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SPEAKOUT: Browns Canyon hardly a 'wilderness'

After reading Ed Dentry's May 28 column in the Rocky Mountain News, "Browns Canyon hopes second verse better than the first," and the June 2 Speakout column by David Lien, "Browns Canyon ideal wilderness candidate," I felt I had to offer another view. As a hunter, fly fisherman, ATV enthusiast, search-and-rescue volunteer and also hampered by the late effects of polio, I think I can show another side of this issue.

In Dentry's column, he quotes Sen. Ken Salazar: "This area boasts some of Colorado's most pristine forests, great hunting and fishing habitat . . . " But he also paraphrases the response of the organization, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, as saying "the area already has been degraded by off-road vehicle overuse."

Huh? How can it be "most pristine" and degraded by overuse at the same time? And regarding fishing, the senator's proposal to designate Browns Canyon as a wilderness area will triple or quadruple the hike necessary to access this great fishing.

Recently, the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition helped push through two Colorado laws making our forests a better place. One gives authority to Division of Wildlife personnel to enforce off-highway vehicle laws. The other limits the sound level of OHVs to get the loud, obnoxious vehicles out of the forest. The coalition also initiated their Stay The Trails program which spends tens of thousands of dollars educating OHV users on responsible riding.

And what is the group's reward for promoting this good stewardship? Why, more areas closed off in the name of "protection," with Salazar's Browns Canyon bill and Rep. Diana DeGette's wilderness bill making another 1.65 million acres off-limits.

Seems no good deed goes unpunished around these parts.

Why such a big stink over just 20,000 acres?

The majority of wilderness areas are at relatively high elevation with large tracts of land above timberline. They are mostly untouched by man and far from civilization. But the proposed Browns Canyon "wilderness" has a 100-plus-year-old road running right through the middle of it, is at a comparatively low elevation, is littered with old mines and holds six taxpaying claims. If this can qualify as wilderness, then East Colfax Avenue may be next.

A popular myth that always appears in the Browns Canyon Wilderness discussions is the "overwhelming local support." A thousand local OHV users and four-wheel-drive fans would beg to differ. I've asked a few acquaintances who favor the wilderness bill, "What will be saved that justifies kicking handicapped people out?" I was met with either blank stares or, "Well, I never thought about that."

Exclusivity is the real issue, not protection. Exclusivity in that some horseback hunters and outfitters don't want to compete with the vast majority of hunters who have no horses. Some backpackers want their solitude at the expense of all other users. Lost in all this bickering are those whose mobility is impaired, including war veterans with missing or badly damaged limbs, old polio survivors like myself and other taxpayers with worn-out body parts. They are the ones being shut out of their public lands in the name of "protection."

Why don't we all work together and make more opportunities for all users.

Most horsemen and backpackers are reasonable people and aren't comfortable with booting out those whose mobility is impaired. Most OHV users respect the land and other users. The reasonable folks on both sides are being drowned out by the not-so-open-minded and by the loudest and most obnoxious of riders.

I say we tell both extremes to take a hike and the rest of us work toward respecting all reasonable users. Colorado has made two good moves lately in removing OHV abusers. Now let's "just say no" to more wilderness and work together on protecting land while still affording reasonable recreational opportunities.

Unfortunately, the message to the handicapped from Salazar and DeGette is clear: "We gave you access to McDonald's, now stay the heck out of our forests!"

Carl Bauer is the president of High Rocky Riders OHV Club, director of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition and has 20 years' service in volunteer emergency response. He is a resident of Buena Vista.
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