Crystal River Trail advocates like to point to the Rio Grande Trail as an example of how “wildlife friendly” trails can be. Here’s a brief history of how “wildlife friendly” the Rio Grande Trail has been. Trail promoters used a categorical exclusion to circumvent environmental protections. This effectively denied wildlife of whatever meager rights they have under the law.
Cat Ex’s are used to exempt qualifying projects from the Environmental Impact Statement process. They are allowed for use only on federal transportation projects, and only those that can prove that there is no potential for impacts on wildlife, habitats, wetlands or any other environmental issues. They’re designed for projects like putting a highway through a wheat field.
This trail went through a designated wildlife preserve, Rock Bottom Ranch, crossing abundant wetlands. It went through Colorado Division of Wildlife-designated critical winter habitat for three species: bald eagles (then still on the endangered species list), mule deer and elk. It encroached upon a state and federally protected blue heron rookery within less than half the distance normally allowed by the DOW for any sort of construction or development. It would be difficult to even imagine a less appropriate situation for the legal use of a Cat. Ex.
The vast majority of Colorado wildlife depends on riparian areas for survival. The trail construction started the beginning of June, cutting wildlife off from their primary source of water during fawning season for what used to be one of our area’s largest mule deer populations. No one will ever know the resulting fawn mortality, nor will we know how many or what sorts of nesting birds and other wildlife were displaced. The Cat. Ex assured that there would be no record nor responsibility for such issues.
When it appeared the heronry was doomed because of nest abandonment and chick predation, a RFTA board member declared that blue herons were as common as robins and didn’t deserve protections. He then moved to eliminate seasonal closures altogether. The motion failed but demonstrated how tenuous closures are. When RFTA’s wildlife biologist recommended increased closures to protect wildlife, the board voted against this. I could continue with volumes of similar facts. Let’s make sure none of this ever happens again.
Assuming RFTA and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails have plenty of attorneys and such, I challenge anyone to find any inaccuracies or false statements in this letter. It’s all well documented. Look forward to hearing from y’all.