By Casey Crowley

About 100 people attended a Forest Service meeting Friday at Baker High School, and the possibility that the agency will close roads to motor vehicles was a major topic of concern.

Friday’s meeting was one of several “objection resolution” meetings Forest Service officials scheduled after they received more than 350 objections to the revised management plans for the three Blue Mountains national forests, released in late June.

Those plans are intended to replace the 1990 management guidelines for the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla and Malheur national forests.

The day-long meeting included nine separate sessions, each covering different topics including access, timber and vegetation management, fire and fuels management and livestock grazing.

The sessions were overseen by one of three Forest Service officials: Reviewing Officer Chris French and two associate deputy chiefs, Allen Rowley and Jenn Eberling.

In addition to dozens of local residents, attendees included Baker County Commission Chairman Bill Harvey and commissioners Bruce Nichols and Mark Bennett, and Baker City Councilor Arvid Andersen.

Harvey and Nichols also attended an objection resolution meeting Wednesday in Pendleton, and Harvey and Bennett traveled to La Grande for a meeting on Saturday.

French oversaw the session on access, which he said received the most objections. The access session had the largest turnout of objectors and interested parties. That was the case for each of the objection meeting. Each session was suppose to have a limit of 20 objectors but for the Baker access session that was expanded twice —once during preregistration cap of 30 and then to upwards of 50 on Friday.

Many objectors said they’re concerned that the new forest plan will result in the Forest Service banning motor vehicles on roads on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

“The whole plan is disastrous for us,” Harvey said, drawing a round of applause from the audience.

“You can’t close a mine road, a mine road is to a mine and therefore it should stay that way,” said Chuck Chase of Baker City, executive director of the Eastern Oregon Mining Association. “We are seeing these roads being closed year after year after year.”

Paul Turcke, a lawyer who submitted an objection on behalf of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national recreation group that supports the use of public lands, said “the process is broken.”

“My advice to the agency would be to go back to what the answer should have been in all those lawsuits years ago and make the forest plans very simple and broad,” Turcke said.

See more in the Dec. 3, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.