WRNF draft to be released Thursday | PostIndependent.com

WRNF draft to be released Thursday

The White River National Forest is set to release its long-awaited draft travel management plan on July 27, forest officials announced Thursday. The travel management plan will determine where motorized vehicles can be used on the WRNF, what roads and trails will be open to the public and how they can be used. Next Thursday’s release of the plan will kick-off a 90-day public comment period on the proposal. The final plan will be released sometime next summer. WRNF officials will host a “roll-out” of the travel management plan for the press next week to discuss the future of motorized vehicle travel on the forest, an issue that has become contentious in recent years. Motorized vehicle use on the WRNF has been increasing by about 4.4 percent annually and will increase exponentially in the near future – 4,000 percent over current levels by 2050, according to WRNF recreation program manager Rich Doak. “The only thing that will slow down ATV use is if the price of gasoline gets so astronomical, people drop out of the market,” Doak said in April. Greg Noss, land use officer for High Country Four-Wheelers, said he hopes the forest’s travel management plan will maintain the status quo for motor vehicle use on the WRNF. He said he’d hate to see the forest close some two-track trails.”Unfortunately, gas drilling’s going to go on and we’re going to wind up with a two-lane highway somewhere because there’s a gas and oil permit out there,” Noss said. “But, we all like gas. We all got natural gas in our house.”But environmentalists worry the travel management plan will allow more harm to be done to a forest that’s already impacted by an abundance of roads and trails. “It looks like the Forest Service is going to be bringing in a lot of the ‘bandit’ trails into the system, basically sanctioning formal illegal use by giving it the stamp of approval now,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop. “That’s bad public policy.”Bandit trails, also called “ghost” roads, are roads or trails created by forest visitors with all-terrain or other vehicles. WRNF spokeswoman Kristi Ponozzo confirmed Shoemaker’s claim that some bandit trails will be added to the forest road system. “We just felt that was an important part of the travel management plan process,” Ponozzo said. The WRNF needs to get rid of some of the bandit trails that are not in “good places,” she said, but others that are “viable routes” will be incorporated into the forest road system. “This is just a draft, not the final,” she said of the plan. “And we’re really looking toward folks like the Wilderness Workshop and private citizens letting us know what trails do we need and what trails do we not need and why. The same goes for roads.”Shoemaker said he hopes the forest officials took the environmentally friendly route with their plan. “I hope the travel management plan seeks to develop the most efficient and sustainable travel system possible” – one that meets the needs of the people while leaving the landscape intact, Shoemaker said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com

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