Wallowa-Whitman National Forest supervisor withdraws travel management plan, halts appeal process, cites confusion over how many miles of roads would be closed to motor vehicles

BAKER CITY, Oregon , April 17, 2012 (press release) – It has been one month since the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest released its travel management decision. Since then, there has been considerable public interest and debate over various aspects of the plan. As I have listened to the many people who are commenting on the plan, it has become apparent that there is a good bit of confusion, as well as some concerns that would benefit from more discussion.

Because of these concerns I have decided to withdraw the travel management decision, and stop the clock on the appeal process that is underway. The forest needs to develop a travel management plan for public motorized recreation, but I want to be sure the various options for moving forward are considered in a constructive manner. I believe that by taking the time now to allow for further dialogue and consideration regarding the concerns that have been raised; we will develop a better outcome in the long run. Some of the key concerns include the following.

A main concern is there have been significantly different numbers bantered about regarding how many miles of roads would be designated open for public motorized recreational use, and how many are being closed to motor vehicles. The number question is a challenging one because there are different ways of looking at the situation. For instance, there currently are over 9,000 miles of roads on the Wallowa-Whitman national forest landscape, but only about 4,700 miles are considered open to the public. Many of the others are impassable because they are overgrown with vegetation. Meanwhile, the project area included in the travel management decision is focused on 1.3 million of the 2.4 million acres on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Road totals for the project area are therefore less than those for the entire forest.

Along with the roads question, is a concern that the maps provided to the public do not offer enough detail for people to adequately consider the potential implications of the decision. I have heard several people suggest that the agency provide more information on these maps, such as road numbers, landmarks, and watershed boundaries. Without more detailed information, it is difficult to provide specific responses back to the agency about the decision, and what people might like to see changed.

Another key issue is that many people are concerned about access for firewood. While the travel plan decision provides for identification of additional firewood cutting areas across the forest, many people are concerned that this approach may not be adequate to meet the need for fuelwood in our northeast Oregon communities. I have met with quite a few people to discuss this concern and appreciate the various suggestions that have been offered regarding ways to address the issue.

A separate concern involves access to private lands and permitted uses such as grazing and mining on the forest. Access to private land and permitted uses is fully allowed by the travel management plan. Private land owners would still have access to their cabins, miners would continue to have access to their claims, and grazing permit holders will retain access in allotments to administer their permits.

These are all important concerns and I appreciate the people who are raising them. I also think the agency has a responsibility to address these concerns, including clarifying misinformation, providing more specific information to the public as requested, and engaging in further dialogue.

I truly appreciate the passion that has been shown in response to this decision, and want to encourage everyone to direct this passion in a positive, productive and respectful way. I encourage anyone who has additional suggestions to share them with me or one of our local district rangers. The Wallowa-Whitman national forest is treasured by all, so let’s be sure we develop a plan that is reasonable, responsible, and makes sense now and for the future.

Monica J. Schwalbach

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