Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



Baker County officials are soliciting comments from residents to include in the county's appeal of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest's Travel Management Plan (TMP).

Residents who want information included in the appeal should submit it, either paper copies or by email, as soon as possible.

Appeals are due at the end of April.

Accepting material for the county's appeal are Baker County Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr., and Holly Kerns, county planner.

Appeals at this late stage are limited to topics that already have been under dispute and made known during the draft process, Warner said.

Warner's email is fwarner@bakercounty.org and Kerns' email is hkerns@bakercounty.org . More information is available by calling Warner at 541-523-8201 or Kerns at 541-523-8219.

Warner said he has met recently with Nampa, Idaho, attorney Fred Kelly Grant.

Grant helps local governments coordinate land-use actions taken by federal agencies. He spoke to a large group of Baker County residents back in 2009, also about the TMP.

Opponents to the plan also are invited to a forum in LaGrande at 6 p.m. Friday at the Blue Mountain Conference Center, 404 12th St.

The scheduled guest speaker is Kerry White of Citizens for Balanced Use, which is based in Bozeman, Mont. The group formed because of the Travel Management Plan created for the Gallatin National Forest and has since continued focusing on national forest access issues.

The plan, the final process

The Wallowa-Whitman's Travel Management Plan, which had been in the planning stage since the spring of 2007, has garnered about 5,000 comments from citizens, groups and agencies, said Monica Schwalbach, forest supervisor.

Her decision, announced in mid-March, is subject to appeal by "any individuals or organizations who submitted comments or otherwise expressed interest in the project during the draft environmental impact statement period" according to the code of federal regulations.

The draft impact statement was released in 2009.

The alternative Schwalbach picked would prohibit motor vehicles (except snowmobiles) on about 3,600 miles of roads out of 6,691 miles in the 1.3 million acres the plan covers.

The TMP also bans cross-country travel by vehicles, which has been allowed.

During the plan's creation, a petition against closing any roads was signed by 6,000 people.

A coalition of environmental groups, meanwhile, urged Schwalbach to close even more roads.

The "differences in perspective" have been "a challenge for a land management agency to sort through," Schwalbach said.

The appeal process is more fully described at this website: http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/applit/includes/fedregfinalrule03.pdf

What comes next

Once the appeal process ends on April 30, there will be another 45 days to examine the appeals and reach potential solutions before the TMP takes effect.

There will be a period of education before enforcement occurs and penalties are imposed.

By then, Forest Service officials also expect to have an administrative permit process in place so livestock owners and other parties who work on the land, for example, can continue having routine access. The permits would require annual renewals, said Holly Krake of the Wallowa-Whitman.