Deadline nears on forest roads plan

November 13, 2007 11:00 pm

An important deadline for hundreds of Northeastern Oregon residents is just two days away.

Friday is the last day to turn in written comments about the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest's proposal to ban motorized vehicles (except snowmobiles) from certain roads on the forest starting some time in 2009. The proposal also calls for prohibiting vehicles such as four-wheelers and motorcycles from traveling off of designated roads and trails.

That suggested change in policy, which Wallowa-Whitman Supervisor Steve Ellis announced in May, has been one of the more controversial proposals the forest has unveiled in the past few decades.

Several hundred people have attended public meetings during the past six months to learn more about, and to voice their opinions on, Ellis' proposal.

Several thousand people have signed petitions urging Ellis to not close a single road to motor vehicles.

But people who really want Ellis to consider their opinions should submit those opinions in writing.

Although Friday isn't the last chance people will have to comment on the Wallowa-Whitman's travel management plan, the deadline is a crucial one. Here's why: Ellis and other Wallowa-Whitman officials will consider the comments they receive by Friday when they're working over the next several months to draft a number of strategies (probably at least three) for dealing with off-road vehicles.

Ellis' original proposal angered many ATV riders because it calls for closing the Wallowa-Whitman's entire 4,200-mile network of so-called "maintenance level 1, or "ML 1" roads. However, that original proposal is only a starting point — federal law requires Ellis to consider other options, and Wallowa-Whitman officials have said they expect the forest's environmental study, which will be released next year, will include options that call for closing some, but not all, ML 1 roads.

Some critics have suggested ATV riders, as a sort of symbolic protest, should refuse to include with their comments a list of ML 1 roads they use more often and think should stay open to motor vehicles.

That's bad advice.

Riders who want to continue driving their ATVs on certain ML 1 roads — and we're sure all riders have their favorites, but no rider regularly travels all 4,200 miles — need to advocate for those roads now.

The ML 1 roads that garner the most support in the written comments are more likely to stay open when the Wallowa-Whitman's restrictions take effect in 2009.

For more information about the travel management plan, including ways you can submit comments, check the Wallowa-Whitman's Web site: www.fs.fed.us/r6/w-w/recreation/ohv/ohv-rule.shtml