The US Forest Service proposes that 3,467 miles of roads be available for highway-legal and off-highway motorized vehicles in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service proposes that 3,467 miles of roads be available for highway-legal and off-highway motorized vehicles in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

In addition, the agency would designate two "motorized play" areas in the High Cascades Ranger District, including the existing Woodruff off-highway vehicle area near Prospect and another site to be developed near Willow Lake.

Those suggestions are included in Alternative 3, the proposed action alternative contained in the motorized vehicle use draft environmental impact statement just released by the agency.

"It's important to remember the proposed action is just the starting point," stressed Steve Johnson, the forest's team leader for travel management planning. "The final decision, which will consider public input, will probably be a blend of some sort.

"The final decision will likely incorporate elements of alternatives two, three and four," he added later.

Alternative 2 would implement actions consistent with the agency's travel management rule while making no changes in the forest's current system of roads, trails and off-road vehicle areas. Alternative 4 proposes a reduction in motorized use over the action alternative. Alternative 1 calls for no action.

There are 5,914 miles of road and 1,155 miles of trails, including 170 miles of trails for motorized vehicles on the 1.8 million-acre forest.

The draft plan was expected to be mailed to interested individuals and groups Wednesday, Johnson said. Over-the-snow vehicles are not included in the proposal, he noted.

A 45-day public comment period on the plan begins Saturday.

Six open houses are scheduled to review the environmental document and take public comments.

The draft plan is part of a nationwide effort to establish a designated and managed system for motorized use on national forests because increased OHV use has caused user conflicts and resource damage, officials said.

"We will be looking at that with much interest," said Steve Croucher, president of the Motorcycle Riders Association. "We would like to see what kind of corridors and routes are available to us. Connectivity is a big issue with us."

The agency should reduce OHV use on serpentine soils known for their rich botanical diversity, said Rich Nawa, an environmental activist working with the Siskiyou Regional Education Project in Josephine County.

The upper Rogue River area is better suited for off-road motorized vehicles than serpentine areas which can be easily damaged, he said.

"The OHV areas near Prospect make total sense," he said. "That's where it needs to be emphasized. That would allow it to be done in places where the impact is relatively low. The serpentine areas need to be managed for non-motorized recreation."

A final decision on the draft EIS is expected in September, followed by the release of motor vehicle use routes in the forest by the end of the year, Johnson said. Any routes not shown on the maps will not be open to public motor vehicle travel, he added.

"The maps will show where you can go in a wheeled motorized vehicle," he said, adding the maps will be updated each year.

"Right now, everything is open unless it is posted as closed," he said. "The change will be that everything is closed unless posted as open."

A copy of the draft EIS is available at www.mailtribune.com/ohv-draft-eis. Copies of the document can be obtained at one of the ranger district offices or at the Medford Interagency Office, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford.

Comments posted via regular mail should be sent to USDA Forest Service, Travel Management Team, 645 Washington St., Ashland, OR 97520. Send e-mail comments to comments-pacificnorthwest-rogueriver-siskiyou@fs.fed.us.