain Club, said that without enforcement, the regulations are meaningless.

"I think one of the main issues we have is that the changes will only be beneficial if they are effectively implemented on the ground," she said. "The Forest Service has not to our knowledge asked for an increase in funding to improve on-the-ground management, including enforcement."

Wilson said that lack of enforcement is definitely a problem for the San Juan National Forest. "That's a problem for us, and I think that's across the board for the Forest Service," he said. "We just don't have that many law enforcement officers."

The Forest Service will accept comments on the proposed ORV regulations for the next 60 days.

Smart growth closes in on ballot

A responsible growth initiative came one large step closer to landing on November's ballot this week. On Monday, July 12, the Friends of the Animas Valley filed 841 signatures with the Durango City Clerk. If at least 553 of them are verified as belonging to registered Durango voters, the issue will be guaranteed a place on the ballot.

If adopted, the initiative would require the city government to get voter approval before annexing property into city limits. The provision would apply only to development greater than 10 residential units or commercial developments greater than 40,000 square feet. The initiative would also require developers to provide for the extension of city infrastructure.

Renee Parsons, president of Friends of the Animas Valley, commented, "If petitions are certified, city voters will have an opportunity to decide if they support the city's urbanization plan that would increase the population to 40,000."City Clerk Linda Yeager said that she has started certifying the petitions and will be complete by July 22. "I'll certify them as either sufficient or inform the committee that they're insufficient and allow them to cure that deficiency."

Once certified, the initiative would go before the Durango City Council, whose members have the option of adopting the measure outright. Yeager said that she expects that to have the initiative before the council for its August 3 meeting.

Parsons said that based on public comments by council members, she expects the responsible growth initiative to land on the ballot.

"It was very unfair of the council to attempt to influence voters against the initiative before councilors had a chance to hear its merits," she said. "How can those members of the council now give it an impartial hearing?"

Fire triggered above Hermosa Cliffs

Dry lightning apparently triggered a fire above the Hermosa Cliffs late Tuesday night. On Wednesday, crews were working to mop up the .75 acre fire and containment was expected by nightfall. The fire was reported at 10:16 p.m. on Tuesday night and according to Laurie Robison, Fire Information Officer, it was too late for crews to get on it.

Meanwhile, the Devil Mountain fire, a 60-acre blaze located northeast of Chimney Rock, was completely contained on Wednesday. The fire was believed to be human triggered.

"The Devil Mountain fire is 100 percent contained and they have started releasing resources off that fire," Robison said.

Robison concluded that until the monsoon season really gets going, the local area will be prone to fire.

"It kind of looks like the monsoons are starting to set up, but until they really set in, we're going to have more dry lightning and that's something were going to need to take care of," she said.

Durango man charged with murder

A local man was charged with second degree murder after an apparent fist fight led to a man's death last Friday. Law enforcement got involved after receiving a 911 call not long after noon on Friday. Nick Bellino, who lives in the trailer park on Arroyo Drive, claimed he had been assaulted by James Lee, a neighbor. When they arrived, Bellino retracted the claim and was not interested in pressing charges.

Lee claimed that Bellino had actually attacked him and admitted to retaliating by striking Bellino in the face and ribs. Officers said that Bellino was visibly intoxicated but there was no evidence of injury.

At approximately 1:30 p.m., officers again responded to the trailer on Arroyo Drive and found Bellino unconscious and not breathing. After unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate Bellino, he was pronounced dead. It is believed that he died as a result of injuries sustained during the assault.

As a result, James Lee was booked into the La Plata County jail on the charge of second degree murder and bail was set at $50,000.

Local PAC gives John Kerry a boost

A Durango-based political action committee gave John Kerry a leg up last week. Wild PAC completed its campaign, Go Wild, Beat Bush, by delivering $30,288.39 to Kerry. The funds were collected from individuals across the country with an interest in protecting America's public lands and wilderness.

"George Bush has the worst environmental record in presidential history, and we have a chance to replace him with a conservationist," said Victoria Simarano, Wild PAC executive director.

Simarano continued, "John Kerry is a real leader when it comes to the protection of America's National Forests, National Monuments, Wilderness areas and other public lands. He has earned the support of conservationists across the country, and Wild PAC will do everything it can to help get him elected."

Wild PAC, a Durango based organization, is the only political organization in the country working to elect wilderness and public lands leaders and one of the nation's largest environmental PACs.

Leadership La Plata selects new class

Leadership La Plata, the volunteer organization designed to educate and train community leaders, has announced it 2004-2005 class. The selection committee has invited 16 La Plata County residents to take part in this year's class.

The candidates include: Kathy Ray Burgess of the First National Bank of Durango; David Bruzzese of Mercy Medical Center; David Burke of Stone Age, Inc.; Kim Cobb of the Durango Area Tourism Office; Patrick Cummins of the Western Governors' Association; Robin Duffy-Wirth of the SunUte Community Center; Lezlie Mayer of the county department of human services; Melanie Mazur of the Pine River Times ; Bruce Moss of Gateway Reservations; Steve Otter of the Durango Computer Classroom; Kathleen Poer of Abt Associates; Joelle Riddle of Planned Parenthood; Cecilia Robbins of the Ignacio Adult Learning Center; Bill Rock from Durango Mountain Resort; Tim Walsworth of the United Way; and Erin Youngblood frm Brite Horizons.

-compiled by Will Sands





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