Wallowa-Whitman moves ahead on Travel Plan

By By Mary Farnsworth December 15, 2010 04:17 pm

As acting Forest Supervisor on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest until a permanent replacement is selected, I want to bring you up to date on the status of travel management planning on the Forest.

One of the most important issues facing the Forest Service is managing all types of recreational activities. Over the past several years the Wallowa-Whitman has engaged in a public process to designate roads, trails, and areas for motorized use as required by the 2005 National Travel Management Rule. The Forest has focused on identifying a system of routes that provides recreational opportunities and access for public motorized use, while providing protection to national forest resources.

I have read preliminary documents and maps, and discussed them with planning team members and partners. I understand that here in Eastern Oregon many of you contributed your time, wisdom, and local knowledge to help out in this process. It is very impressive and encouraging to see the hard work of community members who came together to provide information and to help in the development of alternatives to address this issue.  

We are in the final stages of the travel management planning process and have submitted a Biological Assessment to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in order to ensure that the pending decision will not jeopardize fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act. We expect this consultation process to be completed in April 2011.

When we receive their response, called a Biological Opinion, the planning team will respond to any Terms and Conditions identified by the regulatory agencies. At that point the Forest Supervisor can sign the Record of Decision (ROD). We anticipate this will be in late April or early May 2011.

The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be available to the public in June 2011 and we will be providing opportunities to help the public understand the decision prior to implementation.

As we finalize the details of the decision, we are also determining how to successfully implement the decision on the ground, including public education, signing and field presence. We will focus on answering your questions about the designated system of roads, trails and area during the summer and fall of 2011. Production of a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) will take about 8 months. We want to begin implementing the travel management plan in January 2012 to avoid conflict with hunting seasons and provide time to adjust to the new decision. At that time the public will start using the MVUM as their guide to travel on the Wallowa-Whitman.

I have been involved in travel management planning on other forests and understand the need to develop a sustainable, designated system of motorized roads, trails, and areas that protects natural resource values while maintaining the quality and variety of recreational experiences for all users of the national forests.  

The initial travel management plan is a starting point for managing our transportation system over time.  Both the travel management plan and the MVUM are to be reviewed and updated, annually, as site specific projects are completed and public comments are received.

I understand that designating travel routes and using the new map will be a change and that people will be impacted with this decision, however I truly believe that it will be an effective tool in managing our Forest for future generations.

Mary Farnsworth is acting supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.