At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.

— Aristotle

Close Illegal Trails in the Sombrillo ACEC

The Bureau of Land Management Taos Field Office appears to be including illegally constructed mountain bike trails in their current Sombrillo Travel Management Plan and treating them on equal footing with authorized trails.

Recent illegal trail construction has seriously damaged the Sombrillo Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

  • These trails were constructed before the BLM made any required NEPA assessments.
  • The BLM has claimed that all trails in the Sombrillo ACEC are “unauthorized.”
    • This statement contradicts the facts.
    • Long-term (>60-years-old) trails that began as cow trails, then horseback trails, and hiking trails, before mountain bikes even existed, have been used by hikers and bikers for decades.  The BLM website includes them as the only trails in the ACEC[1]”The Nambe Badlands Trail consists of two loops that cover about 5 miles of rolling terrain with several steep pitches.  There are also excellent views of colorful eroded badlands.”, … Continue reading
    • The historic trails existed before the ACEC was designated in 1988.  The BLM officially assessed them for impacts to the critical resources during the initial ACEC evaluation phases.
    • There is a considerable difference between these legacy and illegal trails recently constructed by rogue mountain bikers using shovels, picks, and saws before any environmental assessments.
  • The National Environmental Protection ActFederal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Paleontological Resource Protection Act, require official environmental assessments before trail construction begins.
  • The BLM Taos Field Office has been aware of illegal trail building in the Sombrillo ACEC since 2010.
  • In 2012 the BLM asked the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society to cease all trail building in the ACEC.
  • A popular strategy of rogue trail builders is to construct illegal trails hoping that the official land manager will eventually approve them.  Some BLM Taos Field Office employees knew of the illicit trail building and at times aided and promoted the illegal trail building.
  • Even though the mountain bike clubs knew of the illegal trails that were built in the Sombrillo ACEC, they promoted huge group rides to burn in these trails on the sensitive formations and soils where they were covertly constructed. These mega-group rides upset many to the point that they are now proposing the entire area be closed to everyone.  Unfortunately, the community of responsible mountain bikers, hikers, horsemen, and the fragile landscape, are suffering the consequences of irresponsible mountain bikers.
  • Allowing the BLM Taos Field Office to treat these illegal trails on equal footing with historical or proposed new routes promotes more illegal trail building activity and damage to the resources that the BLM is authorized to protect.
  • The Friends of the Nambé Badlands support legal mountain bike trails and responsible mountain biking in the Nambé Badlands.
  • Illegal mountain bike trail building ruins things for all users and damages the sensitive resources in the area.
  • We encourage new trails in the area as long as they are constructed legally under the careful oversight of the BLM and comply fully with NEPA/FLPMA.

Damage to natural resources from rogue trail builders constructing an illegal mountain bike trail in 2021 (BLM trail segment #1984 and #18P). BLM is currently including this, and many other illegally constructed trails in their Sombrillo Travel Management Plan.

Members of the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society building illegal trails in the Sombrillo Area of Environmental Concern.  This, and other images, were posted on the SFFTS Facebook page.

An illegal trail that was constructed in 2021 in the Sombrillo ACEC is shown here.  The BLM Taos Field Office is currently including this, and many other, illegal trails in their Travel Management Plan.  This illegal trail was constructed using shovels and other tools to carve the trail bed into ridgelines and saws to cut down trees. This is BLM trail segment #18P, posted on social media mountain bike sites.

An illegal mountain bike trail that was constructed in the Sombrillo ACEC crosses through a cultural site and historic Native American pottery sherds.

Our Position Statement on the BLM Including Illegal Trails in the Sombrillo Travel Management Plan

 The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Taos Field Office is preparing a Travel Management Plan (TMP) and Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Nambé Badlands and Sombrillo Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The TMP and EA are required by law under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

In 2011, members of the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society (SFFTS) began constructing (shoveling and cutting trees) mountain bike trails in the Sombrillo ACEC, violating the BLM’s Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and NEPA). As responsible mountain bikers, we urged the BLM to curb these illegal activities. In 2012, the BLM held a meeting declaring that all trail construction cease. We, along with BLM and SFFTS, reclaimed the illegal trails.  BLM closed the illegal trails.  Please see the historical timeline for details and photographs.

Between 2012-2018 these illegal trails were resurrected and posted on the internet. In addition, more miles of new illegal trails were constructed during this period.

The rate of illegal trail construction accelerated between 2019-2021. Illegal trails remain on social media and bike club websites. In 2021 illegal trail signs were erected, which BLM Law Enforcement then demanded the bike club(s) remove.

We are working with the new leadership at the Taos BLM Office to promote responsible mountain biking and resource protection. The BLM recently gave another cease-and-desist order to illegal trail builders and cited some individuals. The BLM has ongoing investigations of illegal activities in the Nambé Badlands.

Position Statement by the Friends of Nambé Badlands

  • All post-2011 trails in the Sombrillo ACEC should be closed. The illegal trail segment numbers are: { (2P,4P); (1984,18P); (73); (77); (24P); (19P); (1985); (1987); (22P); (23P); (8P,9P) }. Please see the hyperlinked segment numbers above and this webpage for maps and details.
  • All pre-2011 existing and proposed trails need to be evaluated for ecological, paleontological, and archeological impacts. The Sombrillo ACEC is a highly erodible landscape. The ACEC was designated to protect significant paleontological sites and cultural resources. If the Sombrillo ACEC cannot be protected from increased mountain biking use, it should be closed to biking.
  • Further, mountain bike trail development on the east side of NM 503 must consider the other users of that area, in particular equestrians. The gravel and pebble composition of the soil in this area is less erodible than the powdery and fine soils in the Sombrillo ACEC and is more robust to mountain biking. However, trail designs should avoid parallel trails that encourage short-cutting between trails.

We look forward to working closely with you and the BLM Taos Field Office to protect the resources of this area.

Please e-mail the BLM Taos Field Office to express your concerns and suggestions.

A BLM “Closed Trail” sign was placed by BLM in 2012 to close one of the illegally built mountain trails.  This sign was removed and hidden under a juniper tree, it was later found in November 2021.

Please Provide Your Comments and Input to the Bureau of Land Management Taos Field Office

Or submit your paper comments to:

Outdoor Recreation Planner

Sombrillo Travel Management

Taos Field Office

226 Cruz Alta Road

Taos, NM 87571

References

References
1 ”The Nambe Badlands Trail consists of two loops that cover about 5 miles of rolling terrain with several steep pitches.  There are also excellent views of colorful eroded badlands.”, from https://www.blm.gov/visit/nambe-badlands-trail (last accessed 1/2/2022)
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