Large Gathering Threatens Colorado’s Second Largest Elk Herd

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Assistant Manager, Rocky Mountain States

  • Rainbow Family Gathering (RFG) is a yearly organized effort that brings together thousands of people from every corner of the globe to freely associate under the premise of peaceful harmony, coming together for a moment in time to pray in a circle for world peace.
  • Unfortunately, some past gatherings have been marked with incidence of crime, waste, and property damage.
  • Despite not obtaining the necessary permitting, this year’s RFG is congregating in Adams Park in Routt National Forest, raising serious concerns regarding the unavoidable risk to the environment, wildlife, and the forest itself.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), along with several other members of the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Partnership, sent a coalition letter to the US Forest Service requesting that they require the Rainbow Family Gathering to properly apply for and secure an event permit prior to assembling or employ appropriate enforcement to prohibit the event from occurring.

Why it Matters: The US Forest Service requires that groups of 75 people or more apply for and obtain a “special use permit” before hosting an event to ensure that the event is consistent with the standards and guidelines in the applicable Land and Resource Management Plan, does not pose serious or substantial risk to public health or safety, does not require exclusive or perpetual right of use or occupancy, and does not unreasonably conflict or interfere with administrative uses, other scheduled or authorized existing uses, or use of adjacent non-Forest Service lands. The Rainbow Family Gathering is attempting to circumvent the required permitting process by claiming to be “leaderless;” however the USFS maintains the regulatory authority to intervene to prohibit actions inconsistent with its planning authorities and to protect the resource values of public lands within its jurisdiction.

The Rainbow Family Gathering (RFG) is a historically massive gathering that that brings together thousands of people from every corner of the globe to freely associating under the premise of peaceful harmony, coming together for a moment in time to pray in a circle for world peace. This year’s event is scheduled to occur July 1st through July 7th in Routt National Forest in north Routt County, Colorado. However, despite its best intentions, the RFG poses a serious risk to the environment, wildlife, and the forest itself.

Routt County is currently undergoing moderate drought conditions and fire danger is of significant concern. Adams Park, the suspected gathering area, has been identified by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as an elk calving and concentration area for the E2 Bear’s Ears elk herd, the second largest elk herd in the state. The timing of the RFG directly conflicts with when elk rely on this crucial habitat to birth calves. To elevate this issue even more, elk are extremely sensitive to human disturbance during calving season and the weeks afterwards. Studies in Colorado have shown a decrease in elk reproduction rate of approximately 40% when subjected to nearby simulated human activities during calving season.

Routt County is not unfamiliar with the RFG. In 2006, the RFG hosted its annual gathering in Routt County and a USFS report details risks of fire hazards, water and riparian issues, inadequate human and dog waste disposal, soil erosion and compaction, wildlife displacement, parking problems with 4,000 to 6,000 vehicles, tree-cutting, impacts of domestic dogs on wildlife, and actual violence against law enforcement officers. An additional analysis of the 2009 Rainbow Family Gathering in New Mexico estimated that the event of 10,000 people left behind 23 tons of human feces, 1.8 tons of dog feces, one half ton of soiled toilet paper, and 22,000 gallons of human urine on the forest floor and in trench latrines. In addition to the toxic waste left behind, the gathering poses extreme fire risk to the forest and surrounding residents.

Rainbow Family Gathering is attempting to circumvent the required USFS permitting process by claiming to be “leaderless;” however the USFS maintains the regulatory authority to intervene to prohibit actions inconsistent with its planning authorities and to protect the resource values of public lands within its jurisdiction. CSF, along with several other conservation organizations submitted a letter to the USFS requesting that they require RFG to properly apply for and secure an event permit prior to assembling or employ appropriate enforcement to prohibit the event from occurring. A local petition calling for the halting of this event has already garnered the signatures of over 1000 local residents.

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