Councilor David Reagor: End The Los Alamos County Trails Closure

Los Alamos County

We have seen a great deal of discussion in the local press of the trail closures by the County Fire Marshall and federal authorities. We have even seen an oddly inappropriate, and possibly prejudiced, letter complaining about whiny middle aged white men who will not accept the restrictions without complaining.  One of the complainers, Barbara Calef, is actually a woman, although she probably appreciates being called middle aged!

Do experts run the government?

We need to consider the input from the subject experts, but they do not set government policy. The experts in one area will often times not appreciate the harm caused in other areas where their expertise is limited. The Fire Marshall and Fire Chief are convinced we should close our local trails. No one can claim that they do not understand fire hazards. If we applied the standard that some of our local forests are dry, then we will often have the forests closed.  White Rock Canyon is usually arid, as we can see from the proliferation of cactus. Are those kinds of hazards new or unusual? No, all of our undeveloped areas contain hazards and the users have to practice judgement on avoiding wildfire, rattlesnakes, bears, rockfalls, etc. This is just part of using our wilderness areas.   

Is there a new fire hazard introduced by opening the trails to hikers, and mountain bikers? No, it is very hard to start a fire mountain biking or hiking. There is just not enough heat or friction in those activities. The same is true for most of the activities at the Sportsmen’s Club. The archery range is closed and the outdoor ranges where you fire into berms or the air are closed. I have never seen those activities start a fire. 

Blackpowder shooting should be classified with fireworks, as both generate hot or smoldering debris and should be viewed as a fire hazards. In addition, motor vehicles introduce a fire hazard due to heat generation and may also be restricted.  These are real hazards, that may need to be controlled.  We do not need to let fear spill over into non-tangible hazards and then add additional bans to the stage three County restrictions.

The benefits of using the wilderness areas are enormous. These trails are used for exercise and we are already struggling with fitness of the general population. Obesity and all the associated public health problems, diabetes, heart disease, etc., are bigger hazards than the fires. Exercise also benefits the mental health of all the users and this is endlessly documented in popular media. It is the job of political leaders to recognize that some safety issues are not as important as the general public benefits, and that excessive restrictions should be dropped from public policy. We are not ignoring the experts, we are just balancing their input with costs that occur outside of their expertise.

In summary, the bikers, hikers, and shooters are in an environment that contains modest hazards, and it is their responsibility to manage those risks. Ending the broad bans and closures in the Stage 3 fire restrictions will benefit both the fitness and mental health of the community.  The County Council meeting on June 14 at 6 p.m. will address these issues and the public can vigorously support changes in this policy.