November 2, 2012
Rio Puerco Field Office
Attn: Angel Martinez, Jr.
435 Montoya Road NE
Albuquerque NM 87107
Re: Rio Puerco Resource Management Draft Plan & Environmental Impact Statement
Dear Mr. Martinez:
We have reviewed and wish to comment upon the subject Draft RMP/EIS.
Since issuance of this document (1610[A0100]), the Bureau of Land Management has published Manual Chapter 6280 [Management of National Scenic and Historic Trails and Trails under Study or Recommended as Suitable for Congressional Designation]. Chapter 6280 provides direction that is directly applicable to the Draft RMP/EIS.
I. We will first comment upon the Draft RMP/EIS without reference to Chapter 6280.
As discussed below, we have concerns related to visual resource management, travel management, surface disturbances, and lands and realty. We will address these issues with particular reference to the Draft RMP/EIS (DRMP/EIS) after discussing the contextual background of relevant laws and policies.
Under FLPMA, BLM develops and revises land use plans that, among other things, observe the principles of multiple use and coordinate management with the land use planning and management programs of other Federal departments and agencies. 43 U.S.C. 1712. Public lands are to be managed by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with such plans, “except that where a tract of such public land has been dedicated to specific uses according to any other provisions of law it shall be managed in accordance with such law.” 43 U.S.C. 1732(a).
Among the public lands dedicated to specific uses are national scenic trails, such as the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST), established under the provisions of the National Trails System Act. The Trail is administered by the Secretary of Agriculture in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior. 16 U.S.C. 1244. Under the Act, the Secretary may permit certain public-use facilities and other uses along the trail which will not substantially interfere with its nature and purposes (and, to the extent practicable, the Secretary will make efforts to avoid activities incompatible with the purposes for which the Trail was established). 16 U.S.C. 1246(c). In administering the Trail, the Secretary of Agriculture published (in 2009) a revised Comprehensive Plan (16 U.S.C. 1244(f)) that defines the nature and purposes of the CDNST “to provide for high-quality scenic, primitive hiking and horseback riding opportunities and to conserve natural, historic, and cultural resources along the CDNST corridor.”
As a national scenic trail, the CDNST is included in the National Landscape Conservation System and, as such, is to be managed "in a manner that protects the values for which the components of the system were designated." 16 U.S.C. 7202 ((c)(2).
Visual Resource Management
The CDNST Comprehensive Plan (p.13) recognizes that BLM will use its Visual Resource Management (VRM) system, but specifies that scenery and visual resource management has the dual purposes (1) to manage the quality of the visual environment and (2) to reduce the visual impact of development activities while maintaining effectiveness in all agency resource programs.
The first step in applying the VRM is to perform a visual resource inventory. The DRMP/EIS has a sketchy discussion of the inventory process. As required, BLM subdivided the planning area into scenic quality rating units (SQRU's) for rating purposes. No information as to the boundaries of these units is provided, either in text or map form. For each SQRU, scenic quality is to be evaluated as a measure of the visual appeal of the tract of land. The DRMP/EIS recognizes that special management areas generally contain areas of high scenic quality – and it lists many such special designations with landscapes of visual interest (DRMP/EIS 3.22); but it makes no reference to the CDNST. Based upon our familiarity with the landscape, we would expect that most, if not all, SQRU's that include the CDNST would have a Scenic Quality of A or B.
Another factor to be considered in carrying out the inventory is viewer sensitivity. There is no mention in the DRMP/EIS that according to the Comprehensive Plan, the inventory on public lands administered by BLM "shall be conducted on the basis that the CDNST is a high sensitivity level travel route and will be performed as if the trail exists even in sections where it is proposed for construction or reconstruction." Section IV.B.4.c.(2).
For high sensitivity routes in SQRU's having a Scenic Quality rating of B, a Visual Resource Inventory Class of II should be assigned for the foreground-middleground and Class III the background (and a VRI Class of II for both f/m and background for SQRU's with a Scenic Quality rating of A). Handbook 8410, Illustration 11. For purposes of determining VRI classes, the distance would be based upon a viewshed analysis and may extend 10 miles or more from the CDNST (see Handbook 8410, illustration 10).
The VRI inventory (2010) concluded with class ratings (in acres) of 96,460 for VRI I, 1,222 for VRI II, 24,748 for VRI III, and 621,957 for VRI IV. DRMP/EIS 4.2.13. As we understand it, portions of the CDNST would in fact be included in VRI I (because passing through WSA's or ACEC's), but we have no documentation that would allow us to review whether the inventory was carried out in conformity with the principles outlined above. We have our doubts. Surely, more than 25,970 (1,222 + 24,748) acres within the foreground-middleground of the CDNST alone should be recognized as VRI Class II.
According to BLM policies, inventory classes provide the basis for considering visual values, but do not establish management direction. Nevertheless, management decisions must reflect the value of visual resources; and, in fact, the value of the visual resource may be the driving force for some management decisions. (Handbook 8410 V.A.) This observation is especially apt in regard to an area that has been designated by Congress specifically to protect its scenic qualities. We believe that the proper approach to management should retain the existing character of the landscape, by assigning VRM Class I or II to the middleground as well as the foreground along the CDNST, at least in SQRUs meriting Scenic Quality A or B.(The background should also be subject to VRM Class III limitations with respect to the CDNST.)
We have reviewed the alternatives for VRM as depicted on Maps 95-98. We have focused our attention on Alternatives B (Map 96) and preferred Alternative C (Map 97). We concur with the assignment of VRM Class I to the special management areas shown on both of these maps. We regard the areas within the middleground of the CDNST that are assigned Class III on Map 97 to have high scenic quality (Class B) along with high sensitivity and consider VRM II (as on Map 96) to be the more appropriate classification. The features in this area include splendid hiking opportunities near the edge of an elevated escarpment, excellent views of dramatic Cabezon Peak, and other landmarks such as Cerro Cuate and the Bear Mouth.
The remainder of the planning area consists of essentially everything from Deadman Peaks north to Cuba. The preferred alternative (C) reflects virtually no consideration of the visual quality values along the CDNST. So far as we can determine, the entire area (including the CDNST itself!) would lie within VRM Class IV, except for the section at Mesa Portales that is shown as Class III. The views from Mesa Portales, as well as the cliff face itself, merit greater protection and should be elevated to VRM Class II. In addition, we point out the attractiveness of the hike south from Jones Canyon to Deadman Peaks, largely along the top of an escarpment, and believe that here too the foreground-middleground should be placed in VRM Class II. Everywhere else should be protected to a standard of at least VRM Class III, which allows moderate change to the characteristic landscape.
Alternative B assigns VRM Class II to lands in close proximity to the CDNST north of Deadman Peaks. This is better. Beyond this narrow corridor, the classes should be assigned as we have recommended for Alternative C.
Under Sections 5(a)(5) and 7(c) of the National Trails System Act, as summarized in the Comprehensive Plan (IV.B.6.b.), motor vehicle use by the general public is prohibited on the CDNST (with exceptions pertaining to emergencies and landowner access) unless such use is consistent with the applicable land management plan and:
· The vehicle class and width were allowed on that segment of the CDNST prior to November 10, 1978, and the use will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the CDNST, or
· That segment of the CDNST was constructed as a road prior to November 10, 1978
We have no objection to this aspect of Alternative B (Map 90), under which the CDNST would be closed to motor vehicle use.
Alternative C (Map 91), however, would allow Limited use of such vehicles along the entire CDNST north of Deadman Peaks. In principle, the prescriptions would be reviewed within five years in the course of travel management planning (220.127.116.11.1, p. 2-130). With but a few exceptions, the decisions should be made now, not deferred.
The DRMP/EIS shows the existing route and an alternative route (currently under study in cooperation with the Forest Service) north of Jones Canyon Spring.
· The existing route. Traveling south, this route follows roads through Cuba and then for approximately seven miles runs along New Mexico Highway 197. We assume that these roads were constructed and open to motor vehicle use in 1978 and therefore, under NTSA 5(a)(5), may continue to be open to such use. Nearly all of the existing route from the highway to Deadman Peaks is a new travelway, established expressly for purposes of the CDNST and was not a route for use by motor vehicles in 1978. In accordance with the statutory direction in Section 7(c) of the Trails Act, this route should now be categorized as Closed. [There are two short portions that appear to have been used by vehicles and might be classified as Limited until reviewed as part of the travel management planning process. The first is Highway 197 to Arroyo Chijuilla (35 57.07 N, 107 01.30 W). The second is north of Rincon de los Viejos (35 47.697 N, 107 01.555 W to 35 47.058 N, 107 02.620 W)] There is also a very short roaded section immediately south of Deadman Peaks; if it is not within the Closed area on Map 91, it might also be classified as Limited if additional information is needed here before arriving at a final decision.]
· The study route. Under present circumstances, it might be premature to do more than to restrict motor vehicle use to existing routes, so we find it acceptable to use the Limited classification here. However, the DRMP/EIS should acknowledge that a revised route is under study and should indicate that appropriate travel management prescriptions will be included in any decision authorizing CDNST relocation.
We agree with the exclusion of surface developments from a CDNST corridor (as depicted in the DRMP/EIS) for all alternatives (e.g., Tables 4.55 and 4.56). But, where lands surrounding this corridor are managed to a lesser standard, the nature and purposes of the CDNST may be compromised (just as the DRMP/EIS explains with respect to development activities seen from within a wilderness area, 18.104.22.168.1.)
One way to deal with this issue is to revise the VRM classifications in accordance with the discussion above. We are not completely satisfied with this approach, however, because we understand that surface developments – including large-scale ones – would not necessarily be excluded even in an area with a VRM Class II rating. 22.214.171.124. To be sure, the avoidance provision would place a very substantial burden on any party seeking to proceed with projects that might be inconsistent with the nature and purposes of the national scenic trail. Nevertheless, we recommend that avoidance be the standard for VRM Class III, but that surface developments be excluded altogether if they do not conform to VRM II.
We have not evaluated the plans with respect to mineral development projects, but the same principles with respect to VRM classifications should also assure an equivalent level of protection for the CDNST.
Lands and Realty
As noted in the DRMP/EIS (3.18.2), the location of the CDNST in the area south of Grants, where the trail is located on the shoulder of highways, is not in close correlation with the purposes of the Trail. There may be opportunities to relocate the Trail in T 10 N, R 10 W by negotiations involving existing sections there that are administered by BLM. These lands (along with sections in T 9 N, R 10 W) should not be identified as candidates for disposal (as they are so marked on Maps 012 and 013). Instead, the DRMP/EIS should disclose the desirability of a land adjustment in this area rather than leaving the matter solely to the site-specific analysis at the implementation stage as referenced in 126.96.36.199.1.
II. BLM Manual 6280
Since our receipt and initial analysis of the DRMP/EIS, we have obtained the newly published (9/14/2012) BLM Manual 6280, which deals with management of national scenic and historic trails. The comments set out above, we believe, continue to be appropriate with respect to the principles of land management.
We wish to supplement those comments, however, to take into account the guidance provided in Manual 6280, Chapter 4, with respect to land use planning as it relates to national scenic and historic trails generally, and the CDNST in particular.
We first note our concerns about the definitions of certain key terms used in the Manual. Although we urge BLM to revise the language, we understand that any changes in the Manual would be beyond the scope of the task before us.
So, having put these concerns aside, we have examined the direction of Manual 6280 based upon the recognition of a CDNST right-of-way that extends one-half mile on either side of the route of travel and a CDNST management corridor that extends through the background as observed from the route of travel. The right-of-way width is based upon the Forest Service Manual guidance with respect to the boundary of a CDNST management area. FSM 2353.44b.7. The management corridor width is based upon the Manual direction to perform a viewshed analysis and documentation of the elements of the landscape that are seen, seldom seen, and not seen from the National Trail, including the foreground, middle ground, and background of the viewshed of the National Trail. Chapter 3.2.E.1.
Guidance with respect to scenic and visual resources is addressed in Manual 6280 4.E.1. The land use plan and associated NEPA analysis should consider designating national scenic trails in VRM Class I or II, where not adversely impacted by existing cultural modifications. Where cultural modifications currently exist, the plan should consider whether the Corridor should be classified as VRM Class III or classes which are more visually protective, to retain or improve the existing visual setting. (Planning should include description of how activities managed to VRM Class III support the nature and purposes of the national trail and how uses are managed to avoid visual conflict – even where VRM Class III extends beyond the boundary of the Corridor.) “The influence that the visual setting has on the National Trail is not to be undervalued.” Also, “VRM Class IV should not be considered for use within [the Corridor] as ‘The objective of Class IV is to provide for management activities which require major modifications of the existing character of the landscape.’” (We recognize that BLM may delineate a Corridor of lesser width than the viewshed. Even so, however, VRM IV should not be considered there because of the visual impacts associated with major modifications of the landscape; Class III would extend beyond the boundary of the Corridor in that case.)
Comment: The DRMP/EIS needs to be revised to apply Manual 6280 management guidance on scenic and visual resources. As we indicated above, VRM Class I should be as proposed by BLM in Maps 96 and 97; VRM Class II should be applied (at least to the foreground-middleground) along the CDNST in the portion shown as VRM Class III on Map 97; VRM Class II should be applied (at least to the foreground-middleground) at Mesa Portales and from Jones Canyon Spring to Deadman Peaks; and the remainder of the viewshed should be designated as VRM Class III (or more protective).
Guidance with respect to travel management is addressed in Manual 6280 4.E.4. BLM must consider closure of national scenic trails through the land use planning process. If route designation is deferred to the implementation-level plan, then the RMP shall prioritize area(s) that encompass the Corridor to be the first travel management area(s) to complete a travel management plan within the planning area. National scenic trails should be managed primarily for foot travel and are normally closed to motorized vehicle use. (However, in this case, motorized vehicles may continue to be used on trails under BLM jurisdiction, where allowed at the time of designation [November 10, 1978] and authorized through the land use planning process, but such use must not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the CDNST.) The RMP should establish considerations for the relocation of trail segments (for such reasons as improved setting quality, water sources, and reduced conflict with motorized use). BLM, in coordination with the Secretary of Agriculture, may identify and recommend (within or outside the Corridor) connecting trail designations for routes that would adjoin two points along a national trail, or side trail designations that provide additional points of public access.
Comment: The DRMP/EIS needs to be revised to apply Manual 6280 management guidance for travel and transportation management. As we proposed above, the existing CDNST within the planning area should be designated to be closed to motorized vehicles except for roads specified in Manual 6280 4.2.E.4.vi – thus, New Mexico Highway 197 would remain open. If more information is needed with respect to any of the segments we noted in our discussion of travel management, above, the approved RMP might assign them a Limited classification on an interim basis; but the RMP should indicate that these segments will be addressed in the first travel management plan within the planning area. Considerations relating to the potential new route north of Jones Canyon Spring should be included; and the RMP should provide for the closure of this route to motorized vehicles when and if it is approved.
Guidance with respect to wind and solar surface disturbances appears to be addressed only in Manual 6280 4.2.D.4, which provides for consideration during the land use planning process, to the greatest extent possible, of utility corridors, energy development zones, and exclusion areas for solar, wind, oil and gas, and similar types of uses.
Comment: As we have stated above with respect to this issue, VRM classifications need to be revised, with the consequence that surface disturbances would be excluded or avoided within a much greater portion of the Corridor. This would be the case as well with respect to mineral developments and constraints as addressed in Manual 6280 4.2.E.6.
Guidance with respect to lands and realty is addressed in Manual 6280 4.2.E.5.
Comment: We have identified the need to improve the location of the CDNST south of Grants. To deal with this, the RMP/EIS should identify lands that might serve to connect trail segments and that might be obtained through easements acquisition, exchange, or purchase from a willing seller. In order to facilitate a relocation, the lands in T 10 N, R 10 W and T 9 N, R 10 W should be retained; these lands should not be marked as disposal areas on the relevant maps. Additional detail should be included in implementation plans that would include prioritized acquisition needs. (5.4.A.4.)
We understand that the Forest Service (the trail-administering agency) is preparing generic recommendations regarding the implementation of BLM Manual 6280. We anticipate that adoption of such Forest Service guidance will result in more uniform application of the Manual’s provisions and greater assurance that the objectives of the NTSA will be met. We request that any such recommendations be given your most careful attention.
Our overall conclusion is that the draft plan should be revised to better provide for maximum outdoor recreation and for conservation and enjoyment of the scenic, historic, natural or cultural qualities of the area through which the CDNST passes – especially with respect to the management of visual resources. We trust you will find our comments helpful in achieving these goals.
Continental Divide Trail Society
James R. Wolf, Director
3704 N. Charles St. (#601)
Baltimore MD 21218
 Letter from Maria T. Garcia, Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor, and Tom Gow, RPFO Manager, June 14, 2012 (1950). The exact alignment of a relocated CDNST would be determined as part of this study. One alternative that might be considered would pass east of Cuba, but then pick up the current Mesa Portales segment at some point south of N.M. 197. Another matter that might come up is the establishment of a side route to connect the CDNST with Cuba, so as to facilitate hikers’ resupply opportunities. We do not find any need to modify our comments above to deal with these potentialities.
 As in 188.8.131.52.3, we include renewable energy and mineral development under this head. Travel was treated separately, above.
 The analysis of direct and indirect impacts in 184.108.40.206 is intended to deal with all special designation areas, but omits any reference to the CDNST. The same is true of 220.127.116.11, which calls for management in accordance with the Wilderness Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, etc., but does not cite the National Trails System Act as a guide for BLM’s decisions. These oversights should be corrected.
 One key planning element for national scenic and historic trails is the definition of a National Trail Management Corridor (the Corridor). The Corridor is to include a public land area of sufficient width within which to encompass National Trail resources, qualities, values, and associated settings and the primary use or uses that are present or to be restored (Qualities and Settings). The Corridor is also to be of sufficient width to constitute a manageable administrative unit, in consideration of the Qualities and Settings along with proposed or existing land uses and valid existing rights. Corridor alternatives should consider including all public lands along with other lands (including state trust and private lands) that contain Qualities and Settings, although these other lands will not be subject to BLM management. Corridor alternatives should consider complementing any established multiple-use plans and the potential of reasonably foreseeable development within the Corridor for multiple-use activities. The Corridor should be located to avoid, insofar as practicable, roads and other developments, and foreseeable activities incompatible with the purposes of the trail, the natural condition, and use for outdoor recreation.
Although BLM may consider different sizes or configurations, all Qualities and Settings must be contained within the Corridor. The Corridor boundary should be based upon landscape features (with ridgelines having the highest precedence). Measures such as footage, mileage, and contour intervals shall be discouraged. Utility corridors, energy development zones, and exclusion areas should be considered simultaneously with the establishment of the Corridor.
First, the Manual provides an erroneous definition of a national scenic trail. Actually, the Manual gives two different definitions of the term.
· According the Glossary of Terms, a national scenic trail is “a congressionally designated trail that is a continuous and uninterrupted extended, long-distance trail so located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the nationally significant resources, qualities, values, and associated settings and the primary use or uses of the areas through which such trails may pass….”
[The definition in the Glossary is taken verbatim from Section 3(a)(2) of the National Trails System Act, except for the insertion of the phrases “continuous and uninterrupted” and “long-distance” and the substitution of the words “nationally significant resources, qualities, values, and associated settings and the primary use or uses of the areas” in place of the statute’s “nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities of the areas” through which such trails may pass. We agree that the concept of a “continuous and uninterrupted … long-distance” route is implicit for a national scenic trail, so we have no particular objection to its retention in the definition. The same is true with regard to the reference to “associated settings.” We find, however, that the omission of the enumerated qualities (“scenic, historic, natural, or cultural”) and the inclusion of “resources,” unspecified “values”, and “the primary use or uses of the areas” is a departure from the statutory language and intent. Simply stated, it is not an objective of the Trails Act to provide for conservation and enjoyment of economically important resources and any supposedly primary [non-scenic, historic, natural, or cultural] use or uses of the area.]
· A different definition appears in 6280.1.D.2 (p. 1-4). It provides for “a continuous, long-distance trail located by the land-managing agency along the congressionally designated route, in coordination with the trail administering agency. A National Scenic Trail provides maximum compatible outdoor recreation opportunity and conservation and enjoyment of the nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, and cultural resources, qualities, values, and associated settings and the primary use or uses of the areas through which such trails may pass….”
[The Key Term definition (p.1-4) does refer specifically to the “scenic, historic, natural, or cultural” qualities – but still includes “resources,” unspecified “values,” and “the primary use or uses of the areas.” Also, this definition declares that a National Scenic Trail “provides maximum compatible outdoor recreation opportunity and conservation and enjoyment” etc. The statutory goal is for the trail to be “so located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential …,” but the Manual adds the notion that the trail actually does provide. Further, the Manual then changes “maximum outdoor recreation potential” to “maximum compatible outdoor recreation opportunity” The deviations – especially the “compatible” qualifier – should be eliminated because they convey a different sense to the statutory language. Further, it would be more accurate to state that the trail is “located on the ground by the land-managing agency along the right-of-way selected by the trail-administering agency in coordination with the land-managing agency.”]
Second, the definition of National Trail Right-of-Way calls for sufficient width to encompass National Trail qualities and associated settings – which, in our judgment, would include scenic qualities extending through the viewshed. However, the intent evidently is to identify a relatively narrow area (since the “corridor” is said to surround the “rights-of-way”), and our comments adopt that understanding.
Third, the definition of National Trail Management Corridor is confusing because the width to which it refers is identical to the “National Scenic Trail” definition (except for the addition of the concept of uses that are “to be restored”), whereas the geographic bounds are intended to be quite different. The greater, substantive, concern that we have with the language is the statement (in the Key Term discussing the relationship of the corridor and the right-of-way) that “the location and management [of the corridor] is governed by FLPMA.” In a sense, this may be true, inasmuch as Section 202(c) of FLPMA calls for coordination with the land use planning and management of other Federal departments and Section 302(b) directs the Secretary to manage the public lands under principles of multiple use and sustained use “except that where a tract … has been dedicated to specific uses …, it shall be managed in accordance with such law.” At the least, BLM should provide that these responsibilities are to carried out in a manner “governed, in coordination with the trail-administering agency, by FLPMA.” However, a better modification would be to specify “governed by FLPMA in a manner that supports the nature and purposes of the national trail pursuant to the National Trails System Act and as a unit of the National Landscape Conservation System.” (See 4.1.C.2.)