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Submitted By: C Miller on Jan 12, 2007


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Dangerous New Precedent Could Close
Access to Multiple National Forest
Recreation Areas

Stop the Closures…Act NOW!
-- Instructions Below --

Original Deadline for public comment extended to
January 31, 2007

Cleveland National Forest is proposing seasonal closures to ALL forms of recreation at 1) Corte Madera Mountain & El Cajon Mountain 2) Rock Mountain & Eagle Peak. Though the Forest Service did not originally make this information available to the public, due to considerable pressure being brought to bear, they have now extended the comment period from January 12th to January 31st, and posted the proposals here:
www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>

It is important to note that the Forest Service did not previously make these proposed measures available to the public because they deemed them to be of insignificant consequence to the public . . . these proposals actually state:

“This closure order is considered to be a routine administrative action that normally does not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment and therefore may be categorically excluded from documentation in an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] or EA [Environmental Assessment] unless scoping [public comment period] indicated that extraordinary circumstances exist.”

Let the Forest Service know that this is unacceptable. The public should have been made aware of these proposed measures because these closures will clearly “have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment”.

Unless challenged, these proposals will ban ALL human activity within 2,640 feet in all directions of any current or future golden eagle, prairie falcon, or “other cliff-nesting species” nest, even though these “other” species types are not identified. These measures are partly based on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which includes over 800 birds, some as common as the swallow & hummingbird. Make no mistake, these proposals will establish legal precedent allowing for similar closures to be enacted on all public lands! Lastly, these closures unfairly target passive uses (from hiking to horseback riding) while providing access to off-roaders on trails that fall well within the proposed boundary limits!

Please list the following reasons when telling the Cleveland National Forest that you oppose these closures because you feel these measures WILL “have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment” . . . ACT NOW!!!

1. These closures are inconsistent with the USFS multiple use mandate, “as set forth in law…to meet the diverse needs of people,” and as such do not adequately take into consideration the unique value of climbing, hiking, backpacking, mountain-biking, and horseback riding on public forest lands.
2. The USFS is misinterpreting its legal authority to use the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), together with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, to close access to our public lands for non-threatened species. This is a radically extreme method to limit passive recreational use on our public lands given that the MBTA was signed by Congress in 1918 to prevent over-commercialization of migratory birds.
3. The Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, and “other cliff-nesting species” are not listed on the USFS Sensitive Animal Species list for Cleveland National Forest and do not require drastic protection measures.
4. The Corte Madera proposal is extreme, onerous, and scientifically unsound as it is being based on the “historical” presence of eagles. According to the proposals contributing author, Dave Bittner, Executive Director of the Wildlife Research Institute, golden eagles have not nested at Corte Madera since 1991.
5. Also particular to Corte Madera Mountain is the arbitrary closure limit distance: this distance is not based on exact nest locations, not accurately depicted on USFS closure proposal maps from well known cliff-face nest locations, and unduly targets passive human activity while allowing motorcycle and ATV off-road activity to continue unabated on the Espinosa Trail which is well within the ½ mile limit.
6. Climbers, Hikers, and other passive National Forest users have co-existed with wildlife peacefully for decades; therefore, among other factors, such as the extremely loud noise from nearby off-road vehicles, changing climate conditions and decline of natural prey populations are more likely to blame for any suspected bird loss.
7. These proposals are inconsistent with highly effective closure precedent already established nation-wide.

Oppose these closures…write a letter (or e-mail), title it -- Comments to proposed seasonal closures at:
Corte Madera Mountain, El Cajon Mountain, Rock Mountain, & Eagle Peak
Send it directly to the Cleveland National Forest at the following address (e-mail is fine, hard copy is better):

kwinter@fs.fed.us
Kirsten Winter-Cleveland National Forest, 10845 Rancho Bernardo Rd #200, San Diego, Ca 92127


Comments on Your comments needed Add Comment
By C Miller
Administrator
Jan 12, 2007

* SAMPLE LETTER * * *




Kirsten Winter
Cleveland National Forest
10845 Rancho Bernardo Rd #200
San Diego, CA 92127

Dear Ms. Winter:

Subject: Comments to proposed seasonal closures at Corte Madera Mountain & El Cajon Mountain

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed seasonal closures at Corte Madera Mountain and El Cajon Mountain. These lands are important recreational areas and any closures should take into account the impacts to recreational users. Providing recreational opportunities is a priority goal of the Forest Service and, therefore, any closures should be subject to serious consideration and supported by adequate and current scientific data.

Keep in mind that the golden eagle and prairie falcon are not listed species under the Endangered Species Act. Such broad seasonal closures are not necessary, especially since there is no evidence that recreational users are impacting the raptors. Development of habitat and urban sprawl resulting in loss of prey base, electrocution and poisoning are the likely culprits.

Any closures should be implemented as nests are observed and should be limited to a reasonable 330-foot buffer. This compromise would allow recreation to continue while demonstrating a direct benefit to raptors.

Closure of These Areas is Incompatible with Forest Service Mission

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Along with the motto of Caring for the Land and Serving the People, the Forest Service pledges to protect and manage the National Forests and Grasslands so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept. Corte Madera and El Cajon Mountains are not wilderness and, therefore, need to be managed under the concept of multiple-use, allowing for public access and recreational uses. Implementing a closure such as this for species that are not even listed under the Endangered Species Act goes against the multiple-use management concept. Recreation is compatible with natural resources so long as there are some reasonable management measures in place based on current scientific data. Broad seasonal closures based on speculative nest locations are not the answer and do not meet the recreational needs of present and future generations.

In the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan, the National Strategic Plan Goals are listed in Part 1, Appendix A. The plan identifies these goals as the priority goals for the Forest Service. Goal 3 requires that the Forest Service “provide high-quality outdoor recreational opportunities on forests and grasslands, while sustaining natural resources, to help meet the nation’s recreation demands.” The text goes on to state that emphasis should be placed on effective management solutions. Seasonal closures do not provide an effective management solution in this case. A broad closure of this magnitude will exclude a wide variety of recreational uses while having minimal benefit to raptors. It is important to note that raptors are being impacted in San Diego County by development of habitat and urban sprawl which results in a reduced prey base, electrocution by power lines, poisoning, and other associated impacts. Exclusion of recreational users within El Cajon and Corte Madera Mountains will not alleviate any of these impacts associated with development, which account for the majority of impacts to raptors.
Part 3, Appendix D of the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan requires that Conservation Education be implemented before any Perimeter Control unless immediate measures are needed. These species are not at the brink of extinction and do not require an immediate seasonal closure. In fact, there is no proof that there is a conflict between recreational uses and raptors at these locations. The Forest Service should adhere to their management plan and implement Conservation Education along with any needed monitoring and studies before resorting to Perimeter Control measures such as seasonal closures.

Take as Defined in the Migratory Bird Treaty and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Acts

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act specifically protects migratory birds and nests from possession, sale, purchase, barter, transport, import, export, and take. Take is defined as means to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempts to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect (50 CFR 10.12). Recreational uses, such as hiking and rock climbing, would not result in any of these activities. Recreational uses have a remote possibility of disturbing migratory birds during their nesting period, however, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not consider disturbance to be take and, therefore, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not provide the legal authority for this closure. The Forest Service should examine mining, logging, grazing and other high impact uses that could actually result in take under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) does include disturb within its definition of take. This definition of take would only apply to bald and golden eagles, not to other raptor species such as prairie falcon. It is also important to note that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has not defined disturb and recently released a draft environmental assessment to define disturb under the BGEPA. Currently, the preferred alternative is to define disturb to require both an effect to individual eagles and a biological impact, such as nest abandonment. FWS may also define disturb to require an action directed at one or more eagles that results in death or injury of the eagles. It is unlikely that recreational activities, including rock climbing, will meet either definition of disturb as proposed by the FWS. These recreational areas are large and the nests are only in a few locations within the large recreational area. Any biological impacts can be minimized via Conservation Education, which is required to be implemented before any Perimeter Control as detailed in Part 3 Appendix D of the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan.

If nests are located, specific buffers for those nests can be implemented. Through education, instead of just closure, the recreational users can be made aware of the specific closure area and spread the information to other recreational users within their group. Many of the recreational groups have effective communication networks which can make this possible.

Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons are Not Listed Species

Golden eagles and prairie falcons are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. Prairie falcons have a stable population with San Diego County and are considered a species of least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources because of their wide habitat range and over 5,000 pairs nationwide. The golden eagle is declining in San Diego County, but is increasing elsewhere. The decline in San Diego County is attributed to factors other than recreation, such as development of habitat and urban sprawl. The golden eagle has a wide range throughout North America. The status of these species should be taken into account when considering the drastic measure of closure. These species are not on the brink of extinction, not even close, and actions that would allow for recreational activity should be considered, as required by the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan. Banning all recreational activities for a species that may or may not be nesting within the recreational area and is not on the brink of extinction is completely unnecessary.

No Proof that Decline of Species is Due to Recreation

The decline in raptor numbers can be attributed to development of habitat and increased urban sprawl, not recreational activities. In particular, golden eagles are electrocuted by power lines, caught in hunting traps, and poisoned by private landowners. Although it has been shown that golden eagles may abandon nests if they are disturbed, closing down entire areas because golden eagles, prairie falcons or other raptors may nest there is too drastic and goes against the priority goal of the Forest Service to “provide high-quality outdoor recreational opportunities on forests and grasslands, while sustaining natural resources, to help meet the nation’s recreation demands.”

Recreation has minimal impacts to raptors and should not be curtailed. Closures are an easy action to take, but will not help raptor populations in San Diego County. Rapid development and sprawl has resulted in injuries and impacts to raptors including reduction in the prey base, electrocution, poisoning, and loss of habitat. These bigger issues need to be addressed in order to effectively protect golden eagles and other raptor species.

Any Necessary Closures Should be Implemented as Nests are Observed

Monitoring should be conducted as proposed in the December 11, 2006 scoping letter and closures implemented as necessary for specific nest sites. There is no reason to close an entire area for nesting activity that may or may not occur.

If nests are observed, a reasonable 330-foot buffer should be enforced. One-half mile is an impractical and unnecessary buffer. The 330-foot buffer requirement has been implemented for golden eagle in the past and is proposed for bald eagle as part of the Draft National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines. A 330-foot buffer around an observed nest would not significantly curtail recreation activities while still providing adequate protection for raptor species to rear their eggs and fledge their young.

In Corte Madera, golden eagles have not been observed in over 15 years. As stated in the scoping letter dated December 11, 2006, the closure should only apply to recently used or alternate nest sites. There are no recently used or alternate nest sites there, and therefore, Corte Madera should not be subject to the seasonal closure.

It is unclear what is proposed for El Cajon Mountain since the scoping letter dated December 11, 2006 does not provide a map of the proposed closure areas. Since a portion of El Cajon Mountain does not occur on National Forest System Lands, it is unclear whether the proposal is to implement a seasonal closure on the portion of El Cajon Mountain within Forest Service control or if the closure will be more limited. Additional monitoring on El Cajon Mountain should be done to specifically identify any nesting sites. Any needed closures should be implemented on a case-by-case basis as appropriate, limited to a 330-foot buffer.

Closure Order is Subject to National Environmental Policy Act and is Not Categorically Exempt

As proposed, this closure would go beyond short-term resource protection and should not be considered a routine administrative action, as stated in the December 11, 2006 scoping letter. There is no indication that this closure will be short-term in either the scoping letter dated December 11, 2006 or the Schedule of Proposed Actions posted January 2, 2007. A categorical exemption would not be appropriate for a long-term, seasonal closure of this magnitude. Closure of these large recreational areas would indeed have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment, diminishing the quality of life for people who use these recreational areas. The closure also directly conflicts with the mission and requirements of the Forest Service as detailed above.


Once again, thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposed seasonal closure for El Cajon and Corte Madera Mountains. When considering this closure, please keep us recreational users in mind and the time that we have spent exploring and enjoying these natural areas. Please consider Conservation Education measures first, as detailed in the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan, and work with recreational users to minimize impacts to actual nesting birds without implementing broad seasonal closures.


Sincerely,

By C Miller
Administrator
Jan 12, 2007

* * * SAMPLE LETTER * * *




Kirsten Winter
Cleveland National Forest
10845 Rancho Bernardo Rd #200
San Diego, CA 92127

Dear Ms. Winter:

Subject: Comments to proposed seasonal closures at Rock Mountain & Eagle Peak

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed seasonal closures at Rock Mountain and Eagle Peak. These lands are important recreational areas and any closures should take into account the impacts to recreational users. Providing recreational opportunities is a priority goal of the Forest Service and, therefore, any closures should be subject to serious consideration and supported by adequate and current scientific data.

Keep in mind that the golden eagle and prairie falcon are not listed species under the Endangered Species Act. Such broad seasonal closures are not necessary, especially since there is no evidence that recreational users are impacting the raptors. Development of habitat and urban sprawl resulting in loss of prey base, electrocution and poisoning are the likely culprits.

Any closures should be implemented as nests are observed and should be limited to a reasonable 330-foot buffer. This compromise would allow recreation to continue while demonstrating a direct benefit to raptors.

Closure of These Areas is Incompatible with Forest Service Mission

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Along with the motto of Caring for the Land and Serving the People, the Forest Service pledges to protect and manage the National Forests and Grasslands so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept. Rock Mountain and Eagle Peak are not wilderness and, therefore, need to be managed under the concept of multiple-use, allowing for public access and recreational uses. Implementing a closure such as this for species that are not even listed under the Endangered Species Act goes against the multiple-use management concept. Recreation is compatible with natural resources so long as there are some reasonable management measures in place based on current scientific data. Broad seasonal closures based on speculative nest locations are not the answer and do not meet the recreational needs of present and future generations.

In the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan, the National Strategic Plan Goals are listed in Part 1, Appendix A. The plan identifies these goals as the priority goals for the Forest Service. Goal 3 requires that the Forest Service “provide high-quality outdoor recreational opportunities on forests and grasslands, while sustaining natural resources, to help meet the nation’s recreation demands.” The text goes on to state that emphasis should be placed on effective management solutions. Seasonal closures do not provide an effective management solution in this case. A broad closure of this magnitude will exclude a wide variety of recreational uses while having minimal benefit to raptors. It is important to note that raptors are being impacted in San Diego County by development of habitat and urban sprawl which results in a reduced prey base, electrocution by power lines, poisoning, and other associated impacts. Exclusion of recreational users within Rock Mountain and Eagle Peak will not alleviate any of these impacts associated with development, which account for the majority of impacts to raptors.
Part 3, Appendix D of the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan requires that Conservation Education be implemented before any Perimeter Control unless immediate measures are needed. These species are not at the brink of extinction and do not require an immediate seasonal closure. In fact, there is no proof that there is a conflict between recreational uses and raptors at these locations. The Forest Service should adhere to their management plan and implement Conservation Education along with any needed monitoring and studies before resorting to Perimeter Control measures such as seasonal closures.

Take as Defined in the Migratory Bird Treaty and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Acts

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act specifically protects migratory birds and nests from possession, sale, purchase, barter, transport, import, export, and take. Take is defined as means to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempts to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect (50 CFR 10.12). Recreational uses, such as hiking and rock climbing, would not result in any of these activities. Recreational uses have a remote possibility of disturbing migratory birds during their nesting period, however, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not consider disturbance to be take and, therefore, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not provide the legal authority for this closure. The Forest Service should examine mining, logging, grazing and other high impact uses that could actually result in take under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) does include disturb within its definition of take. This definition of take would only apply to bald and golden eagles, not to other raptor species such as prairie falcon. It is also important to note that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has not defined disturb and recently released a draft environmental assessment to define disturb under the BGEPA. Currently, the preferred alternative is to define disturb to require both an effect to individual eagles and a biological impact, such as nest abandonment. FWS may also define disturb to require an action directed at one or more eagles that results in death or injury of the eagles. It is unlikely that recreational activities, including rock climbing, will meet either definition of disturb as proposed by the FWS. These recreational areas are large and the nests are only in a few locations within the large recreational area. Any biological impacts can be minimized via Conservation Education, which is required to be implemented before any Perimeter Control as detailed in Part 3 Appendix D of the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan.

If nests are located, specific buffers for those nests can be implemented. Through education, instead of just closure, the recreational users can be made aware of the specific closure area and spread the information to other recreational users within their group. Many of the recreational groups have effective communication networks which can make this possible.

Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons are Not Listed Species

Golden eagles and prairie falcons are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. Prairie falcons have a stable population with San Diego County and are considered a species of least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources because of their wide habitat range and over 5,000 pairs nationwide. The golden eagle is declining in San Diego County, but is increasing elsewhere. The decline in San Diego County is attributed to factors other than recreation, such as development of habitat and urban sprawl. The golden eagle has a wide range throughout North America. The status of these species should be taken into account when considering the drastic measure of closure. These species are not on the brink of extinction, not even close, and actions that would allow for recreational activity should be considered, as required by the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan. Banning all recreational activities for a species that may or may not be nesting within the recreational area and is not on the brink of extinction is completely unnecessary.

No Proof that Decline of Species is Due to Recreation

The decline in raptor numbers can be attributed to development of habitat and increased urban sprawl, not recreational activities. In particular, golden eagles are electrocuted by power lines, caught in hunting traps, and poisoned by private landowners. Although it has been shown that golden eagles may abandon nests if they are disturbed, closing down entire areas because golden eagles, prairie falcons or other raptors may nest there is too drastic and goes against the priority goal of the Forest Service to “provide high-quality outdoor recreational opportunities on forests and grasslands, while sustaining natural resources, to help meet the nation’s recreation demands.”

Recreation has minimal impacts to raptors and should not be curtailed. Closures are an easy action to take, but will not help raptor populations in San Diego County. Rapid development and sprawl has resulted in injuries and impacts to raptors including reduction in the prey base, electrocution, poisoning, and loss of habitat. These bigger issues need to be addressed in order to effectively protect golden eagles and other raptor species.


Any Necessary Closures Should be Implemented as Nests are Observed

Monitoring should be conducted as proposed in the December 11, 2006 scoping letter and closures implemented as necessary for specific nest sites. There is no reason to close an entire area for nesting activity that may or may not occur.

If nests are observed, a reasonable 330-foot buffer should be enforced. One-half mile is an impractical and unnecessary buffer. The 330-foot buffer requirement has been implemented for golden eagle in the past and is proposed for bald eagle as part of the Draft National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines. A 330-foot buffer around an observed nest would not significantly curtail recreation activities while still providing adequate protection for raptor species to rear their eggs and fledge their young.

Closure Order is Subject to National Environmental Policy Act and is Not Categorically Exempt

As proposed, this closure would go beyond short-term resource protection and should not be considered a routine administrative action, as stated in the December 11, 2006 scoping letter. There is no indication that this closure will be short-term in either the scoping letter dated December 11, 2006 or the Schedule of Proposed Actions posted January 2, 2007. A categorical exemption would not be appropriate for a long-term, seasonal closure of this magnitude. Closure of these large recreational areas would indeed have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment, diminishing the quality of life for people who use these recreational areas. The closure also directly conflicts with the mission and requirements of the Forest Service as detailed above.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposed seasonal closure for Rock Mountain and Eagle Peak. When considering this closure, please keep us recreational users in mind and the time that we have spent exploring and enjoying these natural areas. Please consider Conservation Education measures first, as detailed in the 2005 Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan, and work with recreational users to minimize impacts to actual nesting birds without implementing broad seasonal closures.


Sincerely,

By C Miller
Administrator
Jan 12, 2007

More info here at the Access Fund website

By Adam Stackhouse
Administrator
Jan 12, 2007

For history's sake, didn't half of Corte Madre (South Buttress) already have a seasonal closure, from Feb 1 through June 30 for nesting season?
And if the above is correct, what is the difference in scope as it pertains to the new recommendation that they're (USFS) seeking approval for?

By tharlow
Jan 18, 2007

chris, thanks for the heads up. It helps to be informed on issues like this.

By jeff brown
Jan 28, 2007

(sidenote to ATS...no time to explain now...post your e-mail and I'll send you well documented proof that Kennedy's closure was fake...period.)

WE ONLY HAVE THREE DAYS LEFT.

Whether you've sent your letters or not, you owe it to yourselves to read this . . . then pass it on to everyone!

(side-note to climbers: get with the program folks...this is not about local turf squabbles or just about climbing, and though it will close crags, IT IS MUCH BIGGER THAN THAT).

Included within the text are a number of specific links that are very pertinent. For those of you interested in additional legal questions as to the Forest Service' statements that these birds are listed as a species of special concern, check out the info. in my post-script, and blend it with the sample letters provided previously by "furbucket" over at Supertop, RC.com, or Climbsandiego.

The Forest Service now appears to be engaging in a deceptive public relations campaign to promote their unnecessary seasonal bird closure proposals under the guise of "needed protections."

The Cleveland National Forest (CNF) proposals to enact sanctioned regulatory closures for "protection" of raptors from December 1st to May 30th of every year at Corte Madera Mountain, El Cajon Mountain, Eagle Peak, and Rock Mountain are not necessary. Concerned citizens should review the proposals (attached at bottom), comparing them with the Forest Service' press release in the Union Tribune and the The North County Times, and their most recent post on their web-site of 1/10/07 . . . and then READ BETWEEN THE LINES.

Something here is not right!

One example is in their most recent web-site post in which they only mention these closures being implemented for "[the protections of] Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons." The actual proposals are exceedingly broad and state "as well as other cliff-nesting species". Unless challenged, these proposals will ban ALL human activity within 2,640 feet in all directions of any current or future golden eagles' or prairie falcons' nests, and potentially any "other cliff-nesting species" nest, even though these "other" species types are not explicitly identified. These measures are partly based on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (created in 1918 to stop the "indiscriminate slaughter" of migratory birds by market hunters and others) which includes over 800 birds, some as common as the swallow & hummingbird. That's an awful lot of "other cliff-nesting species" . That the Forest Service automatically feels they have the legal authority to invoke the MBTA, an act that applies specifically to commerce, to restrict recreational activities is just one example of the problems with the Forest Service' proposals . . . there are many more!

Union Tribune:
www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070123/news_1n23forest.ht>>>
North County Times:
www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/01/22/news/inland/12107193014.>>>
Forest Service' recent web-site post:
www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/news/2007/01/seasonal-closure.sht>>>

Popular local hiking trails in Jerry Schad's "Afoot and Afield In San Diego County" which will be closed (even though the Forest Service states, "No official trails or roads are within the proposed closure areas. The proposed closure areas are cliff areas and rock outcroppings in the vicinity of recently used and alternate nest sites."):

Corte Madera Mountain (more than just a climbing area):
www.sdreader.com/php/roamshow.php?id=20051117

Three Sisters Falls:
www.sdreader.com/php/roamshow.php?id=19980702

Other areas affected (sorry no links): El Cap on El Cajon Mountain, and Rock Mountain to the North East of El Cajon Mountain, closing access to many trails and fabulous vistas, including the planned Trans-County Trail, aka Sea-to-Sea Trail which eventually heads East across the San Diego River near Cedar Creek Falls.

Let me explain. Launched on 12/11/06 for a public comment period (scoping process), with a deadline of 1/12/07, these measures were not originally posted on their web-site for the public to see. Only after considerable pressure, did the CNF lengthen the comment period to 1/31/07, and place the proposals on their web-site. And now, in response to negative opposition to these proposals, they seem to be engaged in a public relations battle to seek public approval, even though they didn't at first actively seek the public's opinion.

Neither the latest CNF post of 1/10/07 or their latest press releases openly tell us that these proposals will extend closures to 2,640 feet in all directions from a single nest site, well beyond the already effectively established 330 foot buffer zones for Golden Eagles. It is this measure that will close the popular hiking trails illustrated above, even though the CNF would have us believe no hiking trails will be affected with their statement of not affecting "official" trails. How is this possible? Because of what they also leave out of their public comments. That is, it is the public's right to hike in their National Forest either on a trail or off, UNLESS officially posted otherwise. And the fact is, most of the wonderful trails you've probably been on in San Diego county within your National Forest, though dating back decades in some cases, are simply not "official" trails.

Factually -- As mentioned, if these closures are enacted the very popular hiking trail to the top of Corte Madera Mountain which is identified in Jerry Schad's "Afoot and Afield in San Diego County" hiking guide, even though it is not an "official" trail, WILL BE CLOSED from December 1st to May 30th of every year, and even though this is unnecessary!
www.sdreader.com/php/roamshow.php?id=20051117

Factually -- The Eagle Peak closure is approximately two miles long, one mile wide, and encompasses over 1000 acres, including the Three Sisters Waterfalls, another popular area from "Afoot and Afield", and one of the two most popular hikes on twenty miles of Boulder Creek Road, even though this too is an unofficial trail. Two miles of Boulder Creek below the falls are also included in the closure. Additionally, a mile long stretch of Boulder Creek above the falls would then also be closed because of lack of access from upstream due to private property.
www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>

Additionally, as is the case with Corte Madera Mountain (illustrated next), in looking at the maps for Eagle Peak, something is not right! The northern boundary on the map appears to be drawn to avoid including the trail to Eagle Peak proper, yet this boundary line is less than 600 feet from the top and is clearly within the guidelines for the closure which calls for 2,640 feet in all directions from nest sites, making this boundary in conflict with the proposal's standard and therefore arbitrary.

In Corte Madera Mountain's case, if the Forest Service were to have correctly placed their circle-of-closure on the Corte Madera map per a known Falcon nest site (and presumed historical Eagles' Nests) it would clearly have encompassed the popular Espinosa "off-roader's" trail. We should all ask ourselves why this circle was moved back away from the off-roader's trail.

In reviewing the proposal maps in question, one will see the profoundly arbitrary nature of the boundary limits relative to the cliff face where the nests are located (note the densely stacked topo lines on the map which represents the cliff face, and that the Espinosa off-road trail is to the South, below the cliff face):
www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>

It seems difficult to conclude that restricting an area to passive uses like climbing and hiking in a stated effort to "protect" nesting birds while allowing the frequent weekend off-road activity by noisy un-mufflered ATV's and dirt-bikes to continue unabated within the actual distance of the defined boundary limits in the proposal to be anything other than . . . MISGUIDED AND WRONG!

According to Joan Wynn, spokesperson for CNF, the Golden Eagle's population in San Diego County has plummeted over the last 100 years from an estimated 108 pairs to 53 pairs, and the Prairie Falcon's population is at 20 to 30 pairs, making it one of the county's scarcest birds. But these claims too are very misleading.

These remarks would have us believe the birds are in danger of extirpation, drastic measures being necessary. This is not the case. That the Prairie Falcon population is small in San Diego County is very normal for our area because San Diego is at the Southern fringe of the Prairie Falcon's range. The falcon populations in our region have always been low. The proposals themselves note the Prairie Falcon population within San Diego County to be quite stable. And though the Golden Eagle numbers are low, they too are not in danger. We have to remember that an entire century is a very long time. It would be nice to have more eagles, but it would also be nice to have the undeveloped acreage of 100 years ago as well. The point is, though low in numbers, neither of these birds is identified as being sensitive in the CNF by the USFS: www.fs.fed.us/r5/projects/sensitive-species/sensitive-animal>>>

Decreased Golden Eagle populations have not been scientifically linked to recreation, including rock climbing. Population losses are, however, empirically linked to habitat loss due to development, logging, electrocution from landing on power lines, accidental poisoning from eating poison ladened rodents, and disease. What is disturbing, as it relates to the USFS's handling of the Golden Eagle's habitat, is that while they want to heavily regulate what little areas we have left in our National Forest to recreate in peaceful co-existence with wildlife and raptors, they routinely let loggers, miners, and developers remove eagle nesting habitat during non-nesting season, even if an eagle nest was used within this habitat during the very last nesting season. The USFS only requires that the operation wait until the eagle's young have fledged from the nest. Yet they want to close access to recreational use during the same nesting season, even if an eagles nest is not being actively used, year, after year, after year!

In a time when children are becoming less fit and unhealthy, and families are spending less quality time with each other in the real world of nature (due primarily to the commercial exploitation for corporate profits of everyone's already limited time in our busy modern world), we should implore the Forest Service to do the right thing and take these measures off the table. We need to be able to spend time by ourselves and with our families in "the great outdoors". We need to be able to engage our children in outdoor activities such as climbing and hiking, building healthier bodies and stronger bonds that are both familial, and interconnected with our natural world. This is the legacy our Forest Service should leave to future generations . . . the ability to engage in a real world experience with nature, not the alternative of increased usage of video games and reliance on "virtual" reality! What the Forest Service should be doing is working harder to fight off the loggers and developers, while actively promoting passive recreation use on forest lands per their own mandate & mission statement: www.fs.fed.us/aboutus/mission.shtml

Also of interest, in Corte Madera's case, is that though the Forest Service' post says they are only doing this for "recently used" nests, according to Dave Bittner (third reference in proposals), no Eagles' have even nested on this mountain in over fifteen years! According the proposals own data, "Utah Field Office Guidelines for Protection of Raptors from Human and Land Use Disturbances", Romin & Muck, the term active would only apply to nests that have been used at least once in the last seven years.

Furthermore, according to Pete Bloom, ecologist and raptor biologist with Bloom Biological, Inc., an independent raptor consulting firm with an extensive background in research work on Golden Eagle populations and habitat in Southern California, "if [the] eagles haven't nested in [the last] fifteen years, they are not coming back . . . period." Bloom attributes this to what he considers too significant a loss in the eagles support habitat, which, he said, most likely has to do with surrounding housing and other development. Bloom further says that though this sort of development may not be visibly adjacent to an eagles' nesting location, if a previously key foraging area even 10 to 30 miles away is removed or otherwise negatively impacted, the raptors simply move on to better hunting areas in response to that loss. Therefore, the extreme measure of closing this mountain in the hope that Golden Eagles will return . . . seems to be pure folly!

In the Union Tribune article Dave Bittner, Director of the Wildlife Research Institute is quoted as saying "It only takes one disturbance at the wrong time to ruin the entire nesting season," and he implies that this disturbance could come from climbers or hikers. Similarly, Phil Unitt, curator of the birds and mammals department at the San Diego Natural History Museum would have us believe, "One of the primary concerns is people rock climbing, which could bring them very near the nest sites. If people are climbing cliff faces and the birds fly away during that time, then the young could become chilled, vulnerable to other predators . . . or just not get fed enough." In the North County Times piece Tom Stephan of Ramona, acting president of the California Raptor Advancement Group, apparently counters the need to have closures for anything other than actual climbing, saying "People walking down below them at the base of cliffs aren't going to bother them." Though he echoes what the other Proponents in these articles want us to believe, "It's rock climbing that is 99 percent of the problem. They (the birds) demand seclusion. They demand isolation. And they can't get it if people are climbing around their nests."

Yet there really is no problem of climbers climbing into nests and causing unsuccessful nesting seasons and none of them offer a shred of factual evidence for these claims!

Contrary to what they would have the public believe, climbers are one of the most environmentally responsible groups who frequent the forest. They routinely volunteer for trail building and clean-ups on public lands, often footing the bill from their own pockets. And when it comes to actual climbing when the raptors are nesting, their code of ethic dictates that they do not knowingly climb into or too closely around active nests. Simply put, these claims of both climbers and hikers, as well as other rec-users being responsible for ruining successful nesting is often used in arguments by extremists when it is really only speculative conjecture!

All of these so-called "expert" claims appear to evaporate when one does a little digging. In lieu of what the following information suggests, this sort of thing really only applies to botched research and banning practices. When it comes to the general presence of humans and recreation, quite the contrary seems to be true. According to Raptors of Western North America, Wheeler 2003, falcons exhibit little fear of humans during nesting season. Indeed, Scott Weidensaul, The Raptor Almanac, 2000, states, "With Chicks in the nest, adults will sometimes tolerate an astonishing degree of disturbance, including humans climbing into the nest to ban the young. At times, people have moved entire nests out of harm's way without the adults deserting."

Furthermore, the danger to nesting Prairie Falcons that the Forest Service and so-called "experts" would have us believe occurs every time someone waltzes up to a crag, apparently only arises with ornithologist's and biologist's actions during research observations:

Anderson & Squires, "The Prairie Falcon" 1997 -- "If raptors are suddenly frightened and leave the nest site in a panic, they can inadvertently crush or puncture eggs or can eject eggs or young from the nest in their excitement. It is only natural for a person eager to observe a nesting raptor closely to approach the nest site very quietly. However, the raptor may not notice you until you are quite close; this causes the bird to burst out of the nest site, possibly destroying or catapulting the eggs or young. It is far better to let the bird know you are approaching the nest site by making noises, such as clapping, singing, and whistling, or to advance toward the nest in the line of sight. The noise should be slight at first, then become progressively louder when nearing the nest, until the adult leaves the eyrie. The bird then becomes aware of your presence before you are perceived to be an extreme threat."

So what actually seems to be the case is that, unless you are a stealth hiker or climber who quietly sneaks up to a cliff or rock face, never utters a word and engages only in hand signaling during your outdoor activities (never mind climbers with their clanging gear and essential verbal commands of on & off-belay), the likelihood of causing a "disturbance" so severe as to "ruin an entire nesting season" is . . . zilch! In fact, according to Wheeler, Raptors of Western North America, 2003, falcons are actually "quite tolerant of human disturbance during nesting and it is only intense, prolonged disturbance which forces adults to abandon nest sites."

I submit to you that, since large areas of OUR National Forests are already restricted from us by being routinely fenced off for mining, logging, and grazing, ANY discussions prior to a decision to move forward with access closure proposals which would further limit our use for recreation should ALWAYS include ALL recreation users. Furthermore, these types of decisions should draw on a broad base of CURRENT knowledge rather than outdated references, include recommendations from MULTIPLE experts OUTSIDE the Forest Service (certainly more than numerous closed door discussions with just the single subjective consultant voice of Dave Bittner -- see third ref. in proposals), should ALWAYS be done in an above-board manner, and should ALWAYS take great pains to consider the USFS mission statement:
www.fs.fed.us/aboutus/mission.shtml

If this had been the case (that the Forest Service included multiple rec-users, current data, and MULTIPLE independent objective expert opinions, etc.), I'm confident REASON would have prevailed, resulting in a responsible and respectful solution having been developed. Most likely, a decision reliant on precedent, established public lands management policy, and sound science [rather than extremism] would have been made. The outcome being proposals establishing seasonal closure buffers of 330 feet for active eagle nests and those that are in-active for up to seven years based on the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act [period...not fifteen years...nothing beyond seven]; posted site "advisories" to general recreation users to avoid active prairie falcon nests from the beginning of February to the end of June; and posted site "advisories" to climbers to refrain from climbing within 300 feet of active prairie falcon nests during the same period (as is the case at The Pinnacles for individually located prairie falcon nests; Gavin Emmons, Raptor Biologist & Jim Petterson, Wildlife Biologist, Pinnacles National Monument).

In closing, it is you, average joe-citizen who needs to decide how to respond to the Forest Service' Closure Proposals. READ THEM CAREFULLY and READ BETWEEN THE LINES . . . something is clearly a miss!

Corte Madera Mountain & El Cajon Mountain:
Proposal - www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>
Map - www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>

Rock Mountain & Eagle Peak:
Proposal - www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>
Eagle Peak Map - www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>
Rock Mountain Map - www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/projects/seasonal-closur>>>

Thank you!
joe-citizen (jeff brown)

p.s. Following are some specifics about the Species of Special Concern list that the Forest Service seems to feel they are justified in using when explaining their decision to move forward with these "protective" measures.

First off, the "Bird Species of Special Concern" list is a state-by-state list determination by individual state agencies and for California it can be found here: www.dfg.ca.gov/hcpb/species/ssc/sscbird/sscbird.shtml for the California Department of Fish and Game, which is under the Department Of The Interior, not the United States Department Of Agriculture (USDA), which is the federal agency responsible for administering to the National Forest. (side-not of additional importance: Fish and Game, National Parks, and the BLM come under The Department Of The Interior (DOI), the National Forest falls under the USDA).

The USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, Sensitive Animal Species by Forest can be found here:
www.fs.fed.us/r5/projects/sensitive-species/sensitive-animal>>> and lists only the San Diego Cactus Wren, Greater Sage Grouse, and Great Gray Owl as "Sensitive" within the Cleveland National Forest. Not the Golden Eagle or Prairie Falcon.

Nevertheless, since agencies do look to each other for guidance, a couple of key points from the "Species of Special Concern" list should be noted:

1) As stated by the Dept. of Fish and Game:

  • -- "This list is intended for use as a management tool and for information; species of special concern have no special legal status."
[That is correct, "no special legal status". In the case of the Golden Eagle, legal protections relative to recreation are primarily provided due to specific interpretations of the word "take", afforded under the Golden Eagle Protection Act. Prairie Falcons get legal protections, only relative to commerce and out-right killing (as in shooting, etc.), under the MBTA -- see below for links to these acts: # 5 for MBTA, bottom for Golden Eagle Protection Act. Note that these proposals clearly state the Forest Service intends to create these closures, believing they have the ability to do so, under, "legal authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and in accordance with the direction provided in the Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan (USDA Forest Service 2005)" -- see attached "Closure Comment Sample Letter" for arguments to the latter.]

  • -- "The species of special concern list is divided into three categories: Highest, Second, and Third priorities. These categories are defined on the basis of the urgency of the situation. Species in the Highest Priority category face immediate extirpation of their entire California population or their California breeding population if current trends continue. In several cases, extirpation as breeding species has already occurred. Species in the Second Priority category are definitely on the decline in a large portion of their range in California, but their populations are still sufficiently substantial that danger is not immediate. Species in the Third Priority category are not in any present danger of extirpation and their populations within most of their range do not appear to be declining seriously; however, simply by virtue of their small populations in California, they are vulnerable to extirpation should a threat materialize."
[Recreation, be it hiking, climbing, mountain-bike riding, or horse-back riding is not a "materialized" threat.]

2) Important to note is that the California Gull www.dfg.ca.gov/hcpb/cgi-bin/more_info.asp?idKey=ssc_tespp&sp>>> as well as the Black Swift (cliff swallow), and Coopers Hawk, among others, receives the same status on this list (third priority) as the Prairie Falcon and Golden Eagle because, "Species in the Third Priority category are not in any present danger of extirpation".

3) Also key is that though the Department Of Fish And Game does have a list they refer to as "Bird Species of Special Concern" (again, a management tool which provides "no special legal status" to any species on the list), it is VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE that this same State Agency does not list the Golden Eagle or Prairie Falcon as either threatened or endangered. This determination is only given to those species which the Department Of Fish And Game feels "should have" legal status:
www.dfg.ca.gov/whdab/pdfs/TEAnimals.pdf

4) Simply put, The USDA's Cleveland National Forest is inappropriately utilizing the DOI's Department Of Fish And Game management tool of Bird Species of Special Concern to enact sanctioned regulatory closures under the guise of needed protections for bird species that do not need protections . . . period.

5) Lastly, should the Forest Service go down this road, I feel they will be on very rocky ground not only for misinterpreting their authority to use the MBTA for recreational restrictions when it is clearly an act that applies to commerce , but also due to their miss-use of the Bird Species of Special Concern list. Also, though not previously mentioned, if one "objectively" researches the Species Of Special Concern list, one will easily conclude that it is not scientifically well-founded and has numerous significant flaws. One very telling example of just such a flaw is the fact that though it lists the seagull, swift, falcon, etc., it DOES NOT INCLUDE the Peregrine Falcon species which is in far more peril, and actually was at one time listed on the "Endangered Species List", only recently becoming de-listed.

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act:
www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode16/usc_sup_01_16_10_5>>>