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Forest travel plan in holding pattern
By Jayson Jacoby
The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s controversial plan to ban motor vehicles from certain forest roads stalled eight months ago, and it’s not likely to amass much momentum soon.
In fact, the only deadline that forest officials need to heed is more than three years away.
Based on the national travel management rule, the Wallowa-Whitman must have its Travel Management Plan (TMP) in place by the end of 2015, said Jodi Kramer, the forest’s public affairs officer.
Right now, though, forest officials don’t have a timeline for when they’ll announce the decision, Kramer said, nor are they being pressured by the Forest Service’s regional or national offices to accelerate progress on a project that was supposed to be finished this spring.
“Things aren’t going to happen fast,” Kramer said on Tuesday.
It’s not even certain who will make the final decision on which roads will be closed, she said.
Kevin Martin has been the Wallowa-Whitman’s acting supervisor since Aug. 13.
He replaced Monica Schwalbach, who in March of this year unveiled a TMP that called for banning vehicles (except snowmobiles) on about 3,900 miles of roads. That’s slightly more than half of the road mileage that’s open now.
The plan Schwalbach announced angered many local residents, who advocated for no roads to be closed, and she withdrew her decision less than a month later.
Since taking over for Schwalbach, who took a job at the Forest Service’s regional office in Portland, Martin, who has worked as the supervisor for the Umatilla National Forest for eight years, has been meeting with local residents and familiarizing himself with the TMP, Kramer said.
But there’s no guarantee that Martin will make the final decision on travel management, she said.
The Forest Service’s regional office in Portland is working on permanently filling the Wallowa-Whitman supervisor job, and working with Martin on how to proceed with the TMP and its timeline, Kramer said.
Regardless of who decides what form the TMP takes, and when it takes effect, that official will consider the dozens of comments the Wallowa-Whitman has received from the public since Schwalbach unveiled the TMP in March, Kramer said.
Although those comments weren’t solicited during a formal public comment period, Kramer said the Wallowa-Whitman has in effect treated them as though they were.
Moreover, the forest has hired a private contractor to conduct what’s known as a “content analysis” on those comments.
The basic idea, Kramer said, is to produce a report which distills the sentiments people expressed regarding the TMP.
That report will be released to the public, possibly by late January 2013.
The deciding official, whether it’s Martin or someone else, will consider not only the information in the content analysis report, but also comments that are submitted in the future, before announcing the revised TMP.
“We don’t have any plans of moving forward on travel management without engaging the public,” Kramer said. “There will be more public meetings.”
Although there is no firm timeline for the TMP, Kramer said Wallowa-Whitman officials plan to publish a newsletter before Christmas that includes the most current information and their strategy for the future.
That newsletter will be available on the forest’s website — www.fs.usda.gov/wallowa-whitman/ — and sent directly to people on the forest’s mailing list.