November 27, 2012
A federal judge has rejected a settlement that would have temporarily banned dirt bikes on a popular trail network in the Bear Creek drainage just west of Colorado Springs.
Environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Forest Service this spring to try to force the agency to ban dirt bikes on five trails, claiming the vehicles cause erosion that damages habitat of greenback cutthroat trout. Recent research has revealed a four-mile stretch of Bear Creek is home to the only genetically pure population of its kind left anywhere, the ancestors of fish introduced there by a settler in the 1880s.
Last week, attorneys for the environmental group and the Forest Service signed a settlement, with the agency agreeing to ban dirt bikes on trails 665, 668, 701 and 720 and part of trail 667. Officials agreed to install signs and barriers within 10 days of the court approving the settlement and to keep the trails closed until an ongoing watershed assessment is complete. They also agreed to get approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before reopening the trails to vehicles.
But Monday, U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane rejected the settlement. At issue is a provision saying if there is a dispute over the implementation of the document, neither side can be found in contempt of court. The judge ruled that provision exceeds the authority of the two sides and could lead to them not reporting violations of the court order.
Tim Ream, attorney for the environmental group, called it a “very esoteric point” and said negotiations continue on reworking the settlement.
Dirt bike groups, who have funded and carried out maintenance work on the trails for years, have blasted the lawsuit as unfairly singling out dirt bike riders from hikers, mountain bike riders and others they say also impact the creek.
“We are not satisfied with the process to date,” said Don Riggle, president of the Colorado Springs-based Trails Preservation Alliance. His is one of three groups representing motorized vehicle riders that have joined the lawsuit as intervenors.
He said he agreed to a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity with the understanding the ban would be in place only for the winter months, until the trails could be realigned, but last week’s settlement differed “in principle.” The document includes no timetable for reopening.
Pike National Forest spokeswoman Barb Timock said dirt bikes are allowed on the trails for now. Asked how the judge’s ruling might impact a settlement, she said negotiations continue and declined to comment further.