Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bitterroot National Forest Travel Plan

The Bitterroot National Forest is developing a new travel plan to govern which roads and trails in the National Forest will be open to different kinds of motorized use, including street legal vehicles, ATVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles.

Motorized traffic has increased dramatically in the forest since the last travel plan was issued in 1976, and the Forest Rangers recognize the need for new regulations to protect the health of the forest.

The Bitterroot National Forest has issued a nearly 300 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for its proposed plan to curtail motorized use in certain areas. They have asked for public comments, which are due on Monday, November 9, 2009. This is a very contentious issue in the Bitterroot, with the local Offroad Association and the Snowmobilers up in arms that any trails at all may be closed to motorized transportation. The hikers, backpackers, horse riders, anglers and some backcountry hunters would like to see many of the current roads and trails closed or restricted to prevent these vehicles from disturbing the natural beauty with engine noise, tearing up the ecosystem and dispersing wildlife.

I've never been a fan of ATV or snowmobile use on public lands. ATVs do tear up the ground and vegetation and increase erosion, and all motorized use disturbs and harasses wildlife. Motorized transportation also allows lazy people easy access to pristine backcountry.  As with dating, access that is too easy leads to a lack of respect, and we end up with a backcountry that has been mistreated and dumped on.

I'm reading through the DEIS this week so I can get my comments in by next Monday. I missed the initial planning stage, which was done in 2008, but I've gone through some of the comments that people submitted last year. Some of them are pretty entertaining. Here are excerpts of some of my favorites:

“Four-wheelers and motorcycles should stay on existing roads and not travel cross country. Same thing with them snowmobiles – they should sit on the roads as well. They smash down the little trees and everything else.”

“You have no authority to make rules-laws because you are not elected officials. Areas for non-motorized use are called national parks and wilderness areas, everything else is open to motorized use. Don’t log something to pay for your salaries and new trucks with a 20,000 pound logging skidder and then tell me I can’t drive a 700 pound 4-wheeler on it. Log it, burn it, and leave the gate open when you leave.”

“Open up more roads into backcountry so some areas are not overused to cause soil and water problems. Have areas with bathrooms (outhouses), water, maybe horse rentals with a manned booth to charge a use fee to help with costs of maintenance. There’s a lot of people that are fat, old, or lazy but still love nature and are Americans. We have studies on water quality, soils and wildlife. How about a study on the effects of taking nature away from people.

“It’s a disgrace to let the public tear up roads with ATVs and especially motorbikes. They don’t care how much they destroy the areas they ride in. Always spinning their tires. No respect. I see many places where the public hauls dead animals, garbage and general trash and dump it, and always in the creek. And shoot everything full of holes. I hope you guys can get some things closed up to motorized traffic."

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