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San Diego riders check out the article in todays paper, 2nd page Sports section.

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Read the article and have been wondering the status on the Pink Gate.

Doesn't sound too good at this point but hopefully they will open it again in the future.

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Here ya go:

Hikers, hunters upset about large BLM tract closed to vehicles

By Ed Zieralski

STAFF WRITER

March 10, 2007

Weighing In: By Ed Zieralski

JAMUL – As we walked along an old ranch road, Jack Bransford caught a glimpse of a wily coyote as it dashed into the brush well ahead of us. Gene Cobb and I strained to see it, but it disappeared the way wild critters do before we could focus on it.

Now if only we could spot a quino checker-spot butterfly, one of the endangered species that so excite government biologists and preservationists here the way a winter-coated coyote stirs Bransford. This being the heart of Multiple Species Conservation land, all things were possible.

Advertisement A veteran predator caller and hunter, Bransford has the kind of game-spotting eyes you'd want on a hunt. As president of the San Diego Wildlife Federation, he also has a sharp nose for bureaucratic bungling, which is what brought us to this dusty road off the south side of State Route 94 between Jamul and Dulzura.

We were met by a very poor and unsafe area to park along the dangerous two-line highway.

“An accident waiting to happen,” Cobb said. “Where are equestrian users expected to park their rigs? How about people with mountain bikes?”

Next is the locked pink gate with a sign explaining, “Sycamore Canyon Emergency Motorized Vehicle Closure. Closed To Vehicles. Administrative Use Only.” Off limits to vehicles, the BLM explains, to protect sensitive native habitat, cultural sites and creatures such as the quino checker-spot butterfly.

“Look at the amount of locks on the gate,” Cobb said, pointing to enough locks to serve every government agency in Uncle Sam's Club.

As much as Bransford and Cobb and many others are bothered by the locked pink gate, they're more infuriated with the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM owns this estimated 5,000-acre parcel that leads to thousands of other acres of wild lands managed by them, the Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the city of San Diego. The area has deep canyons, meadows, springs, creeks and other habitats, much of which was burned in the Otay Fire in 2003 and subsequent blazes. It is a great place for hiking, bird watching, mountain biking, horseback riding, hunting, all the multi-use recreation for which BLM manages its lands. Wild turkeys will inhabit this area some day.

It also has trails that lead into and out of Mexico.

BLM managers could not be reached for comment yesterday because they were at a desert advisory committee meeting. But John Dearing, BLM spokesman based in Sacramento, offered the BLM's explanation for the closure. He said two fires, the 2003 Otay Fire and another fire in July of last year, damaged sensitive habitat in Sycamore Canyon and other areas.

“The fire experts ruled that the fires back here were started by our visitors from the south,” Bransford said of illegal border crossers. “But they penalize us by locking the gate.”

Dearing said the fire damage isn't the only issue.

“There also was significant damage from off-highway vehicle activity in there and unwarranted shooting and vandalism,” Dearing said. “That together with some endangered species issues forced the closure after the second fire.”

Bransford has sat in complete camouflage calling predators in Sycamore Canyon and says he's seen the “off-highway vehicle” activity being done by green and white government vehicles, namely the U.S. Border Patrol.

“We heard that, too, and we're in talks with the Border Patrol over it,” Dearing said.

Dearing said BLM is looking into finding a safer entrance to Sycamore Canyon, but Bransford and Cobb and others feel the pink-gate entrance would be fine if BLM opened it and allowed parking inside the gate.

Bransford said BLM identified an archaeological site just inside the gate entrance, but he pointed out that other agencies have had such a high regard for the site once used by Indians that they've used it for their own parking lot and even dumped rip-rap rock in a pile there.

As president of the San Diego County Wildlife Federation, Bransford represents a group of non-profit, local conservation-oriented clubs and organizations. The membership is more than 12,000 strong and includes such groups as the Backcountry Horsemen of California, the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of San Diego, Jamul Trails Council, Inc., the San Diego Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and the San Diego Off Road Coalition.

Cobb, a retired fireman and policeman and a member of the San Diego Sporting Dog Club, likes to train his dog in remote areas like this. He frequents Hollenbeck Canyon on the other side of Highway 94 and to the south, but he would like to train in the wide-open meadows here, too.

Bransford has stayed on this closure issue both times in the last three years that BLM has locked the gate. He even has taken the issue to Rep. Duncan Hunter's office.

“We've found that BLM has a book of standard excuses why they won't open this gate,” Bransford said. “When I ask for copies of studies they have none. When I ask for data to back the closure, there is none. Their explanations simply lack credibility and defy common sense. Since they can't provide any documentation, my conclusion is they made it up. I can tell you that 95 percent of the off-road damage – the scars on the landscape back here – has been done by the Border Patrol.”

The more we walked, the more signs we saw of the most frequent users of Sycamore Canyon these days. A Border Patrol helicopter buzzed us repeatedly for no less than 10 minutes.

It doesn't take any detective work to prove that the many empty water bottles and half-empty, half-gallon jugs stashed on the trails don't belong to hikers or hunters using Sycamore Canyon.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ed Zieralski: (619) 293-1225; ed.zieralski@uniontrib.com

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