Take Away Our Easy Access…
<<< Road closure plan for Oregon’s largest national forest targets a nearly 4,000-mile network >>>
Richard Cockle — The Oregonain — March 15, 2012
LA GRANDE — Starting in June, passenger cars, ATVs, dirt bikes and four-wheel-drive rigs can no longer travel on almost 4,000 miles of roads in Oregon’s largest national forest [in Northeastern Oregon].
The final plan for Wallowa-Whitman National Forest — to be entered today into the Federal Register — is already drawing opposition. People have 45 days to appeal.
Earlier versions of the policy triggered one of the most vocal resistance efforts in the state, with more than 6,000 people signing petitions urging the U.S. Forest Service to leave all the forest’s roads open.
Soon off-limits to motor vehicles: 3,835 miles of roads and ATV trails in a 1.3 million-acre area of the forest in Union, Baker and Wallowa counties. It doesn’t affect some significant areas of the forest, among them the Sled Springs game management region and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. But the plan does draw down the curtain on many roads regularly used for berry picking, sightseeing, cruising on ATVs, firewood gathering, access to gold claims and hunting deer, elk, grouse and chukar partridges — not just for locals, but people who trek from the Portland area with their ATVs in tow.
When the plan goes into effect, only bicycles, hikers and horseback riders will be allowed on the target roads. Violations could bring a $5,000 fine. The area where the roads are closing now has a 6,900-mile road and trail network. The 2.3 million-acre Wallowa-Whitman has a total of 9,111 miles of road.
“It will change the way people access the forest,” said forest Supervisor Monica Schwalbach. And not in a good way, said Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts of Enterprise. Many in her remote county of only 7,100 residents believe closures are unnecessary, she said. Firewood cutters are especially worried that they may lose access to favorite woodcutting areas. The closure plan is “just another way to control people,” Roberts said.
Nick Myatt, acting Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manager of the Grande Ronde watershed, welcomed the closures as a way to ease road densities in the forest. “In certain places, roads are negatively impacting water quality and fish habitat,” he said. He also expects the plan to relieve pressure on 17 habitat areas mapped as critically important for Rocky Mountain elk. Closing roads also will prevent some herds from leaving the national forest and invading private property, he said…