JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has temporarily closed more than 1,700 acres of off-highway vehicle use areas near Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has temporarily closed more than 1,700 acres of off-highway vehicle use areas near Jacksonville.

The temporary closures include 1,524 acres of the northeastern portion of the Timbered Mountain OHV area because of excessive erosion. The majority of the BLM land closed in the Timbered Mountain area is west and northwest of Johns Peak near Kane Creek Road, officials said.

The Bunny Meadows site and 200 acres of public lands in the immediate area have also been temporarily closed to OHV riding and camping.

Both sites are part of what is commonly referred to as the Timbered Mountain/Johns Peak OHV area, which includes more than 16,000 acres of the BLM's Medford District.

The emergency closure is to protect soils, water and fisheries resources that are being damaged by OHV use and to protect public safety on Forest Creek Road, officials said.

However, vehicle loading and unloading will continue to be allowed at the Bunny Meadows site. Off-highway vehicle operators can still use nearby BLM Road 38-3W-14.0 to access trails and roads located to the west of Bunny Meadows on BLM-administered lands.

OHV use around the Bunny Meadows site has caused erosion problems along Poorman Creek and noise issues with neighbors living nearby, explained Dennis Byrd, an outdoor recreation planner with the BLM's Ashland Resource Area.

"The use isn't consistent with the area," he said during a visit to the site Tuesday. "I don't think people using the area intend to harm the environment. The problems that are caused are inadvertent.

"It's just part of the education process teaching people where they can and cannot ride," he added.

The BLM recently posted signs in the area to alert OHV riders of the temporary restrictions.

"But we are nearing the 'end' of the riding season because of the dust," Byrd said. "The use is already starting to drop off. The dust causes a real problem when you are riding behind someone."

The agency expects to release its long anticipated draft management plan for the entire Timbered Mountain/Johns Peak area this summer. The area has been popular with OHV users for more than 40 years.

Estimated to be 16,250 acres, the area was identified for limited off-highway use in the district land-use plan in 1995.

When completed, the plan will identify a system of OHV-use areas and trail heads, develop signs marking designated use areas and establish trail design features for stabilizing, reconstructing, constructing or relocating existing trails, officials said.

"We're trying to deal with some of the issues as we continue with the planning process," Byrd said, noting the agency is attempting to balance both OHV use with protecting the resources and the rights of adjacent property owners.

The agency is talking to users, including members of the local Motorcycle Riders Association, which owns land in the area, as well as local homeowners about how to best manage the government land designated for OHV use, he said.

"We're eager to get this plan out and move forward with it," he said, then reiterated the closures are temporary.

"We want the trails to rest a little while we come up with alternatives," he added.

Law enforcement officers will be on hand to enforce the restrictions, he said, noting that violators can be fined.

Between 10,000 and 16,000 OHV users visit the area each year, according to a 1995 BLM estimate.

For more information, contact the BLM district office at 618-2200.

pfattig@mailtribune.com.