By Suzie Savoie

For 22 years local landowners, conservationists, and concerned citizens have appealed and resisted the Medford District BLM’s plans to authorize extensive off-highway vehicle use in the middle Applegate area between Jacksonville, Ruch and Humbug Creek. Many rural landowners are concerned about the associated trash, trespass, noise, invasive species spread and soil erosion that occur and spread due to OHV use.

In May 2017 local groups appealed the Medford District BLM’s issuing of a categorical exclusion for maintenance of unauthorized, user-created OHV trails in the middle Applegate, in what’s unofficially referred to as the Timber Mountain/John’s Peak OHV Area. These groups include: Applegate Trails Association, Applegate Neighborhood Network, Forest Creek Community Association and the Siskiyou Chapter Native Plant Society of Oregon.

Unlike an environmental analysis (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS), a categorical exclusion (CX) circumvents public comment and does not allow for public review or input except through an appeal of the decision and a legal challenge.

Sometimes CXs are used for small projects that don’t have significant environmental impacts; however, use of a CX for this project shows a blatant disregard for the significant cumulative environmental and social impacts. BLM claims the CX is warranted because the issue “is not controversial,” despite heated local controversy surrounding the issue since 1995.

The CX specifically authorizes to “maintain” 65 miles of OHV trails over two years. The OHV trails they seek to maintain, however, were never authorized to begin with and they were illegally created. The OHV trail creators did not seek BLM approval to build the trails, they did not build them to sustainable trail standards, and they were built without environmental review.

The impact of continued OHV use of unauthorized, user-created trails in the CX area will irrevocably alter terrestrial habitats, hydrology, native plant communities, rare plants, wildlife habitat, soil resources, and will lead to further erosion and spread of invasive plant species.

In some areas OHV ruts are over 3 feet deep, creating extensive erosion and impacts to soils and hydrology. No matter how much “maintenance” these user-created OHV trails get through the CX project they will have lasting environmental impacts due to the inadequate design and lack of trail standards. Trail rutting and braiding will continue to occur unless BLM closes damaging trails altogether.

Because the CX avoids thorough environmental review it is likely that adverse impacts to Gentner’s fritillaria (Fritillaria gentneri) will occur. This beautiful spring wildflower is the Applegate’s favorite rare plant species and a symbol of our region. The center of the world’s population of Gentner’s fritillaria overlaps with the CX planning area to a large extent. It is found in numerous locations within the CX planning area and is currently being impacted by unauthorized OHV trails.

BLM has not performed extensive surveys for Genter’s fritillaria along the 65 miles of OHV trails they have approved for maintenance in the CX. Without knowing where these rare plants occur it is likely they will be negatively impacted by OHV use. OHVs inherently go off-trail and create new trails, activity that will continue to impact this important species. OHV trails currently dissecting populations of Gentner’s fritillaria have already significantly impacted individual plants, population dynamics and occupied habitat. How can BLM claim to be working to recover the rare Gentner’s fritillaria, but approve this CX with likely adverse impacts?

Many noxious and invasive plant species occur within the CX area. Of acute and particular concern, however, is the recently discovered 40-acre population of shiny geranium (Geranium lucidum) in Forest Creek centered around Bunny Meadows. This is a new invasive species to southern Oregon. If the BLM doesn’t take drastic measures to curtail the spread of shiny geranium now, this new invasive species could spread incredibly fast.

OHV trails currently pass right through shiny geranium populations within the CX area, contributing to continued spread into other areas of the Applegate Valley. The plant has already spread to the mainstem of the Applegate River. Local botanists, the Siskiyou Chapter Native Plant Society of Oregon, invasive species managers and local Applegate community members are all calling on the BLM to institute an immediate quarantine of the area in order to stop the spread of shiny geranium. There should be no OHV use of any kind in this area.

The CX does not address this new noxious weed, its removal, its spread, or the implications of trail maintenance on its continued spread in the Applegate Valley.

— Suzie Savoie of the Applegate Valley is conservation chair of the Siskiyou Chapter Native Plant Society of Oregon.