BAER Team “Technical Specialist” reports (apparently written over a month ago – why is the Forest Service so slow to relax their grip on these things?) have been trickling out today. They don’t add much to what we already know. The trail report, for instance, doesn’t actually report on the condition of any specific trail. They just lay out recommended courses of action. In the case of the trails, this means using chain saws and other power tools (legally permissible in the Wilderness as long as the Forest Service believes an emergency situation still exists) to cut down trees that might be dangerous to the work crews and to take steps to “storm proof” about 100 miles of trail prior to the onset of the rainy season.
The dangers necessitating the closure of the trail system are identified as “rock fall, debris sliding and dry ravel,” together with the “risk to the trail users of becoming easily disoriented due to the loss of trails and becoming lost in a very remote and dangerous environment.”
Very remote? We’re talking about a strip of Wilderness that’s barely 20 miles across at its widest point. Dangerous? Compared to what? Even now, hiking out there is clearly less dangerous than the drive to the trailhead. Dry ravel is a hazard? Are they afraid we’ll slip on it and hit our heads or something?
On the hot topic of when the forest closure might be lifted the Trail Report says:
The trail system should be closed for the first winter following the fire. Conditions following the first winter should be evaluated to judge if additional time is needed to provide for user safety or for protection of the trails at risk.
Storm Proofing is defined as:
(O)nly the minimum necessary trail work activity which will protect the trail investment in its current state and protect it from the expected seasonal weather. This is not an attempt to perform deferred maintenance objectives or to improve the trail in any way.
Hmmm … well if they’re not going to reopen the forest until the dangerous conditions listed above have been fixed and if one of those dangerous conditions is the risk that people will get disoriented and/or lost because of hard to find or non-existent trails; and if they’re not planning to improve the trails “in any way,” then, may we assume, that the current plan is to keep the forest closed indefinitely? … or are we missing something here? In the nearly 40 years that we’ve been walking around out there, we’ve never known a time when the trails were so well maintained that people weren’t constantly getting disoriented and lost…. yet very few have ever suffered any serious harm for it, “remote and dangerous” though it may be.
The truth is that nothing makes a trail disappear faster than lack of use. If the Forest Service wants to protect their “investment” in Ventana Wilderness trails, they’d do better encouraging visitors than prohibiting them. If they wait another 6 to 9 months before opening the forest, the damage to the trails from lack of use (and lack of user performed maintenance) may be greater than the damage from the fire. Yet to read this report you’d think the trails need somehow to be protected from the users during this critical time.
Oh well, read ’em for yourself. Here’s the Trail Report.
Here’s the Cultural Resources Report.
Here’s the Fisheries Report (interesting in that it discusses the severity of burning and the amount by which runoff is expected to increase in specific watersheds).
Here’s the Wildlife Report.