ODFW backs off-road limits

Private timberland managers in eastern Jackson County who are tired of winter off-road drivers tearing up backwoods logging roads and meadows want their lands included in a seasonal road-closure program meant to curb erosion and improve big-game habitat.

The proposed 7,740-acre Geppert Butte Unit, a mix of private and public lands south of Butte Falls, would be added to the nearly 20-year-old Jackson County Travel-Management Area, where vehicles are allowed on main, graveled forest roads but not most arterial dirt roads from early October through April 30.

If adopted for 2014-15, the unit would be the fifth area in JCTMA, and it would be the southeastern-most portion of the travel-management area, which already closes roads in 53,210 acres every season.

Under the program, motorists can drive on main logging roads that snake through private and Bureau of Land Management lands that are marked by green reflectors. Dirt spur roads generally are off-limits to vehicles, but hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed.

The largest landowner in the proposed unit is Juniper Properties, whose lands are managed by Lone Rock Timber Management. Dave Erickson, Lone Rock's logging administrator, says off-road vehicles have damaged roads, meadows and other resources around Geppert Butte.

Lone Rock would rather turn to the JCTMA program than put up gates to curb damage, Erickson says.

"It will get you around up there, but you won't be able to drive everywhere," Erickson says. "We like for people to have recreational opportunities on our property. Hopefully, this is the way people can continue to have access to main roads, not to our dirt roads in inclement weather."

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife supports the addition because it would help improve prime black-tailed deer winter range, and because hunters likely would enjoy plying woods with less traffic.

Other JCTMA lands "have become almost destinations for hunters wanting to get away from vehicles and get away from crowds and still be just a half-hour from Medford," says ODFW habitat biologist Vince Oredson.

ODFW has scheduled an informational meeting about the proposal at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the agency's office at the Denman Wildlife Area, 1495 E. Gregory Road, in White City. ODFW will provide maps and information about the proposal, but no public comments will be collected.

Oredson says the agency plans to add the Geppert Butte Unit proposal to a suite of hunting proposals for 2014 that ODFW will send out in May for public comments. That would include a public meeting May 9 in Medford in conjunction with the monthly meeting of the local Oregon Hunters Association chapter.

If adopted next October by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, it would be the largest addition to JCTMA since 2007, when the 10,500-acre Green Top Unit east of Eagle Point was added.

The Geppert Butte Unit would have more open roads than other units because the timber companies have several gravel roads they use for timber harvest and management there, Oredson says.

"It really won't be a hardship to hunters," Oredson says. "All they want is for people to stay on the rock roads and out of the mud."

The Juniper Properties portion of the proposed unit covers 2,880 acres. BLM owns 2,760 acres, Indian Hill owns 1,220 acres and Plum Creek Timber Co. owns 880 acres, according to ODFW.

The seasonal closures are enforced by Oregon State Police and paid for by the timber companies and grants from Oregon's Access and Habitat Board.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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