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Legislating additional forest access


Rep. Greg Walden has introduced a bill to stop the travel management rule in forests throughout the West

With the 2005 Travel Management Rule firmly entrenched on the Ochoco National Forest and elsewhere across Oregon, Rep. Greg Walden is hoping to stop it.

The document was developed to help the U.S. Forest Service better govern and enforce motorized traffic use on public lands throughout the country and protect natural resources from damage.

On the Ochoco, this meant that many of the long-used forest roads were closed to recreational vehicle traffic, a move that did not sit well with local ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts.

Walden (R-Ore.) has heard similar outcry in other parts of Oregon and he has consequently introduced a bill to end the restrictions the Travel Management Rule imposed.

"Whether it's for hunting, camping, firewood cutting, berry picking, or just enjoying a ride through the woods in a truck or ATV, accessing our forests is a way of life in rural Oregon," he said. "Far too often, though, management decisions are handed down from Washington, D.C., by agencies that have likely only seen the forests on a map. It's time for that to stop."

Walden said the newly introduced Forest Access in Rural Communities Act (H.R. 4272) would return forest management back to the local communities whose citizens have firsthand knowledge about the state and uses of the forests. The bill would also prohibit implementation or enforcement of the Travel Management Rule in national forests throughout the West.

When it comes to road closures, the legislation would place restrictions on any attempt by the Forest Service to decommission or change road densities in forests. In order to do so, the Forest Service would have to consult during the planning process with affected counties. Furthermore, they would have to get concurrence from those counties before the plan went into effect.

"This common-sense bill will put local communities back in the driver's seat in the Forest Service's travel management planning process," Walden said.

Coincidentally, the bill has been introduced during a time when the Ochoco National Forest is completing plans to add more recreational vehicle access. The Ochoco Summit Trail System project will add about 130 miles of new trails for ATV and motorcycle use.

"ATVs became restricted on a lot of roads," said Patrick Lair, public affairs specialist for the Ochoco. "We recognized a need to provide suitable recreational opportunities for motorized users."

Ochoco staff released their final Environmental Impact Statement and draft Record of Decision on March 14. They are now subject to a 45-day objection period, which will conclude near the end of this month. If no objections arise during that timeframe, they will implement the new trail system.