Your opinions needed on Forest's road plan

By By STEVE ELLIS June 17, 2009 10:20 am

As many of you may know, over the past several years the Forest Service has been engaged in a public process to designate roads, trails, and areas for motorized use on all national forests throughout the country.

The use of motor vehicles, particularly off-highway vehicles, is one of the fastest growing forms of outdoor recreation on national forest lands. The efforts are focused on looking at a system of routes that provides recreational opportunities and access for public motorized use, while providing protection to national forest resources.

Here in Eastern Oregon, many of you have pitched in with your time, wisdom, and local knowledge to help out in this process for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. I have been very impressed and encouraged by the hard work of community members who have come together to provide information and to help in the development of alternatives to address this issue. 

I have a great respect for the human history in this area and the long-standing traditions, activities and uses that give special meaning to so many of the unique and beautiful places on this national forest. Accordingly, I want my ultimate decision about which roads, trails, and areas to designate for motor vehicle use to be as responsive as possible to these traditions, activities, and uses.

My specific goal is to develop a sustainable, designated system of motorized roads, trails, and areas that protect natural resource values while maintaining the quality and variety of recreational experiences for all users of this national forest.  In achieving this goal, we used your input to develop the alternatives that are analyzed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Motorized Travel Management on the Wallowa-Whitman.  This DEIS will be out for public review and comment June 19. Comments will be accepted through August 20, 2009.

I want to stress how important it is to me that we hear from you. I have heard a broad range of perspectives on the plan. The DEIS proposes six different transportation system alternatives. I do not have a preferred alternative at this time; I have not yet made a decision. The information you provide during this comment period will help me in making a final decision. 

The challenge is to find a balance. While finding that balance will be difficult, I believe we can achieve this task. I say this because — despite different opinions of those who live, work, and play here — we all value the Wallowa-Whitman for many of the same reasons. We are fortunate to live in an area that has such exceptional scenery and unparalleled recreation opportunities. Whether you are lucky enough to live here, or are one of visitors who return year after year, it is our common appreciation of these surroundings that brings us together.

In making the final decision, I will be following all of the laws, policies, and regulations that guide the management of national forest lands and resources. But let me emphasize, and again, encourage you to comment on the DEIS, because within these parameters I will be considering the diverse interests and concerns of local communities and visitors to the national forest. I need you to comment on the alternatives in the DEIS to enable me to understand as much as possible about those interests.

We have scheduled public meetings for July 7, 8, and 9 in Enterprise, La Grande, and Baker City, respectively, to provide opportunities for you to get and provide information. With your help, I believe we can create a sustainable road and trail network that achieves the necessary balance between motorized recreation access and resource protection. 

Steve Ellis is supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.