Forest supervisor right to withdraw road closure plan

By Observer editorial April 18, 2012 01:10 pm
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Supervisor Monica J. Schwalbach did the right thing when she withdrew a travel management plan that calls for the closure of thousands of miles of local forest roads.

Residents of Union, Wallowa and Baker counties have been up in arms since the plan was announced March 16 because they believe it would unfairly restrict access to a host of

traditional activities, including camping, hiking, berry picking, woodcutting and all-terrain-vehicle riding.

Local environmentalists argue that the plan should close even more roads than proposed in an effort to improve fish and game habitat and to provide more roadless recreational

The travel management plan has dominated the opinion page of The Observer, which has received dozens of letters and community comments from local residents.

Thousands of citizens have attended local town hall meetings with Rep. Greg Walden and Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to express their dismay over the plan and to find out what their elected leaders are doing about it. 

After hearing the outcry, Walden wrote a letter to Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Kent Connaughton asking that the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest start over to create
a plan that was more amenable to the people of Northeast Oregon. 

In 2005, the federal government enacted a Travel Management Rule to establish consistency about where and when motorized use is permissable on national forests, and to resolve user and resource issue conflicts.

The rule required that the Wallowa-Whitman plan be created but local stakeholders, including officials of all three counties, have vowed to appeal. They argue that the Forest Service ignored local input while the plan was being drafted and it must be revised to address citizens’ concerns.

In announcing her decision, Schwalbach said she wants to “be sure the various options for moving forward are considered in a constructive manner. I believe that by taking the time now to allow for further dialogue and consideration regarding the concerns that have been raised, we will develop a better outcome in the long run.”

We certainly agree.