Community members are working together to restore the McKay Creek area
About 10 years ago I headed up a wildlife crew on the Ochoco National Forest. One of our projects was to work with high school volunteers to build a buck and pole fence around the area up McKay Creek known as the pit. We spent about a week on the project. Within a month or so, most of the fence was torn apart and burned and OHVs (off-highway vehicles, including ATVs and 4-wheel drive trucks) resumed riding behind the fenced area and impacting a spring and small stream.
Many people in the community recognize the resource damage up McKay Creek caused by OHVs and are trying to help out. One source of help is coming from Crook County High School.
Some people say that much of the damage is being done by teenagers. Whether that's true or not, the high school is addressing the issue. The school is now in the process of developing a natural resource/agricultural career pathway and is planning for field work and collaboration with the different agencies in town.
"I am very much interested in getting our kids out into the woods, having them understand the importance of the Crooked River system and its relationship to agriculture, our lifestyle, responsible recreation and economic implications," said Jim Golden, the high school's principal for the last two years. He now lives up the McKay Creek valley about a mile from the forest boundary and is concerned with the resource damage occurring there from OHV use.
Golden enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking and simply being outdoors. "For years I've loved the Ochocos for a variety of reasons," he said. "I was stupefied when I discovered how much OHV use there was up McKay Creek." He said he's not against OHV use, as long as it's done responsibly and doesn't damage the resource.
I accompanied biology teacher Chuck Gates and sophomore R.J. Kleinschmit on a visit up McKay Creek recently. Kleinschmit has an interest in the outdoors and hopes to pursue a college degree relating to biological science.
"I can't believe it," he said. "Frankly, when I first got here I thought there was no way it could be this bad but it's a lot worse than I thought it could be." This was the first time that Kleinschmit has been in the area and we drove only the first mile of the road up toward Harvey Gap.
"I'm all for the conservation of wildlife and plant life," he said, "and I don't have a problem with responsible OHV users, but when they come out here and trash the area for wildlife and where people come out to enjoy the forest, then I don't support this use."
Gates, a top birding expert, said that in the past this area had a high concentration of pygmy owls. But none responded to his calls that day.
"We are going to begin a long-term program where we are actively working with the forest service on some of these issues," said Gates, as we stood near a wet meadow that has been damaged, despite several signs surrounding it. He said his classes may be participating in streambank rehabilitation as well as goshawk surveys.
Not all illegal motorized users are getting away unnoticed, however. "Several citations have been issued since the emergency closure began December 1," said Julie Lombard, law enforcement officer on the Ochoco National Forest. "We have also conducted some saturation patrols and plan on more in the future. There is blatant resource damage being done, plus it's also an eyesore."
Lombard said the forest service can and will pursue restitution costs for the resource damage, which can often be higher than the original citation.
Besides resource damage, Lombard is also investigating dumping, vandalism and shooting violations. The forest service is also pursuing the dumping of the two burned-out abandoned vehicles in the pit area. The sheriff's department also assists on cases such as these. Several signs and kiosks have been burned and destroyed and during one incident there were search and rescue workers in the background when a sign was shot.
There are several ways for more people in the community to get involved if they don't want to see this continued abuse occur up McKay Creek or anywhere else in the forest.
The forest service is currently holding public meetings and workshops for developing a Travel Management Plan that will lay the framework for where all vehicles will be permitted on the entire forest. The final plan is expected to be complete in 2009. Currently off-road travel is permitted on forest service land unless designated closed. Under the new rules, off road travel will be prohibited except for areas/routes designated open, the opposite of what is allowed now.
People can either submit comments electronically by going to the local forest service Web site, http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/centraloregon/travel-mgmt/index.shtml, or mailing them to the Deschutes National Forest, Attn: Rachel Griffin, 1001 SW Emkay Drive, Bend, OR 97702, or verbally over the phone or in person.
Anyone interested in helping monitor the McKay closure area (closed through May 21) can call Erica Ellison at the Ochoco National Forest at 416-6482. Another option is for the community to form a group such as Friends of McKay or Friends of the Ochocos.
One volunteer group that is helping out is the Ochoco Trail Riders, an OHV group that has been around for over two years.
"As OHV enthusiasts, we are concerned as much as anybody else about the damage that's being done in the McKay drainage," said Bob Flint, one of the group's members from Redmond. "We all agree that the damage being done there is unacceptable and our group has been concerned with it for almost three years now."
Flint feels that most of the damage to wet meadows is being done by what he calls "young mud-bogging teenaged males in 4 X 4 pickup trucks." However, he noted there is damage being done by ATVs up some of the side drainages and hillsides.
Every Saturday since mid-December, the Ochoco Trail Riders have been patrolling the McKay closure, visiting each of the kiosks to ensure the closure signs are in place and there are enough maps available. They have caught illegal riders and have given them warnings, according to Flint, but have not taken down license plate numbers.
"" answer to McKay is a managed, well-located trail system with designated staging areas and adequate trails for the ATVs and motorcycles," Flint explained.
As far as the emergency closure up McKay, Flint feels that the closure should be more of a soil moisture closure rather than a calendar closure. After May 21, he said there can still be rain and snow causing moisture in the drainage. "If it's still muddy, then they will not have gained anything," he said.
Hunters should also be concerned with the OHV damage on the forest. While reading the latest issue of Oregon Hunter, the magazine for the Oregon Hunters Association, I noticed that editor Duane Dungannon was very concerned about the OHV issue. His editorial is titled "Report losers tearing up your public hunting ground." He says in the story that this time of year four-wheelers and wildlife are in low-lying areas.
"The last thing these animals need is to have a dirty-minded Bubba roaring through their habitat, displacing them from their domain and turning their foraging areas into an arena suitable only for mud wrestling."
He goes on to say that damage to delicate riparian areas not only destroys flora and displaces fauna, but also results in erosion that destroys stream habitat. He encourages anyone seeing this kind of activity to contact the TIP (Turn in Poachers) hotline at 800-452-7888. You can also call the Ochoco National Forest at 416-6500.
"I want to bring people together and help improve education and the resource," said Principal Golden. "I support the closure due to the degradation in the area. Now, we all need to come together and create a management plan that works for all the users and maintains the resource."