Conservation Committee

Minutes

January 7, 2009

1. INTRODUCTIONS.

Those present were: Kirk Cunningham, Jim Gallo, Brandon and Leah Hollinder, Todd Sanford, Kristine Johnson, and Chris Klotz. Chris Klotz is the new Conservation Chair of the Boulder Group of the Colorado Mountain Club.

2. MANAGEMENT OF THE RMC-IPG-CONS-COMM LISTSERVE.

It was suggested that the “reply to” function for this listserve be changed. Kirk will try to do that.

3. NATIONAL FOREST ISSUES - Todd Sanford.

* Not much is happening on the ground in Boulder County at this time, e.g. new fire mitigation projects, although the County is working with the Forest Service to find a spot on County open space land near Nederland where people can drop off beetle-killed trees for burning. Kirk messaged the head of this project to question why the energy content of the wood was being wasted in this way. The answer was that it would not be cost-effective to haul it away for boiler fuel (for example). Bill Ikler, IPG Wilderness Chair protested one proposed location for this drop-off on the basis of its impacts on heavily visited open space north of Nederland.

* An Omnibus Public Lands Bill may come before Congress before the January 22nd Inauguration Day. This bill would protect approximately 2 million acres of public land across the country, including about 300,000 acres in Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park, Brown’s Canyon, and Dominguez Canyon). Note added: this bill did pass the Senate on January 16th and went on to the House. Most environmental groups, including the national Sierra Club, support the bill, even though there are a few bad provisions regarding a wildlife refuge in Alaska. Hopefully, this will be removed in the House bill.

* Possible service project this year on National Forest land? Todd will investigate the possibilities of a trail closure project similar to one we did a couple years ago near Nederland.

* New Executive Orders by Obama are awaited that would reverse some last minute Bush Administration decisions regarding public lands and wildlife.

4. OPEN SPACE MANAGEMENT - Brandon and Leah Hollinder, others.

* The first document from the West Trail Study Area process emerged from Boulder city staff in December. The due date for comments has been set back to January 16th because of the Christmas and New Years holidays. Brandon and Leah will try to send suggested IPG comments to Kirk by the deadline, and Kristine Johnson and Jim Gallo also said that they would send some to Kirk. (Note: Comments received are shown below. Unfortunately, due to some last minute timing issues, only the Hollinder’s comments could be incorporated into the final IPG submittal.)

* There was more discussion about the informal stakeholders’ group that was set up on the WTA subject last summer. The Hollinders were able to attend some of the meetings, but the organizers (mostly recreation group people) found that they did not have the time to continue the process, so no consensus statement was developed. There was also discussion about various proposals for a mountain bike-accessible, off-highway trail between the city of Boulder and Walker Ranch or National Forest land at higher elevations. There appears to be no new information on this topic.

* Boulder County is beginning a public input process on a proposed off-highway mixed use trail between the Lyons area and Boulder. Most of the trail length would be adjacent to the Boulder Feeder Canal, but not entirely.

5. TOXICS, ENERGY - Kirk Cunningham

There is a movement within the Club and other groups for a campaign to de-activate the Valmont Power Plant on the basis of global warming, polluted emissions, and fly ash storage problems. This goal may not be as unattainable as it may seem, because the plant is old and a newer and cleaner plant coming on-line near Pueblo may make it unnecessary.

Kirk Cunningham
IPG Conservation Chair


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West TSA Comments Submitted by Conservation Committee members, and notes by Jim Gallo on the January 14th meeting of Open Space Board of Trustees

1. Brandon and Leah Hollinder

First, we would like to point out that we do appreciate Open Space and Mountain Park staff’s (OSMP) efforts in creating the West Trail Study Area Plan Targets, Attributes, and Indicators Report (hereinafter Report). That being said, the report falls short of our expectations and exposes, what we believe to be, a flaw in OSMP’s West TSA process.

According to the Report, OSMP is employing a four part planning framework to address the West TSA. Part one of the process is to inventory existing conditions. On page 5 in the report, OSMP announced that the first step of part one is to “[s]elect Targets, Attributes, and Indicators (TAIs) for Natural, Cultural, and Recreational Resources[.]” These targets are defined as the things “we” care about. OSMP’s second step in part one is to inventory the existing conditions of the TAIs. This approach omits an important step that should be an integral part in the planning framework: a complete and unbiased inventory of the West TSA.

When OSMP first presented the process it would use to address the Western TSA, they said the first step would be to inventory existing conditions. Indeed, in the report that is the label they have put on step one of the planning framework. However, according to this report OSMP has not inventoried the existing conditions. Instead, someone, presumably OSMP staff, have picked the Targets, or things “we” care about, and inventoried those. Thus, the inventory is not complete and represents the ideals and values of the report writers and researchers rather than those of Boulder’s citizens.

What we would like to have seen, and would still like to see, is a true inventory report saying this is what is here and this is the conditions of those items. Only then can true and complete TAIs be chosen. Instead, what OSMP has done with this Report is to confine the scope of the West TSA project by predetermining what will be presented to, and considered and discussed by, the public. Rather than finding what exists in the West TSA, OSMP chose items that they were aware of and focused on them. This leaves us with the sense that OSMP is really railroading us in a certain direction.

We recognize that OSMP is giving a chance for public comment, which is positive, but without a complete inventory of what exists in the West TSA, the public will inherently be unable to make complete and informed decisions and comments.

The starting point must be what all is there, a true inventory of resources. OSMP’s piecemeal approach to research creates the potential for redundant planning and application of OSMP resources as priorities and objectives change in the light new information that is discovered as we move through the process. More importantly such uninformed planning and comment could lead to the destruction of the very resources we are trying to protect.

The broad nature of the Targets drives our point home. For example, on page 20 the report states “[w]hile OSMP does not have an existing comprehensive inventory of paleontological finds within the West TSA, sites and features do exist.” The report goes on to state “[i]t is possible that additional finds will be discovered during the course of trail improvements or construction.” This is but one example, indicative of the Report’s, and really the planning framework’s flaw. In order to protect and preserve all of the West TSA’s resources, we must first inventory them and then, based upon that inventory, decide what actions to take and not take. Specific details are necessary and the fact that this Report does not contain them is not only disappointing but unacceptable. That OSMP is so flippant as to be willing to “find” the resources after they have developed plans and began to physically implement them is in some respects shocking. We hope that OSMP strongly reconsiders this fly-by the seat of their pants approach and takes the time to research what exists in the West TSA to the greatest extent possible, and only after such an inventory is complete and has been presented to the public, make decisions.

In short we would like to see a true inventory of the Western TSA that describes, in detail, what exists in the Western TSA without first making any value judgments or assigning value to anything. Furthermore, we would like such inventory to go into greater detail and specifics than that found in the West Trail Study Area Plan Targets, Attributes, and Indicators Report.

Thank you.

2. Kristine Johnson

Comments specific to various pages and sections of the plan:

* It might be useful for the City to reference the grasslands management plan earlier, make clearer the relationship between both plans (it was not initially clear to me whether the grasslands in the WTA were a target or not)

* Are the 11 natural/cultural/recreation targets of equal value? This seems to be a pretty major question to me. My own opinion is that without the integrity and value of the natural (and to a lesser extent, the cultural) targets, the recreations targets are greatly diminished. It might be good to state something to that extent in the plan; the relationship between and hierarchy of the targets is not clear

* p 7: Are wildlife--apart from habitat--a natural resource attribute or not? I can see how they can be more challenging to measure than vegetation, but if there are rare or endangered animal species, should their populations be tracked?

* Is vegetation "status" (health) an attribute? I suppose it might come under habitat effectiveness, might be assessed in the indicators. I'm thinking specifically about diseased trees, what it means for wildlife, visitors, fire hazard, etc.

* p 8: recreation resource attributes and lack of conflict—does this mean lack of conflict between recreational uses only, or could it also include lack of conflict with ecosystem function? (I'm thinking in part here about protecting wildlife, habitat... eg, I get really irked by dogs mucking around in streams and silting them up; I see a real conflict there.)

* p 14--is it accurate to say that "fire and canopy cover are unlikely to be affected by or affect visitor use in the TSA"? I realize that fire is part of the ecology of this ecosystem, but I would imagine that fire could affect visitor use, potentially for long periods of time in the case of big fires in forested areas.

* p 15: I was happy to see an acknowledgment of the selection of an indicator (Abert's squirrel habitat) that could show the presence of a conflict (dog usage of trails).

* p 17: What about additional indicators for habitat effectiveness for riparian areas? Riparian areas are of critical importance, and bear habitat quality doesn't begin to address habitat quality for eg, lizards and fish. If this is the most critical habitat type, why not choose multiple indicators in order to better cover the types of ecosystem function felt to be most critical?

* p 17: Should the riparian fragmentation indicator also include the TYPES OF USE for the roads and trails as well as the density? (I would imagine that riparian fragmentation in and of itself would be hard to measure; doesn't seem like a true indicator.) A question: do trails which exclude some types of use—dogs, bike, etc—have different levels of fragmentation?

* p 19: Again, I wonder if the intactness of openings should include some indication of the types of recreational use nearby. Does type of use impact the habitat use? How is this going to be measured?

* p 23: Is management area designation determined solely by proximity to development? (Ie, is “passive recreation” so characterized solely because it's close to streets and houses, or is there an actual environmental attribute/something different about those ecosystems which makes it more suitable for this?) It seems like mixed forest and other mainly western habitats gets more protection just because they are further from people, but many fragile areas (generally riparian, but also the openings type) are not as well protected. Am I right in understanding that passive recreation areas = recreation is the highest priority while habitat conservation areas = habitat preservation is highest priority? This seems implied but is not clearly stated. Clarification would be helpful.

* p 24: What about "intactness" or "pristineness" as part of the recreation experience? (And why are there so many indicators for recreational attributes and so few for natural attributes?) Am I correct in understanding that passive recreation areas = “there can be a lot of trails, where the ecosystem is valuable or not”—this is implied by this plan.

* p 27: Should dogs be formally acknowledged in the recreational opportunities? They are likely "assumed" with hiking, but they can be a major impact. Perhaps they should be addressed specifically. HCAs: does remoteness = value in protection of natural resources? I am concerned that some areas close to town with valuable natural resources will be lower in priority for protection simply because they are not “remote.”

Overall impressions:

* I am concerned that there are too few natural attributes and indicators selected, particularly for the most critical ecosystem types (riparian zones and foothills/montane openings). The expressed values about openings and riparian ecosystems conflicts with how the usage has been mapped. If these are the most critical areas especially for wildlife, should they not be protected, regardless of their proximity to the City of Boulder? I am concerned about the passive recreation area mapping and that insufficient management will occur in these areas (again, especially in riparian areas and openings). Management of dog impacts and access especially should be much more explicit.

* [With regard to dogs… I was honestly a bit frustrated. Dogs have the potential to do a great deal of damage to open space, including but not limited to a variety of negative interactions with wildlife, problems caused by digging or “unclaimed” waste materials, and impacts to riparian areas when the dogs are allowed to run freely through them. If dogs are capable of being such a negative impact on open space, should the plan not include dogs and owners as a specific use group, separate from hikers? I realize that there has been a great deal of pressure to allow dogs access to open space, but when I think about the ability to control and manage dog behavior versus, say, rock climbers around nesting areas, I get annoyed. One thing that particularly irks me is that I think dogs should be kept out of the open space creeks.]

* There seems to be an assumption that natural, cultural, and recreational targets are on equal footing, but recreational targets would not exist without natural and cultural (and I assume that natural is a far bigger draw than cultural). Serious degradation of the natural targets really has a HUGE impact on the recreation use. I wonder if there should be some sort of ranking of value or priority of the targets to turn to in cases of conflict. One specific complaint: there are many more recreational resource attributes listed than natural resource attributes. Surely it would be wiser to select more than one sole indicator for the most critical and fragile ecosystems.

3. Comments by Jim Gallo on a recent meeting of the Open Space Board of Trustees.

I went to the 1/14 meeting of the City Open Space Board of Trustees.

Public comments:

There were two people complaining that their private access to the Dowdy Draw area has been closed. They would like their private access to be reopened so that they don’’t need to walk to the official trailhead. OSMP responded that the master plan specifies that OSMP accesses should only be at public trailheads.

There was a complaint about cattle in the closure area for birds nesting noting that cattle grazing and bird nesting are not compatible uses. OSMP stated they would look into the conflict.

BATCO has a complaint (12/10/08) about the grassland plan and that humans should have more use.

A person complained about the West TSA process not providing a complete inventory of resources and that creating targets before the inventory was the wrong order. OSMP stated that any changes to the targets can continue to be made up until the finalization of the whole plan, which won’’t be for months. The inventory is supposed to done next month. The West TSA T.A.I.s are to be finalized and provided to the public on 1/23.

For regular business, there was a slight change to an eastern property acquisition, but most of the discussion was about the recent fire that included North Foothills and Boulder Valley Ranch OSMP areas. OSMP stated that off trail use will be closed, but on trail use will be allowed with dogs on leash and on trail. OSMP stated that the fire was better than a prescribed fire because the high 80 MPH winds made the fire burn very cool near the soil surface. All the plant roots are still intact and the area should fully recover this spring.