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No shortage of vehicle access in the monument

With the recent expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and the current review being conducted by the Department of the Interior, we are seeing the reemergence of issues close to the hearts of people interested in these lands. After attending monument hearings and talking to dozens of people about the roads in the monument, I thought it appropriate to present some information regarding the current status of vehicle access in the monument.

I was the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument’s assistant manager and lead Medford District Bureau of Land Management (BLM) monument official before I retired in 2012. I led the team that wrote the monument management plan (completed in 2008) and the Soda Mountain Wilderness plan (completed in 2012). Since retiring I have occasionally been a contracted advisor to the BLM on monument access and road issues.

There are 412 miles of road on all land ownerships within the outer boundaries of the original monument that was established in June 2000. This is nearly 4 miles of road for every square mile section of the original monument. Road density is similar in the monument’s recent expansion area.

Since the monument was established over 17 years ago, I know of only one badly eroded jeep trail (1 ½ miles long) outside the congressionally designated wilderness that was closed by BLM. Although the BLM has closed and decommissioned roads in the Soda Mountain Wilderness portion of the monument, road closures outside of the wilderness have been extremely limited. The Soda Mountain Wilderness was designated by an act of Congress.

The BLM has not yet completed a travel management plan for BLM roads in the monument on public lands outside the wilderness. When BLM does complete that plan, it can then make further decisions regarding roads and vehicle access in the monument. Travel management in the monument outside the congressionally designated wilderness is at BLM discretion with appropriate public input and consultation. Again, the wilderness was designated by an act of Congress. Motor vehicle access is not permitted in congressionally designated wilderness.

Since the original monument was designated, nature has closed some of the monument road system. A recent BLM monument road survey found 62 miles of roads in the monument can no longer be driven. Trees and brush have grown over the top of some old logging spurs and some of the roads are impassable because of severe erosion and culvert failures.

In addition, at the time of the original monument designation there were roads that had already been closed by earth berms or gates as part of BLM’s multiple-use mandate to protect resources and better manage wildlife.

Shortly after the original monument was established, some private land owners purchased previously logged, timbered land inside the outer monument boundaries and installed 10 new iron gates. These particular landowners are restoring their privately purchased land for the betterment of elk and other wildlife. Some public BLM monument parcels were behind these private gates and by default were left with no legal public vehicular access. Additional landowners inside outer monument boundaries have exercised their property rights by gating their own respective private lands.

Further, the monument proclamations (original and expansion) protect rights-of-way for access to private lands. No road will be closed that is needed for timber management on interspersed private industrial forest lands in the monument. Those roads alone are a significant road network and will never be removed. It is also BLM’s policy not to deny private residential landowners access to their lands. This is true in the monument as well as in the monument’s Soda Mountain Wilderness backcountry.

A quality BLM decision in the future could — and should — reduce the extraordinarily dense network of old, unnecessary logging roads in the monument, provide adequate access for wildfire protection, and still provide ample access for hunting and motorized recreation in the monument. It would be indefensible for BLM to continue to do nothing to protect the monument’s biological resources from habitat-fragmenting road density, failing culverts, severe erosion, and neglect.

The final test can be yours. If you do drive around in the monument yourself, you will discover that there is no shortage of open roads.

— Howard Hunter spent his 34-year professional career working in BLM’s Medford, Eugene, Salem and Vale districts. He served his last 12 years with the BLM as the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument’s assistant manager. He has a degree in forestry from Humboldt State University.