By Jayson Jacoby
The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest will soon announce a schedule of public meetings regarding the forest's controversial plan to ban motor vehicles from many roads.
Forest officials will announce, "on or about Aug. 1," a schedule for meetings that will take place later this summer, said Matt Burks, public affairs officer for the Wallowa-Whitman.
That announcement will include several other matters related to the Travel Management Plan, Burks said:
andbull; Revised, larger-scale maps that incorporate public comments, includingroad numbers, topographic lines, the project area and adjacent areas.
andbull; An interactive map showing key factors that are addressed in the travel management planning process, including watersheds, fisheries resource areas, elk areas and more.
andbull; A synopsis of the input that was shared by the public this spring regarding the travel management record of decision.
andbull; Discussion papers that address key questions raised by the public, such as how to access private inholdings, firewood, day-uses, and more.
The Wallowa-Whitman started working on the Travel Management Plan more than five years ago, in May 2007.
Dale Bosworth, then the Forest Service chief (since replaced by Tom Tidwell), named unrestricted motor vehicle use one of the four major threats to national forests.
Specifically, Bosworth cited the growing popularity of all-terrain vehicles, and their potential to contribute to erosion, harassment of wildlife and conflicts with other forest users.
He ordered each national forest to write a travel management plan that would designate which roads, trails and areas would be open to motor vehicles.
This represents a wholesale change to the way the Wallowa-Whitman has dealt with motor vehicles.
Today, about half the forest's 2.4 million acres are what's known as an "open forest." That basically means that most roads are open to motor vehicles, and cross-country travel by such vehicles also is allowed.
The other half of the forest is divided among wilderness areas, where motor vehicles already are prohibited, and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and a handful of other zones that already have a travel management plan to restricts motor vehicles to certain roads or areas.
After years of study, in March of this year Monica Schwalbach, the Wallowa-Whitman supervisor, unveiled a travel management plan that would have banned motor vehicles on about 3,900 of roads. That's about 64 percent of the roads that are open to vehicles now.
Schwalbach's announcement prompted widespread complaints from local residents.
Many of the critics pointed out that back in 2007, soon after the Wallowa-Whitman started work on a travel plan, about 6,000 people signed a petition urging the forest to not close a single road to motor vehicles.
Opponents also said the maps included with the travel plan were poor, lacking, among other things, the numbers for roads slated to be closed to vehicles.
In April Schwalbach withdrew her decision and said she would solicit more public comment before releasing a revised version of the travel plan.
This summer's meetings are part of that process.