The US Forest Service issued a special use permit on July 3 for the Subaru Primal Quest adventure race, in spite of public opposition and clear violations of agency regulations and federal law.
Although many of the lands involved are closed to the average citizen due to Colorado’s worst-ever fire season, the corporate-sponsored event was exempted from these restrictions.
The USFS permitted the event under a rubber-stamp provision (known as a categorical exclusion) for truly minor uses. According to the Forest Service’s own rules, the agency should only use a categorical exclusion (CE) for recreational events if they are minor short-term uses.
“Knowing that a five county, nine-day event that crosses two national forests and involves almost a thousand participants and support personnel could not qualify under this exclusion, the Forest Service seriously stretched their rules, applying a CE that explicitly covers minor uses like bee-keeping and berry-picking to this event,” said Julie Teel, attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm.
Frustrated by the Forest Service’s refusal to make any commitments about how they would better involve local communities and the public, Earthjustice, representing the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Mountain Club, worked out a memorandum of understanding with race sponsors California Sports Marketing, Inc to keep the issue out of court. This memorandum pledges Primal Quest to better involve the public and consider environmental and social impacts if the company wants to return to the Telluride area to sponsor similar events in the future. The memo covers the adequacy of advance notice and distribution of advance notice if future races occur. The memo stipulates what the notice will include and requires Primal Quest to meet with interested affected parties to share race information. The memo also includes provisions for monitors to observe the race and for Primal Quest to photo document the condition of the race course before and after the race.
“It is up to the Forest Service and Primal Quest to keep this issue out of court in the future. Certainly my clients and the local communities will be watching them very closely if any similar events are planned in the future,” said Teel.