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Public opinion gathered on upkeep of roads

Mt. Hood National Forest held meetings to answer questions

Photo Credit: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Clackamas River District Ranger Jackie Groce greets Bark Program Director Russ Plaeger at an open house on the Mt. Hood National Forests road system analysis in Estacada on Nov. 5.With government funding for roads decreasing, the Mt. Hood National Forest is faced with the decision of how best to use that money in regard to the forest’s many access roads.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 5-6, Mt. Hood National Forest officials held open house meetings at the Clackamas River District Office in Estacada and the Zigzag District Office in Zigzag.

The purpose was to speak to the public for the forest’s Travel Analysis Process on the subject of forest roads.

As mandated by the U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Rule, the national forest is required to plan how to make road systems less costly and more ecologically stable, while still providing an appropriate level of access to forest lands. The plan must be ready by the end of 2015.

The meetings in Estacada and Zigzag were part of a series of four meant to gather public opinion for the forest roads analysis.

“The travel analysis process and report is not a proposed action or decision on how to manage our road system, but it is a recommendation intended to help inform possible future road management planning and decisions,” said Lisa Northrop, Mt. Hood National Forest supervisor.

The Nov. 5 open house in Estacada was crowded with locals, recreation enthusiasts and Bark representatives eager to share their views on the Mt. Hood National Forest’s road system in the Clackamas River Ranger District.

Russ Plaeger, the program director for Bark, a Portland-based environmental watch-dog group for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said he was there to encourage the Forest Service to “invest in the places that matter to more people.”

Plaeger was present at both the Sandy and Estacada meetings, advocating for the upkeep of certain forest roads used to access recreation and the closure of those that do not.

“There isn’t money to maintain all of them,” Plaeger said.

Estacada Development Association Chairman Phil Lingelbach said he attended the meeting mostly from a personal standpoint.

“My interest is keeping roads open for trails people like to hike,” Lingelbach said.

Lingelbach added he’d like to keep as many roads open and maintained as possible to access recreational opportunities.

He is concerned that closing roads that may be only popular a certain time of year for mushroom gathering or the like will have unintended consequences.

Recreation to the Mt. Hood National Forest draws people through Estacada, so limiting recreational access to the forest could have a negative impact on the town, Lingelbach said.

In addition, Lingelbach said he dislikes the practice of digging a large impassible ditch as a method for closing Forest Service Roads.

“I just think it’s out of place for the environment,” he said and added that he’d like the Forest Service to find another method to close roads that would make it easier to reopen a road once there are funds to maintain it.

Lingelbach acknowledged the position the Forest Service is in with not having enough funds to maintain the entire road system.

Local logger Chad Wheeler said he is concerned that the Forest Service will close or remove roads to areas already under timber contracts, roads that will just have to be rebuilt later.

Logging companies would have to rebuild the road and then remove it after the timber harvest, Wheeler said.

“I’ve experienced that,” he said.

Wheeler said he thinks there has been an overemphasis on decommissioning roads, which is expensive, and that the Forest Service would do better to redirect money used for removing roads to maintaining them instead.

“I think it’s a political issue,” he said. “I’m not opposed to taking care of environmental issues, but it’s the scale of how you do it.”

Wheeler added on a personal note that he was happy that so many locals had attended the meeting.

Many Estacada area residents hunt and fish and consider the forest their “backyard,” Wheeler said.

“We don’t like our access being removed,” he said.

Comment forms and instructions for returning them to the Forest Service can be found at tinyurl.com/mthoodtap.

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