Officials try to build roads plan concensus

June 20, 2012 03:36 pm


By Katy Nesbitt

The Observer

Wallowa County and the Forest Service are back at the table trying to decide how best to manage forest roads.

Representatives from the forest’s travel management team and the county dove into site-specific variances between the two entities Tuesday morning.

“We are here to sort out the differences between what we had and the alternative that has been withdrawn,” said Commissioner Susan Roberts.

Monica Schwalbach, supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, released the forest’s travel management plan on March 15, proposing the eventual closure of 3,800 of the forest’s 6,691 miles of roads.

Citizens from Baker, Wallowa and Union counties held public meetings regarding the plan, culminating with one attended by more than 1,500 people at the armory in La Grande.

Responding to the public and all three of Eastern Oregon’s congressional representatives’ disapproval, the Forest Service withdrew its proposal April 17 and agreed to re-work the plan.

Shortly after its withdrawal, Schwalbach met with officials from each county and agreed to create maps that highlight differences between what the counties want and what the Forest Service proposed.

All told, Wallowa County and the forest are in disagreement over the designation of more than 300 roads.

“Some roads will take 30 seconds to discuss and others will take longer,” said Rod Childers, who chaired the county’s travel management committee.

To address specific concerns, large, clear, plastic road maps were produced of both the road designation proposals.

In addition, maps delineating threatened and endangered fish streams and critical elk habitat could be laid on top of the road maps to show protected areas.

No matter what is decided or when, the road re-designation will be gradual, said Mary DeAguero, district ranger for the Eagle Cap Wilderness and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

“There’s been discussion with regional leadership and it is possible to do a phased decision,” said DeAguero.

In Schwalbach’s original announcement, she made it clear roads would not be closed with gates, berms or signs. Free maps at Forest Service offices and local businesses would be provided to show which roads were still available for public use.

Some consensus had already been reached between county and forest officials. The county’s alternative agreed to closing cross-country travel and the forest responded to requests from off-highway vehicle users to keep certain trails open and designate new ones.

As far as their differences, forest and the county officials will continue to meet. 

If agreements can’t be made in the board room, “We’ll go out and look at the roads,” said Bruce Dunn, county travel management team member.