period, would outlaw ATVs and other motorized
vehicles in nearly 4,000 miles of eastern Oregon
(Photo: US Forest Service)
The new Travel Management Plan for the 2.3 million acre Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in eastern Oregon could be a boon for bicycling and the growing bicycle tourism industry. The plan, released yesterday by the United States Forest Service (USFS), would make thousands of miles of logging roads open only to non-motorized users.
Here’s more from The Oregonian:
“Starting in June, passenger cars, ATVs, dirt bikes and four-wheel-drive rigs can no longer travel on almost 4,000 miles of roads in Oregon’s largest national forest.
Soon off-limits to motor vehicles: 3,835 miles of roads and ATV trails in a 1.3 million-acre area of the forest in Union, Baker and Wallowa counties… When the plan goes into effect, only bicycles, hikers and horseback riders will be allowed on the target roads. Violations could bring a $5,000 fine.”
According to the USFS, the new policy would begin this summer. Since you can’t exactly litter the forest with a bunch of signs, the principal tool in communicating these new rules would be new Forest Service maps. New “Motor Vehicle Use Maps” will be made available for free this summer and will show all the roads that where cars, trucks and ATVs will be allowed.
In their official Record of Decision, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which oversees the USFS) they cite a “considerable number of unauthorized roads and trails” criss-crossing the national forest as one of the main reasons for their plan. These rogue roads, created as off-shoots to legal roads by motorized users, are “creating user conflicts and impacting soils, water quality, and wildlife,” says the USDA.
Obviously, not everyone is thrilled by this decision. The 45 day comment period is sure to be filled with lots of rallying by ATV advocates and other motorized users who do not want to see their access rights impinged.
Jerry Norquist, a resident of Sisters, Oregon and well-known bike advocate who runs the Cycle Oregon ride, said he thinks “It’s a good decision.” Speaking for himself only, and not on behalf of Cycle Oregon, Norquist told me via phone today that cars, trucks and ATVs on the forest roads around Sisters have rendered many places un-bikeable.
“If a particular use of the forest is damaging the ecosystem to a point that its having a hard time recovering, you have to look at a different way of managing it.” Norquist said large spinning ATV and 4×4 motor vehicle tires churn up the Cascade soil and turn it into a fine dust.
“The Forest Service is realizing that when you allow motor vehicle and ATV use on the roads, they end up going off the main roads and they really tear things up. They turn them into poofy dust and a lot of the places where people used to mountain bike, we can’t mountain bike anymore. If you tear something up in our area, it may be 100 years before it recovers.”
The Board President of Cycle Oregon, Nels Gabbert, is a resident of the area and sat on the advisory committee that helped draft the new Travel Management Plan. I wasn’t able to reach him in time for this story, but suffice it to say that Cycle Oregon’s advocacy work likely played a part in fostering this decision.