Forest Service officials in northeastern Oregon have announced they have put on hold a plan to close forest roads.
The new Travel Management Plan was to go into effect this summer. It would have made about half the roads in the Wallowa-Whitman forest off limits to cars and off road vehicles.
In 2005, in response to dramatic increases in off-road vehicle use, the Forest Service required all of the national forests to develop new travel management plans, and to designate specific roads and trails for motor vehicle use. The goals: protect habitat, create a more efficient road network, and balance different kinds of recreational uses.
The Wallowa-Whitman Forest released its new Travel Management Plan in February.
In the past, the entire Wallowa-Whitman National Forest was open to cross-country travel — in other words, vehicles weren’t required to stay on the road.
“If you could get your motorized vehicle there, you were allowed to do it. It did not matter if that vehicle was a car or truck or ATV,” says Holly Krake, a public affairs officer with the forest service.
The new plan would have ended that cross country travel and limited cars and ATVs to specific routes. The new plan designated about 4,300 miles of roads and trails, out of a total of around 9,000 in the forest, as open to motor vehicles. Kraff says that many of the roads the Wallowa Whitman Forest planed to make off limits to cars and ATVs had been designated as closed in the past, but those decisions were never implemented, due to the cross country travel policy.
Local residents protested against the plan, arguing that Forest Service staff had ignored their input and the new road closures would block access to the forest for hunters, berry pickers, and recreational users. Union, Wallowa, and Baker county had announced they were filing appeals.
Mac Huff is a fishing guide in Joseph Oregon, was also filing an appeal.He says the plan would have made it harder for him to find fuel he needs for his wood stove.
“With one main road now through the area that I go to cut wood, there’s no place for me to cut wood,” he says.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., sided with the opponents and intervened with a phone call and letter to higher ups in the Forest Service. In a letter April 17, Forest Supervisor Monica Schwalbach announced she was withdrawing the plan, and stopping the clock on the appeals process.
“We’re taking a break to address misinformation, to give folks a chance to express their concerns, and to re-evaluate the plan if necessary,” says Holly Krake, the forest service spokeswoman. She says there isn’t a timeline yet, but that the road-closure plan will eventually be re-released.
Conservation group Oregon Wild says it is concerned about the political intervention in the process.
View Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in a larger map
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