Some 3,390 miles of roads will formally be made available for highway-legal and off-highway motorized vehicles in a proposed travel management plan for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Some 3,390 miles of roads will formally be made available for highway-legal and off-highway motorized vehicles in a proposed travel management plan for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

In addition, about two dozen miles of closed forest roads would be turned into motorized trails and two "motorized play" areas would be designated in the High Cascades Ranger District, including the existing Woodruff off-highway vehicle (OHV) area near Prospect.

"We're trying to strike a balance," explained Steve Johnson, the forest's team leader for travel management planning. "We recognize that motorized use is an important recreation in the forest. At the same time, we also have to consider resource protection."

The proposal released Tuesday is part of a nationwide effort to establish a designated and managed system for motorized use on national forests because increased OHV use has caused user conflicts and resource damage, officials said.

Over-the-snow vehicles are not included in the proposal.

On the 1.8 million acre Rogue River-Siskiyou forest, there are roughly 4,620 miles of road and 1,155 miles of trails, including 170 miles of motorized trails.

Most of the unpaved forest roads are available for highway and OHV use, Johnson said.

"We already have a fair amount of (OHV) use on our nonpaved roads and not much of an accident history," he said. "We've seen no reason to change that."

The 45-day comment period on the proposal ends Oct. 14. A draft environmental impact statement is expected to be completed in November with a final decision made in July 2009.

"Right now, everything is open unless it's posted as closed," Johnson said. "Under the new rule, everything will be closed unless posted as open."

Off-road vehicle users and environmental watchdogs appear to support establishing guidelines for motorized use in the forest.

"We certainly understand the agencies have to come up with something to accommodate all the users," said Steve Croucher, president of the 1,400-member Motorcycle Riders Association. "We recognize the system used in the past was not sustainable — there were no good guidelines.

"We will want to see the details," he added. "But, overall, we tend to support what the agencies have been putting out lately. They are trying to accommodate all the users."

Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, also indicated his group endorses creating the guidelines.

"We definitely support the direction it's headed," he said. "There are places for OHVs in the forest and places where they shouldn't be. Our big concerns are on areas where high conservation values can be damaged by off-road vehicles."

Like Croucher, Vaile said his group would also scrutinize the details contained in the proposal. Their concerns include OHV use in roadless area as well as resolving conflicts between hikers and OHV users, he said.

"Some of the most spectacular plant diversity in the world is found in the Siskiyou," he said of the western portion of the forest.

Public comments about specific issues will help the agency as it prepares a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed plan, Johnson said.

"We are asking the public to review the (proposal) and provide comments to the agency on specific information they feel that the agency may not have at this time or as it relates to identifying potential environmental effects of establishing and designating a system of roads, trails and areas for wheeled motorized vehicles," he said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.