Douglas County residents who enjoy riding off-road vehicles in the Umpqua National Forest should set aside their worries about road and trail closures.
Out of 4,007 miles of roads open to ATV riders, dirt bike enthusiasts and other off-road users, the Forest Service sees only 6 miles of roads that must be closed because of environmental damage.
If those roads lead to dispersed camping areas traditionally visited by local residents, Forest Supervisor Alice Carlton said she will look for alternative routes so the camping areas aren’t cut off.
Additional road and trail closures would come about only if local residents persuade the Forest Service that such closures fit the area’s social values.
The UNF staff is currently writing an environmental assessment of its travel management plan, which will be ready for public viewing and comment in June.
Forests across the nation were charged with designating which roads and trails should be open to off-roaders by the chief of the U.S. Forest Service in 2005. Forest supervisors were also told to publish maps that show which roads, trails and areas are open to motorized use. The goal was to limit conflict between users, protect the resources and provide consistency across the nation.
The UNF staff wanted to have as much information as possible before developing a proposal so the staff walked every motorized road and trail to document their use and condition. That’s one of the reasons the process has taken so long.
In assessing the roads, the staff found about a dozen spurs that never should have been built, Carlton said, because they are causing damage to the environment. The erosion and muddied streams created when vehicles drive on them affects the habitat of salmon and steelhead — another value Carlton must consider.
“It’s my duty to make sure the lands are sustainable for the future,” she said. “We want to make sure they have the access that’s warranted and environmentally sound.”
Carlton emphasized that will be her primary concern when she issues her final decision this summer after receiving public comment.
“I’m a proponent of people getting out to use their forests,” she said. “Just because few use a trail, that’s not a reason to close it.”
The travel management plan does represent a change in forest policy nationwide. Once the roads and trails that will remain open are designated, then all cross-country travel is prohibited.
That shouldn’t make much difference on the Umpqua because its thick vegetation, steep slopes and rocky cliffs made off-road travel difficult.
Forest users should see a net advantage to the new rule. By January 2014, they will be able to pick up free maps showing exactly which roads are open to motorized users and where they’re located.