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New Forest Service plan would make 3,835 miles of eastern Oregon roads motor-free

Posted by on March 16th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

New rules, if they survive a public comment
period, would outlaw ATVs and other motorized
vehicles in nearly 4,000 miles of eastern Oregon
forest land.
(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.

Cycle Oregon Day 5 -12.JPG

We rode up a decommissioned logging road outside of Oakridge Oregon on Cycle Oregon 2007.

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.

Read the official announcement of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Releases Travel Management Plan here and see the background documents here .

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32 Comments
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    Oliver March 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    There is a possible problem with this. In the sand dunes in Coos County they banned ORV’s in a few areas to provide an enhanced experience for equestrians and walkers, but after a few years all of the trails were completely overgrown with brush. It turns out the trails were a result of use by Trucks and ATV’s.

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      Mike Fish March 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm

      Well, if you’re suggesting this roads will grow over in a few years, you’re sadly mistaken. OR dunes is a totally different ecosystem.

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        Marid March 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm

        The Oregon dunes are a disappearing ecosystem. Beach grass and other invasive plants are changing the dunes quickly to savannah and pine forest.

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    cold worker March 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    AWESOME.

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    CaptainKarma March 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    The Motor City Madman, the Nuge, Ted Nugent, would not like this. But maybe I’m wrong.

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    d March 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Overgrown trails are a small price to pay for less litter, noise and air-pollution. Also, the odds of being run down by a speeding four-wheeler are greatly reduced. If you support this kind of action, preserving some of our natural areas for non-motorized use, please go to the National Forest website and let them know.

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      Oliver March 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      A price to pay, possibly a worthwhile one. But are ‘no trails’ a worthwhile trade off for less litter, noise and air pollution? Any mountain biker will tell you that our good friends the Sierra Club would say yes, while others will say that a balanced approach is better.

      I’d hate to see someone ask, why do you need single track in forest park, we just gave you bikers a million acres in Enterprise

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        Mike Fish March 16, 2012 at 11:27 pm

        Again, you can’t just equate the Oregon dunes with the eastern Oregon forests. That’s a faulty comparison.

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        Tom M March 17, 2012 at 3:03 am

        Missing the point entirely.

        Certain Off Road Motor Vehicle (ORMV) users have abused the privilege of using these lands for fun. Unfortunately the ORMV community has failed to police itself. Therefore the Forest Service is doing *exactly* what it has been charged to do.

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          Mike March 19, 2012 at 8:23 am

          Just as certain mtb’ers have abused their privilege in Forest Park. Is the answer to ban mtb’s from Forest Park?

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            Tom M March 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm

            Interesting how some people choose to take things out of context isn’t it?

            Again, responsible use = no problem. Use of public land under Forest Service supervision is a privilege. That privilege has been abused to the point that the areas in question cannot recover within our life times (read the article). Therefore the Forest Service has been forced to preserve the area by removing ORMVs. Sucks, but it’s what is.

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            davemess March 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm

            Is this not already done? De Facto?

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    Jeremy Cohen March 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    This is AWESOME news! I love that motorized users have only their own poor self control to blame for this (although I am sure my hippie, bike loving, tree hugger brethren will get the heat for this one!) As to the over growth, most of the forest roads this provision covers were built as logging access roads and won’t overgrow for a super-long time–those road builders do a *great* job building roads that resist reclamation!

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    Spiffy March 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    this seems a little too familiar… completely close the facilities to specific vehicles because a few bad ones are ruining it for the rest of them… why enforce the rules when you can just close it?

    sure, I think people should treat the forest better… I used to love driving out on those remote mountain forest logging roads… my Subaru didn’t put much wear on the road… but now it will be closed to all motor vehicles because they can’t enforce the rules…

    those of us on bikes would like to think that they’re doing a good thing by reigning in motor vehicle use…

    but is allowing that just a precursor to politicians calling for the closing of bike and pedestrian facilities? then why not just close Forest Park to bicycles? they create unauthorized trails and tear up the fauna… there are other places for them to ride…

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      Pete March 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm

      The Wallowa-Whitman Naional Forest is the third most roaded National Forestin the nation with more total road miles to maintain than the Oegon Department of Transportation. Besides the roads, the Forest allowed nearly unrestricted cross-country access to ATVs. As a result, streams were degraded, wildlife disturbed, invasive plants spread, and quiet recreation (cycling, hiking, birding, etc) disrupted. Even though the Plan will eliminate 4000 miles of motorized access, it still leaves another 3,000 miles in place. The Plan was anything but arbitrary: it responded to a 2005 Department of Interior rule requiring the nation’s forests inventory their roads and eliminate the ones that unnecessarily damaged the forests. The Wallowa-Whitman is leading by example.

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    Pete March 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    A huge thanks goes to the Hells Canyon Preservation Council (www.hellscanyon.org) which argued persuasively and did the ground-truthing for this extraordinary environmental victory.

    The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Travel Management Plan will likely become the go-to model for other national forests in the American West as they develop their own plans. What just happened in northeast Oregon will have ripple effects across the West.

    Thanks Hells Canyon Preservation Council!

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    charley March 16, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I don’t know all the roads in question, but it seems to me that, when the FS has closed roads in the Mt Hood NF, they close old routes that were unused by cyclists and hikers already. Not unused because of competing auto and ATV use, but just because the roads go nowhere (an old logging site, more often than not). And I agree strongly that many of these roads are clear only because of auto use. I think the situation around Sisters might be different- there are lots more people living there, so there are riders of both ATV and bikes. There’s plenty of tourism potential in the Forest Service’s network of roads. But the roads that we like to ride are especially their long, paved roads like Aufderheide, in the Willamette National Forest, or the rides that they profile on the Velodirt website. These are not the roads that they’d be closing down. So the potential is there already, and I doubt it will be affected (positively or negatively) by road closings.

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    Brad March 16, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    This is magic news. I grew up in La Grande and this changes everything for my family visits. Wow. Wow. Wow!

    As for the roads and trails becoming overgrown because of lack of use, I say not a moment too soon.

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    Suburban March 18, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Print version of the Oregonian said something like “State to Close Roads” for their headline. It’s ok, I know what they meant, and have been waiting for this eagerly for a long time.

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    Eric March 19, 2012 at 8:40 am

    What is the term used for bicycles that bans them from Wilderness Areas? Is it mechanized, motorized, or something else? I can’t remember off the top of my head.

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      ME 2 March 19, 2012 at 10:14 am

      Bicycles fall into the “motorized” definition, which is my heart dropped a beat when I first read the story.

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        rain bike March 19, 2012 at 11:46 am

        I think it’s “mechanized transport” (bikes, by some definitions) that is prohibited in designated wilderness areas. I think what’s proposed here is different.

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      Pete March 19, 2012 at 9:25 pm

      No bikes, no motorzied vehicles in Wilderness Areas. BUT this proposed action by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest relates to the vast network of roads OUTSIDE of Wilderness Areas such as Eagle Cap and Hells Canyon.

      “Quiet recreation” like cycling and hiking will be permitted on the decommissioned roads. Beyond that, there still will be thousands of miles (yes, thousands of miles) or remaining motorized roads in the forest.

      Here’s a summary of the plan’s effects:

      • 56% reduction in motorized travel
      • 53% reduction in motorized stream crossings
      • 50% reduction in motorized travel in riparian habitat
      • 100% elimination of cross-country motorized travel beyond 300’ of designated roads.

      Local interests likely will appeal and attempt to overturn the plan. If they win, then wildlife, fish, forests, hikers and cyclists will lose.

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        John March 28, 2012 at 12:51 am

        Pete, how would you like it if over 50% of the areas that you’ve enjoyed over the years are suddenly closed to you? The Wallowa Whitman National Forest is the biggest national forest in Oregon. The road closures are going to have a devastating affect on the local economy, much like what happened when the logging was shut down. There’s really not much of a compromise for us local folks, it’s a 100% loss. Us east siders have learned a painful lesson about “working together with the forest service” over the years and we no longer trust them one bit. Whenever freedoms are lost, try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

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    AaronO March 19, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    >> Mechanized – old school (circa 1964) misnomer for bicycles which relates to the Wilderness ban: http://old.imba.com/resources/bike_management/non_mechanized.html

    >> Motorized – not human powered

    >> Non-Motorized – human powered, bikes included

    IMBA politely rejects the terms Mechanized and Motorized when used to describe offroad bicycles (mtn, cross, monster-cross, etc). I agree, leaving the whole Wilderness issue aside.

    Also, I think the some “best practices” could be transferred from the Tillamook State Forest to the Wallowa-Whitman, despite the differences in climate, ecosystems, etc. The TSF goes a good (not perfect, but good) job of managing Motorized and Non-Motorized users.

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    GlowBoy March 19, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Wow, as a dirt-road fanatic I’m excited to get over there and hit some of those dirt roads once this takes effect.

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      Pete March 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm

      Plan your trip now, Glowboy.

      The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest proposes to close more than 3,800 miles (!) of roads to motorized travel. The closed roads will still be available to you. If you don’t mind sharing remote roads with occasional motor vehicles, you’ll have another 3,000 miles open for MTB travel.

      The Wallowa-Whitman NF is like the hub of a giant wheel where three giant ecoregions converge: the Northern Rockies, the Northern Basin & Range, and the Pacific Northwest. It reaches from the depths of Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America, to the alpine peaks of the Wallowas, to the the Zumwalt Prairie, the largest intact bunch-grass prairie on the continent. Go see moose, wolverines, golden eagles, great gray owls, wolves, elk, pronghorn, bull trout, and sockeye salmon. This is a special place.

      Learn more at http://www.hellscanyon.org.

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    Patty March 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    The roads the forest service wants to close affects those of us who live, hunt, fish, camp, get fire wood to heat our homes, gather mushrooms and berries, go four wheeling, snowmobiling, and making our livelihood logging and trapping. Those of us here in eastern Oregon DO NOT want our roads closed. The forest is PUBLIC land, not private property. It is supposed to be there for EVERYONE to enjoy and use. I’ve lived in eastern Oregon for 37 years along the edge of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. I’m not seeing any of the abuse to our rivers, lakes, fish, or wildlife. To let one group exclusively use roads just for people who want to ride bicycles for example, is a joke. Of course, in our neck of the woods there’s lots of cougars and I’m sure they would enjoy some meals on wheels. The economy has hit our small communities hard and closing roads will completely devastate these communities. I’d be willing to bet that none of the folks who have posted comments here actually live, work, and play in eastern Oregon.

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    Hick from the Sticks April 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    It is interesting to me that western Oregonians are once again telling us hicks in the sticks what is best for us. We choose to live in the sparsley populated region of Oregon for a reason. We do not need or want your politics and idealogies. I have lived in Eastern Oregon my whole life (40+ years) and I have spent many many hours in the Wallowa Whitman and Malheur National Forests (I hunt, fish,ride ATVs, snowmobile and cut wood in these forests) and other than Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend I have NEVER seen a bicyclist or hiker on the roads and that is the way I prefer it. If you try to limit these roads, some Western Oregonians may try to invade my turf with their bikes. The problem is when they leave, they leave their trash and garbage in the campsites. Keep your garbage and keep your people on your side of the state. I can see an abundance of deer and elk on any given day, be it on my ATV, my snowmobile or my vehicle. They don’t mind me so so much for your idea the vehicles scare the wildlife. Just because you have messed up your side of the state, don’t bring your ideas over here and mess up my side of the state!

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      Carla Axtman April 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      I grew up in Eastern Oregon. I hiked to Strawberry Lake as a girl many times, and spent countless hours swimming in Magone Lake near John Day. I’ve floated the John Day river on an inne rtube and combed through the fossil beds at Sheep Rock. And gone camping numerous times in Malheur Forest.

      The “hicks from the sticks” are being subsidized, in great part, by the snooty, latte liberals who populate the western side of the Cascades. The idea that somehow people who live west of the mountains should have no say is utterly ridiculous. We foot the bill, in large part and we also use these places. It’s not “your side of the state”. It OUR state. All of us.

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    Ethan April 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Public lands don’t belong to local residents, they are held in trust for everyone. Hick’s truck, cellphone, rifle, computer, and ATV were probably all made for his use by “city folk”.

    Fortunately for us all, many rural Oregonians are every more supportive of restoration and environmental protections precisely because they, and their families, have lived on the land in question long enough to know what has been lost. The tales of spawning salmon, unspoiled timber stands and bountiful wildlife are topics passed down from grandparents, not glimpsed in an OPB documentary.

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    bjorn April 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Unfortunately the end game with all this is to completely remove all access to these areas and leaders in the sierra club have said as much. First it is motors then when things get more overgrown they will want wilderness designation so they can ban bikes. These changes are not good for anyone who enjoys nature.

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