MEDFORD — The U.S. Forest Service will make 3,176 miles of roads available for the mixed use of highway-legal and off-highway motorized vehicles in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
The long-awaited travel management plan decision released Wednesday also includes 230 miles of trails that can be used by OHV riders, out of the roughly 1,200 miles of trails in the forest.
The only cross-country OHV travel allowed in the forest will be the existing Woodruff off-highway vehicle area near Prospect, and selected gravel bars in the lower Rogue, Illinois, Chetco and Elk rivers.
"This decision provides for a diversity of motorized and nonmotorized opportunities that reduces conflict between uses, improves public safety and maintains and protects important natural and cultural resources," forest supervisor Scott Conroy said in a prepared statement.
The 45-day appeal period for the decision begins Monday, ending March 11. The 1.8-million acre forest has some 5,300 miles of roads.
Steve Croucher, president of the local Motorcycle Riders Association, said his group will review the document over the coming week. Route connectivity is a big issue with association members who like to ride in the forest, he said.
"We look for access corridors," he said. "Our concern would be if they altered or cut off access routes. That's one of the things we will be looking for."
The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center also will be poring over the document, said George Sexton, conservation director for the environmental watchdog group.
"We will take a long, hard look at the record of decision," he said. "One element we won't appeal is the mixed use on some back country logging roads. Motorized recreation should take place on roads. That's something we support."
But the group is concerned that the decision will permit OHV use on the Boundary Trail between the Wild Rivers and Siskiyou ranger districts, further damaging important botanical areas, he said.
The draft environmental impact statement released for the travel management plan last year concluded that only about 2 percent of forest visitors between 2002 and 2007 participated in OHV use, he said.
"It looks to me like 98 percent of forest users are getting screwed by this decision," Sexton said, adding, "And that's leaving aside botanical, environmental and other resource issues."
But forest officials say the decision reflects an effort to fairly and responsibly meet the needs of forest users while protecting natural resources. It does not include over-the-snow vehicles.
The decision is the result of a nationwide effort launched in 2005 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 tried very hard to balance everything in this decision," said Steve Johnson, the forest's interdisciplinary team leader on the project. "We looked at the resources and really listened to the public to do the best job we could. It wasn't an easy decision.
"Some people will like the decision but others on both sides of the issues will not be happy," he added.
As an example, he cited the controversy over the Boundary Trail.
"That trail will remain open (for OHV use) but a highly used connecting trail will not," he said, noting the agency likely will be roundly condemned by both sides for that specific decision.
This spring, motor vehicle use maps for the forest will be available free to the public, he said. The maps will include information such as the type of vehicle allowed on each route, season open for use and where off-road travel for dispersed camping is open. Routes not shown on the special maps will not be open to public motor vehicle travel.
"Those maps will take some getting used to," Johnson said of their complexity. "They should be used in concert with our regular forest maps."
The final environmental impact statement and record of decision for motorized vehicle use on the forest are available at www.mailtribune.com/ohv-travel-plan.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.