Forest roads plan focus of forum

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer April 02, 2012 05:42 pm

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s controversial Travel Management Plan set to be implemented this summer is the subject of a forum Friday at the Blue Mountain Conference Center.

According to a news release, the event is being held in support of appealing the plan, which would restrict motorized access to the forest.

The plan would close nearly 4,000 miles of roads and trails to motorized use. It designates 3,065 miles of motorized routes and, in combination with past decisions, results in about 4,300 miles of open motorized roads and trails in the forest. 

In 2005, the federal government’s Travel Management Rule was developed to establish consistency about where and when motorized use is permissible on national forests, and to resolve user and resource issue conflicts.

The Wallowa-Whitman plan was written as a requirement of the Travel Management Rule.

The local plan has been controversial from the beginning.

Those with environmental concerns want more road closures, saying there’s a need to improve fish and game habitat and increase roadless recreational opportunities.

Other groups and individuals say closures have an adverse impact on the timber-based economy, and unfairly restrict a host of traditional activities including camping, hiking, berry-picking, woodcutting, all-terrain vehicle riding and more. 

Groups and individuals with standing in the issue — those who have offered input previously — have 45 days from the date of the issue of the Forest’s Record of Decision to appeal for additional remedy.

The governments of both Union and Wallowa counties are among those who have announced intentions to appeal the plan.

Guest speaker Kerry White of Montana’s Citizens for Balanced Use will discuss the appeals process during the forum, which gets under way at 6 p.m.

White’s group formed in 2004 in response to a Travel Management Plan formulated for the Gallatin National Forest. It has continued its involvement in National Forest access issues.

“We are a multiple-use recreation organization. We believe in active forest management, responsible resource development and strong support for private property rights,” White said Monday.

White said his group helped people in northeast Oregon submit comments on the Wallowa-Whitman plan as it was being developed.

“It’s kind of new for these people. You’re trying to fight a federal action and it’s kind of frightening to see the closures,” he said.

Forum organizers say a Stihl chain saw and a 2,000 watt Honda generator will be raffled off.