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Motorized vehicle plan for forests changes little

Off-roaders didn't lose any miles of forest trails, and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest officials made only minor tweaks in a plan issued Friday that governs the use of motorized vehicles in the national forest.

The document, an environmental impact statement that governs the use of highway-legal and off-highway vehicles in the forest, was revised to address issues raised during the comment period for an earlier plan released in 2009, explained forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons.

"We're looking for a balance between motorized and nonmotorized use that will providing recreational diversity while protecting the resources — that's the over-arching concern," Gibbons said of the long process that began in the 1990s.

The release of the document, which was printed in the Federal Register on Friday, triggers a 45-day comment period ending Nov. 21.

The draft supplemental EIS released Friday provides revised analyses for a host of issues, from air quality to soils and water quality to wildlife, she noted.

The forest's travel-management planning effort is the result of a nationwide effort launched in 2005 to establish a system for managing motorized use on national forests because increasing numbers of OHV users have caused resource damage and led to conflicts with other forest users, officials said. The project does not include over-the-snow vehicles.

In the forest's first plan, released in 2009, 221 miles of trails were to be left open to motorized vehicles, down from the current 246 miles of available trails, she said. The plan released Friday keeps that number at 221 miles.

The contains about 1,200 miles of trails overall.

As announced in 2009, the preferred alternative prohibits all cross-country motorized use on 275,000 acres in the forest, Gibbons said, noting that is required under the Travel Management Rule of 2005. The public now has use of 4,512 miles of main forest road, while 774 miles of forest roads are utilized primarily for forest administrative purposes such as emergency and intermittent access on an as-needed basis.

In addition to providing 221 miles of motorized trails, the plan proposes that 4,505 miles of road remain open to the public, as well as an existing 15-acre motorized play area (Woodruff) near Prospect.

Approximately 3,160 miles of the open roads would be mixed-use, allowing both highway-legal and off-highway vehicles.

The forest-management plans will also be amended to make motorized use along portions of several trails consistent with regulations for land allocations they pass through, she said. That includes the Game Lake Trail, Lawson Creek Trail, Illinois River Trail, Hobson Horn Trail, McGrew Trail, Boundary Trail and two Boundary connector trails, she added.

Some of the other highlights of the forest's motorized-use plan include:

  • No route decommissioning is proposed. Any new construction or maintenance activities required to make other routes available for public use may require additional environmental analysis.
  • Motorized vehicles will not be allowed to travel cross-country for purposes of fuel-wood gathering, hunting or big-game retrieval.
  • Activities associated with contract, permit, lease, notice-level mining activities or other written authorization is exempt from designation.
  • Additional site-specific closures and seasonal restrictions may be implemented for purposes of forest and fire management, wildlife and resource protection.
  • No motorized route construction through inventoried roadless or wilderness areas is proposed. Nor does it designate public motorized routes through islands of private lands in the forest.

A final supplemental EIS is expected to be signed in February of next year, followed by an appeals period, Gibbons said, adding that substantive comments will be addressed in that document. A motor-vehicle use map will also be published showing the open roads and trails across the forest and the types of motorized use allowed.

The draft supplemental EIS and associated information is available on the forest website at www.fs.fed.us/r6/rogue-siskiyou/projects/travel/index.shtml. Comments can be sent via email to comments-pacificnorthwest-rogueriver-siskiyou@fs.fed.us.

Other comments can be mailed to: c/o Travel Management Plan, Medford Interagency Office, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford, OR 97504.