Jackson County commissioners are voicing concerns about a U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposal to close 164 miles of logging roads in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument east of Ashland.
BLM officials briefed commissioners today on alternatives that range from closing six miles of road to closing 164 miles by using heavy machinery to re-contour and decommission 109 miles or roads and allowing 55 miles to return to a natural state on their own.
There are 412 miles of roads in the monument, BLM officials said.
"The road network was originally laid out for logging, and there's no commercial timber harvest allowed in the monument anymore, so we anticipate many of the roads put in for timber harvest will not be needed," said Joel Brumm, assistant manager of the monument. "We have limited road maintenance funds, so we cannot afford to continue to maintain all of these logging spur roads."
Brumm said many culverts are failing and sediment is washing from the roads into creeks.
While considering funding and environmental issues, BLM also has to balance maintaining access for recreation, wildfire control, parcels of private land intermixed with publicly owned monument land, power transmission lines and part of the Talent Irrigation District network, Brumm said.
Commissioners worried that BLM may be going too far with road closures.
Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said disabled residents enjoy getting off main roads onto the more remote logging spur roads, especially for hunting.
"We have a large population that just doesn't have the ability to walk," he said.
Brumm said BLM has no intent to discriminate, but it is facing pressure from environmental groups.
BLM is taking a second look at its road management planning because of a settlement agreement with groups that include the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. The Soda Mountain Wilderness is inside the 62,000-acre monument.
"If we don't take action to reduce road densities, these environmental groups will take us to court — and we will lose," Brumm said.
BLM officials said many of the roads proposed for closure are dead-end logging spur roads that branch off from more-traveled routes.
Breidenthal also worried road closures could hamper search-and-rescue efforts as well as firefighting efforts in the monument.
The 2014 Oregon Gulch fire burned more than 35,000 acres in Oregon and California, including part of the monument.
Brumm said many of the roads that would be kept open under the BLM's proposal were kept specifically to ensure firefighter access and because they could serve as fire breaks.
Commissioner Colleen Roberts said she has no problem with allowing roads that are fading and becoming overgrown to decommission naturally. But she sees problems with the amount of mileage proposed for closure.
"I am concerned about road closures. Many are being used," she said.
Roberts also faulted BLM for adding thousands of acres to the monument since its creation by acquiring private land when it doesn't have the money to maintain the monument.
Commissioner Rick Dyer said he does see the wisdom in closing obsolete and unnecessary roads, but BLM's road closure proposal seems weighted toward environmental interests at the expense of recreational interests.
"Both interests are equally valid," he said.
BLM plans to publicly release an environmental assessment detailing road closure alternatives at the end of March. A public comment period of at least 45 days will follow.
The comment period could be extended because heavy snowfall this year could block the public from going out and looking at the roads, BLM officials said.
The monument was created by President Bill Clinton in 2000 to protect the rich biological diversity found where the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou mountain ranges converge. Pilot Rock is inside the monument, as well as a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Recreational activities in the monument include hiking, motorized travel, bicycling, horseback riding, kayaking, camping, fishing, hunting, bird watching, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobile riding.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.