for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Monday that Wallowa-Whitman National
Forest Supervisor Monica Schwalbach will make access to firewood, particularly
for senior citizens, a priority as she and her staff rework the forest’s widely
maligned Travel Management Plan (TMP).
Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, said that
--after meeting twice with Schwalbach and other forest officials last
week --he’s eager to get started on revising the TMP into something that
county residents can "live with.”
"We've got a
lot of work to do, but we need to get it right,” Warner said Tuesday.
county officials are ready to help Schwalbach and her staff in any way
who last week withdrew her March 15 decision to ban motor vehicles from about
3,900 miles of forest roads, also will strive to provide the public with
detailed maps that list the numbers of all roads, whether open or proposed for
closure, said Tom Towslee, Wyden’s state communications director.
The maps included with the TMP -- when it was unveiled last month
--do not identify, by their Forest Service number, the many dozens of
roads slated to be closed to motor vehicles.
Schwalbach has agreed to enlist local residents in what Towslee termed "a more
robust dialogue that includes all interests with the goal of finding common
ground on issues such as multiple use of the forest and protections of
the commitments from Schwalbach came after a series of meetings last week that
included forest officials, commissioners and other officials from Baker, Union
and Wallowa counties, and representatives for Wyden and fellow U.S. Sen. Jeff
travel plan, which would have banned vehicles from about 64 percent of the
mileage that’s open now, provoked widespread opposition from residents in those
three counties, which share the bulk of the Wallowa-Whitman.
concern, and anger, about the TMP was the predominant topic during town hall
meetings that both Wyden and Merkley hosted earlier this month in both Baker
City and La Grande.
through clearly is that there are certain activities that go on in the woods that sort of definewhat it means to live in Eastern Oregon,” Towslee said. "One of those things is
about 12,000 cords of firewood each year on the Wallowa-Whitman.
hardly the only issue that critics of the TMP have cited, though.
that closing as many roads as Schwalbach initially proposed would also curtail
their ability to pick berries, hunt, camp and, overall, enjoy the
some conservation groups, including the Hells Canyon Preservation Council in La Grande,
say that although they want more roads closed than Schwalbach proposed, they
consider the original TMP a fair compromise.
At almost 2.4
million acres (the TMP would affect roads and trails on 1.3 million of those
acres), the Wallowa-Whitman not only is the largest national forest in the
Northwest, it has alsotraditionally been an inviting place for motor
As it stands,
most roads and trails in the 1.3 million acres covered by the TMP are open to
motor vehicles, and they can also legally travel cross country, between roads.
remaining 1.1 million acres, the majority is federal wilderness, where motor
vehicles are already prohibited, or in nonwilderness areas that have existing
travel management plans.
his chief complaint with the TMP process is that he doesn't believe forest
officials have proved that motor vehicles are damaging the environment in any
documents refer frequently to reducing the number of open roads to protect fish and their
habitat, the implication being that motor vehicles tear up the
ground and increase the amount of dirt that washes into fish-bearing streams
during heavy rains and spring snowmelt.
contends that -- rather than study each road to determine whether vehicles are
actually having that effect --forest officials focused instead on
reducing the density of open roads over large areas of the forest, a process he
The TMP does
list the number of places where a road crosses streams; these crossings are also a potential source of habitat damage by vehicles.
County’s volunteer TMP committee, by contrast, spent hundreds of hours
traveling forest roads, Warner said.
concluded that about 30 percent of the forest roads in the county aren't being
traveled by motor vehicles now.
"We did the
stuff the Forest Service should have done, but didn't do,” Warner said. "And we
did it with volunteers.”
The TMP that
Schwalbach withdrew last month did propose to ban motor vehicles from most of
the roads that the Baker County committee determined weren't being used anyway.
But the TMP
closed many additional roads that local residents do drive on with full-size
vehicles, ATVs, or in some cases, both.
he is promoting, as a baseline for the revamping of the TMP, Alternative 3 from
the final environmental impact statement for the project.
alternative, which incorporated suggestions from Baker County as well as Union
and Wallowa counties, would ban motor vehicles from about 1,815 miles of roads and trails
that are open now. That’s almost 2,100 fewer miles than in the
alternative Schwalbach picked, but later withdrew.
said he’s hopeful that a revised TMP based on Alternative 3 would be palatable,
though not endorsed wholeheartedly,
by many of the local residents who adamantly oppose Schwalbach’s initial
widespread public disdain for that decision prompted the involvement of Wyden
and Merkley as well as U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, the Republican who represents
proposed to attach a rider to the Forest Service’s budget bill requiring the
agency to revise TMPs on forests where local residents aren't satisfied with
to setting up last week’s meetings, Wyden and Merkley co-signed a letter Monday
to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in Washington, D.C., in which the senators
write that, as a result of the dissatisfaction with the TMP, "the U.S. Forest
Service has increasingly lost the trust of the communities surrounding the
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.”
the TMP dates back almost five years, when in the spring of 2007 Steve Ellis,
then the Wallowa-Whitman supervisor, announced that the forest would be writing
a plan that would restrict motor vehicle use on more than half the forest.
was a directive laid out two years earlier by then-Forest Service Chief Dale
Bosworth, who cited unrestricted motorized use as one of the four main threats
to national forests as reservoirs of wildlife habitat and sources of clean
to Ellis’ announcements, about 6,000 people signed a petition calling for no
roads to be closed to motor vehicles on the Wallowa-Whitman.
Wyden is "not suggesting that no roads should be closed.”
In the letter
to Tidwell, Wyden
and Merkley wrote: "While we understand that some roads need to be closed to
protect watersheds and wildlife habitat, it has become clear
that the multi-year Travel Management Plan on this forest did not adequately
understand or address many concerns raised by local communities.”
acknowledges that measuring what would constitute an "adequate” response to
residents’ concerns presents a dilemma for Schwalbach.
vehicles are banned from any roads-- as both Wyden and Merkley agree is necessary--
then it’s probably inevitable that some local residents will be angry, because
the list of closed roads includes some routes they use.
Towslee said, isn't so much that Schwalbach utterly ignored public comments,
but that the TMP she unveiled last month --which would have banned
vehicles from almost two-thirds of the roads in question --seemed to
stray so far from the prevailing sentiment among local residents.
don't think anybody is arguing that the Forest Service has a very difficult
job,” Towslee said. "But it’s a job that needs to be done. The Forest Service
has a clear direction now, we think, and we’re confident that, at the end of
the day, they'll do the right thing.”
Copyright 2012, The Baker City Herald.