Off-Highway Vehicle Program reformed

Conservationists are getting behind the wheel of Colorado’s Off-Highway Vehicle Program. Two weeks ago, the Colorado State Parks Board passed sweeping reforms to the $4 million program, following a series of abuses.

The State Parks Board said it was seeking balance when it voted Jluy 16 to add four representatives from the nonmotorized recreation community to the OHV Program. In addition, the Parks Board voted to direct more funds away from OHV route construction and toward law enforcement and habitat restoration.

The committee is responsible for overseeing the program’s $4 million annual budget and making recommendations for how the funding is spent. The reforms come after a year-long campaign for reform by conservationists and sportsmen as well as an investigative story that revealed abuses and a disregard for hundreds of thousands of dollars by the OHV committee.

The documented abuses included awarding grant applicants $525,000 more than they requested for trails projects in 2009, a year when the State Parks Budget was cut more than $3 million. In addition, the OHV committee was caught secretively altering and increasing original grant request amounts. The committee also granted state funds to special interest groups specifically for OHV propaganda.

Rob Firth, former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Division of Wildlife, hailed the reforms as long overdue. “For the past decade, the OHV Program has been controlled by a small and relatively unknown group of OHV riders who have awarded millions of dollars in grants for OHV trail maintenance and OHV promotion while critical law enforcement needs were neglected and thousands of miles of habitat damage occurred,” he said. “These reforms benefit both motorized and nonmotorized recreationists and will hopefully ensure that this $4 million state program is open and transparent and that all aspects of OHV management are treated fairly and funded.”

The OHV Program is funded by an annual $25.25 registration fee on off-highway vehicles.

Meanwhile, motorized abuses have forced another closure in the San Juan National Forest. Cross-country motorized travel is now prohibited in the Rico-West Dolores area until transportation planning can be completed. The Dolores Public Lands Office had conducted an environmental analysis and issued a decision to implement the Rico-West Dolores Travel Management Plan last fall. However, the decision was appealed by several individuals and user groups, and eventually overturned by Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles.

Until a reanalysis is completed, motorized use in the Rico-West Dolores area will be restricted to designated motorized roads.

“Much concern has been expressed regarding how we manage motorized travel within the Rico-West Dolores area,” said Stiles. “Until we are able to revisit the environmental analysis process, I feel it is necessary to reduce the potential for accelerated resource damage by eliminating cross-country motorized travel within the area.”


Counties team up on affordable housing

La Plata, Archuleta, Dolores, Montezuma and San Juan counties are teaming up to boost affordable housing. Housing agencies, nonprofits and local governments are currently working to create a 3-year, multi-faceted regional housing strategy. The hope is that collaboration will increase production of housing units and ease the path for future homeowners.

Last year, several housing agencies kicked off a push for greater coordination and a regional roadmap for affordable housing. At the core was a desire to combine resources and programs and ease the burden on future homeowners. The hope is that more homes will be built, deeper mortgage assistance can be provided, and more rental opportunities can be developed.

“The best part about establishing this new collaborative is the added value it will provide our clients,” said Julie Levy, programs manager for the Regional Housing Alliance of La Plata County. “Families and individuals throughout the region looking for affordable housing options will receive quality service and increased resources available.”

Levy added that the collaboration is a landmark effort for the Four Corners. “It is the first time our agencies have come together to help one another figure out how to significantly improve and increase housing services for families in Southwest Colorado,” she said.

The push is also a timely one. There has been a dramatic increase in federal funds through economic stimulus grants, which has the potential to increase services and make a lasting impact on the housing needs in the Southwest region.  

The group includes representatives from each county in Southwest Colorado, and is being funded with $25,000 from the El Pomar Foundation. For more information, visit and click on “Southwest Regional Housing Plan Initiative.”


Soot linked with shrinking snowpack

There is a new culprit in the ever shrinking snowpack in the San Juan Mountains and all over the West. A recent report in the Journal of Geophysical Research spotlights soot from coal-fired power plants, diesel engines and wood-burning stoves as a major factor in early snowmelt as well as the rapid melt of arctic sea ice and glaciers.

Erika Rosenthal, an attorney with Earthjustice, explained that soot, or black carbon, absorbs sunlight and warms whatever it comes in contact with, whether it be atmosphere or snow and ice.

“It falls out of the atmosphere, onto snow and ice, dirtying it and making it absorb more sun and melt faster, and also melt earlier in the spring,” she said.

Scientists, including those at the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, have been documenting the impact of dust storms on the snowpack and the link with earlier snowmelt. Rosenthal said soot is a growing part of this picture and is making for long-term, negative impacts on water resources throughout Colorado and the West. Black carbon is the second-leading cause of climate change, according to theJournal of Geophysical Research, behind carbon dioxide and now ahead of methane. However, there is a bright spot. Eliminating the emissions is relatively easy, and the technology is readily available, Rosenthal said.

“We’ve got climate reasons to do it, we’ve got health reasons to do it, and we have the technology in hand,” she said.

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows