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BLM holds public meetings on OHV areas

Two open-house sessions will be held Tuesday and Thursday to give the public more insight into potential off-highway vehicle (OHV) emphasis areas being considered for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.

Thirteen sites covering more than 100,000 acres in the district are included in the Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) draft environmental impact statement.

However, officials stress they have no total acreage in mind for the emphasis areas to be set aside for OHV use that includes all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and larger four-wheel drive rigs.

The open houses will provide an opportunity for public comments on each area, according to district spokesman Jim Whittington. BLM specialists will be on hand to answer questions about OHV policy and the planning process, he added.

Tuesday's session will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Grants Pass Interagency Office at 2164 N.E. Spalding Ave.

Thursday's meeting will also be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the BLM's Medford District office at 3040 Biddle Road.

"During the course of the comment period for the draft environmental impact statement, OHV use has been one of the major topics in the Medford District and with the comment period extended until Jan. 11, we thought it would be a good idea to provide more information to the public about the OHV use and planning," explained district manager Tim Reuwsaat in a prepared statement. "We would greatly appreciate the comments of those who use and live near these areas so we can craft a better plan for the future."

In the past six months, the district has held half a dozen open houses and made 30 presentations to groups within the district about the Western Oregon Plan Revision.

BLM originally allowed 90 days for the public to comment on the draft but has extended the comment period because of the complexities of the document.

The large number of comments concerning the OHV emphasis areas being received by the BLM may be fueled in part because the draft incorrectly indicates all of the areas would be designated if the plan is approved as drafted, Whittington said. He stresses the 13 sites covering 100,751 acres are only considered potential designated sites to be used as starting points for the discussion.

In addition to the three sites included in the district's 1994 resources management plan — Timber Mountain/Johns Peak near Jacksonville, Ferris Gulch in the Applegate Valley and Quartz Creek a few miles northwest of Grants Pass. Ten other sites popular with off-road vehicle users were included as potential OHV emphasis areas.

The goal is to look at the potential OHV emphasis areas and determine how many of those sites as well as acreage are appropriate, officials stressed. If one of the areas becomes officially designated for such use, that means the BLM will increase management to control the damage, they add.

Although the WOPR is expected to be finalized next year, fine-tuning the OHV emphasis areas isn't expected to be completed for another five years.

The public comments will be used by the agency to craft a proposed resource management plan for the 800,000-plus acreage district that will be analyzed in a final environmental impact statement expected to be completed late in 2008. Substantive comments are the most useful, officials said.

The complete document and instructions on how to comment electronically is available at www.blm.gov/or/plans/wopr online.

Comments can also be sent to Western Oregon Plan Revisions, P.O. Box 2965, Portland 97208.

Every public comment will be published and an independent firm will make a report on those comments, according to BLM officials.

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