Here it is on the front page:
July 26, 2007- Proposed forest road closures torque off-roaders
By Eric Laughlin, Democrat staff writer
The U.S. Forest Service's plan to decrease off-highway vehicle roads and trails by the end of the year sparked a heated debate during a public meeting attended by more than 200 OHV users Tuesday night.
Four new management alternatives, including one preferred measure, were presented to the crowd by representatives from the Eldorado National Forest Travel Management team. All measures would decrease the linear mileage of roads and trails that have for decades been used by OHV users. All would also pose seasonal closures.
Travel management team leader Jason Nedlo acknowledged the exponential growth measured among OHV users in recent years, but said the agency must decrease trail mileage to better maintain the land, protect resources and better balance the area between users of all types.
During a question-and-answer session that followed Nedlo's presentation of the alternatives, members of the audience were quick with their sharp inquiries.
“Why do you have to close down these routes just because they're too much for you to maintain?” asked one OHV rider in attendance. “Why don't you just leave them for us to maintain as we have for 30 years?”
Nedlo answered that as a land management team, he and his colleagues are not about to embrace a system where the routes are not monitored.
“Their definition of sustainable is a bulldozed route,” said OHV rider Dave Wood. “Not only are they decreasing the trails but they want to dumb them down and take away the challenge for experienced riders.”
Questions heated up as the session progressed, with one audience member posing the question to the group of Forest Service personnel, “Do any of you actually have OHVs you ride on these trails?”
About half of the group of personnel raised their hands, but were slow in doing so, which drew laughs from the audience.
One man said, “What about you Jason?”
Laughs again erupted when Nedlo replied that he has a four-wheel drive that he takes up there.
Audience members also took issue with Nedlo's use of the term “stakeholders,” to describe the group that came together to draw up the alternatives.
But not long after it was explained that the stakeholders were merely members from public interest groups such as Rubicon Trail Foundation, the director of that group stood up and asked why some of the primary suggestions he offered up were not included in the list of alternatives.
“What about seasonal closure,” he said. “Every plan here includes a closure. I thought we all made it clear we didn't want a seasonal closure.”
Nedlo responded that the original proposed closure was six months and that that period was shortened after the stakeholders offered their feedback.
During his initial presentation before the question-and-answer session, Nedlo explained to the crowd that the timeline to approve one of the alternatives was put under pressure by a U.S. federal court ruling that stemmed from a lawsuit by environmentalist groups and a countersuit by OHV users. The court gave the Forest Service until the end of the year to get a new plan approved, one that is in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Forest Service's preferred proposal, alternative D, would cut road mileage down to 844 from 2,003 and trail mileage would go from 249 to 217. Only one other alternative of the four would trim the mileage to less. Alternative E would bring the road mileage down to 751 and trail mileage to 136.
The preferred alternative D would also come with a seasonal closure from Dec. 1 to April 30.
Though most of the crowd seemed unhappy with all of the proposed alternatives, the Forest Service has opened a communication line to the public for feedback up until Sept. 4.
Those looking to do so can either dial the agency's hotline at 295-5666, send a fax to 621-5297, mail a letter to Forest Supervisor Ramiro Villalvazo, attn: Travel Management DEIS, 100 Forni Road, Placerville 95667 or send an e-mail to [email protected]
. For more information on all of the alternative plans, log onto Eldorado National Forest - Projects & Plans
Supervisor Villalvazo could not attend the meeting due to a family emergency.
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