ROAD CLOSURES GO TOO FAR

June 05, 2007 12:00 am

To hear the U.S. Forest Service tell it, the ATV is the WMD of the national forest.

Wheelers are being blamed for road and land erosion, the spread of noxious weeds, wildlife disturbance and creating an increase in the Forest Service's liability and maintenance costs.

Most 30-year residents can remember it was possible to take a pickup or jeep to the forest and enjoy a day of driving on the old logging roads. About 20 years ago the USFS decided to start closing these roads by installing gates and building tank traps. They did this — as far as I know — without any input from the local citizens. This type of road closure made it impossible for people with full-sized vehicles to access these roads.

At first people were able to find routes to overcome the closures, but in the last 10 years the closures have increased to the extent that now only a few of the main roads are open to full- sized vehicles.

The closed roads have been labeled M1 or Maintenance Level 1, which means that little or no maintenance is done by the USFS. With the advent of the four-wheeler people found that they could again use their old routes and the road blocks just added more adventure to their outing. Initially the USFS frowned upon this, but after closing most of the main roads to wheelers they decided it was OK to ride the M1 roads again. This compromise was acceptable to most of us.

Wake up, forest users! There is a dynamic change coming to your forest access rights. The new USFS proposal is to close most of the M1 roads and limit our riding to designated roads and trails only. Everyone will be crowded into a much smaller area. Common sense should tell anyone that the more traffic in one area, the greater the impact to that area and the greater the chance for an accident.

There seems to be two different types of riders — the ones who like to keep the throttle down and the ones that who to putt along at a leisure pace. By combining the two into one area you will be asking for a conflict.

If the USFS wants to build a trail system dedicated to the four-wheeler, let them go ahead. I am sure that non-area citizens would appreciate well-marked trails, picnic sites, maybe even flush toilets and an RV park. Just build it on the west side of the Blue Mountains or east of the Rockies.

The USFS states the reason for this new policy is to follow a 2004 directive from former USFS Chief Bosworth. He stated that unregulated access was one of the four most detrimental problems on national forests. How the four-wheeler became the main culprit I don't know.

Erosion

Most of the four-wheeler riding occurs on old logging roads that were built to handle 80,000-pound loads. They are trying to tell us that 600-pound vehicles with low-profile tires traveling at 10 mph are tearing up these roads.

If you want to see erosion check out what they have done by ripping up the entire bed on some roads, road blocks acting as dams during the spring run-off, and sloping the side hills along major streams.

Noxious weeds

I have been riding wheelers since 1984 and I can't remember any stickers clinging to my tires. From what I have seen, the main source of noxious weeds comes from the clear-cuts the USFS has employed in our area. I maintain that the spreading comes from the natural forces of nature. A hiker will spread more than any group of wheelers, and when you add to that several thousand livestock in a given area, the wheelers' contribution is minute. If the USFS wants to do something about the weed problem why don't they try spraying these fields? Farmers seem to have good results doing this.

Wildlife disturbance

To cite the Starkey study on wildlife disturbance from human intervention, it was found that the wheeler had less impact on the deer population than the hiker, bike and horseback rider. The wheeler did have a greater impact on elk, but not significantly so. Human intervention tends to excite most animals, thus concentrating us into a smaller area would simply increase the impact to the animals.

Maintenance costs

The USFS says that by not closing the M1 roads they will incur a much greater expense in maintenance. What a joke. The only road maintenance I have seen in my area is maybe a once a year grading of the very main roads. All of the M1 roads and even the open side roads are, and have been, opened by the immediate users — recreationists, woodcutters, hunters, etc.

Liability

By moving everyone into a smaller area it would decrease the size that the USFS claims it is liable for. I think crowding more people into a smaller area would only increase the hazard and danger. If the 100 mph snow machines can have unlimited area to ride, why limit the 10 mph wheelers?

Some of us can remember the fight in 2000 when the USFS wanted to shut us out.We went to the meetings and turned in our protests, and to an extent were successful. They did manage to shut down almost all of the main roads to wheelers but pacified us by saying we could ride the M1 roads. They cited safety concerns and the state DMV for not being able to come up with a classification for the wheeler. I believe that the wheeler, when ridden responsibly, is one of the safest and least environmentally impacting vehicles used in the forest.

Enough is enough. We do not need any more road closures or usage restrictions. Some of us have circulated a petition stating this fact, and to date it has received over 3,000 signatures.

Forest Supervisor Steve Ellis should be prepared for more signatures coming his way.

If the USFS is able to get rid of the wheelers, who will be next? I would make a bet that the ranchers grazing their stock are pretty high on the list.

Everyone needs to get involved and stop this from going forward.

Dorian Cox is a Union resident.