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Deadline July 8: Comment on Okanogan-Wenatchee Motorized Plan

Posted by Andrea Imler at Jun 30, 2016 03:40 PM |

Where can you drive a car, ATV or dirt bike in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest? That's the question for hikers to weigh in on before July 8.

Boiling Lake within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Photo by Andrea Imler.

Where can you drive a car, ATV or dirt bike in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest? That's the question for hikers to weigh in on before July 8.

New Motorized Travel Management Plan under consideration

Hikers have an opportunity to comment on the draft Travel Management Plan for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, 4 million acres of forestland stretching from the Canadian border to the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Read WTA's past coverage of the planning process.

The Forest Service is considering a new Motorized Travel Management Plan that would determine which roads and trails would be open to motorized use by everything from passenger cars to ATVs and dirt bikes, making this a critical issue for trail users of all stripes.

  • Currently, motorized vehicles are allowed anywhere within the National Forest where they’re not specifically prohibited.
  • Under the proposed plans, motorized vehicles will be prohibited except in areas where they’re specifically allowed.

Travel management plan falls short, needs to balance access with resource protection

Of the alternatives presented in the proposed Travel Management Plan, WTA supports Alternative C. It balances recreational access and provides a dispersed camping corridor plan to make overnight recreation sustainable, while protecting Critical Fish Habitat in nearby streams and rivers.

More than 25 years have passed since the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest last examined its motorized travel management. Washington state’s population has grown and expectations are that Washington will add more 2 million people by 2040 -- many of whom will want to enjoy the forest.

A table comparing the four proposals.

Majority of recreation on the forest is non-motorized, but plan would increase motorized recreational access without adequate review

Each year, 54 percent of Washingtonians go hiking, according to the 2013 Washington State Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

The National Forest's internal assessments reflect the same thing. The Motorized Travel Management Project’s Recreation Specialist Report states that “hiking/walking” is top land-based activity on the OWNF, followed by “viewing natural features” and “relaxing” with 53 percent of forest visitors engaging in a non-motorized recreational activity.

However, in spite of these trends, the plan proposes increasing access for a new class of vehicles -- WATVs (or modified ATVs) -- before conducting any site-specific analysis about potential impacts. The current plan won't be asking how increased traffic on forest roads and trails would impact the surrounding environment and recreational experience for hikers and other forest users.

It appears that the forest has never done that kind of site-specific analysis about the effects of the motorized travel system on either road or trails, and isn't planning to under the Motorized Travel Management Plan. The forest is proposing to keep the current motorized system (with the exception of closing cross-country travel) without further analysis, allowing future decisions on roads and motorized trails across the forest to be handled at the district level.

More analysis needed on the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, Teanaway, Entiat, Naches areas

Areas where this analysis is of utmost importance to hikers includes the Upper Mad River, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, Teanaway, Entiat and Naches. These places currently allow motorized use on trails and the Forest Service must ensure that those trails and the surrounding landscape can withstand the impacts of motorized travel and are not demonstrating conflicts between existing recreational uses like hiking.

We urge the forest to conduct site-specific recreation and environmental analysis of the motorized travel system. At the very least, the forest should provide guidance and set a timeline for when individual ranger districts will need to conduct their analysis.

In short, we must ensure the surrounding landscape can withstand the impacts of motorized use.

WTA's thoughts on the proposed plan include:

  • WTA supports Alternative C because it balances recreational access while protecting nearby streams and rivers.
  • We also support OWNF's plans for dispersed camping within the forest.
  • Demand continues to grow for non-motorized recreation within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and the final plan should reflect that.
  • WTA supports the decision to close the forest to cross-country motorized travel off the existing road and trail system.
  • The final plan should outline how the forest plans to educate, enforce and monitor motorized roads and trails to ensure the environment is protected and user conflicts diminished.

Submit your comments by July 8

This plan will be the roadmap for how the forest manages its motorized travel for the next several decades.

That is why it is so important that you submit your comments on this plan.

Your message will be more powerful if you tell the Forest Service why the Okanogan-Wenatchee is important to you. We have drafted a letter below to get you started, but your comments will be more meaningful with your unique perspective added.

Draft letter:

Dear Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Motorized Travel Management Plan.

As a hiker, I appreciate the goals outlined in Alternative C to balance recreation access while protecting Critical Fish Habitat in nearby rivers and streams.

However, I am concerned that the forest has not conducted site-specific analysis about potential effects this plan would have on existing recreation uses like hiking and whether the ecosystem can withstand increased use. We urge the forest to conduct site-specific recreation and environmental analysis of the OWNF's motorized travel system, especially in places that are important to hikers like the Upper Mad River, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, Entiat and the Teanaway.

As Washington's population expands, recreation trends show more and more people are interested in non-motorized recreation activities like hiking. Fifty-three percent of visitors to the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest use the forest for non-motorized activities.

I support OWNF's plan for dispersed camping corridors. Sustainable and responsible dispersed camping opportunities are of critical importance to the hiking community and many other recreation enthusiasts.

I look forward to seeing the OWNF develop a forest-wide plan to educate visitors to the forest, enforce and monitor motorized roads and trails to ensure our incredible natural resources are protected and outdoors enthusiasts of all stripes can enjoy their individual activities sustainably.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment,

(Your name)

Please submit your comments by July 8 directly to the Forest Service at this email address: okawen-travel-management@fs.fed.us

More background and research links


Additional background: In 2006 the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest undertook an ambitious goal of “establishing a clearly defined system of roads, trails, and areas where motorized use could occur across a 4 million acre landscape.” Now a decade later, that goal has been reduced to essentially approving the current motorized travel system with a few modifications and pushing individual motorized road and trail decisions to the district level without any sort of timeline to develop district level analyses.

While WTA understands the challenges of meeting the original ambitious goal, we believe that the holistic approach that the forest undertook in 2006 for travel management planning is essential to creating a sustainable road system that provides adequate recreation access and environmental protection.

Comments

Link Not working

Hi, the link to the National Forest CARA site is broken. I'd like to comment but even with searching around in the Forest Servcie's web site, the links to that comment page are broken.

Posted by:


BethS on Jul 04, 2016 05:10 PM

Info link not working

Tried the link to "Read more about the Motorized Travel Plan" and landed on a page that only said "Invalid Project"

Posted by:


Ramona on Jul 04, 2016 10:39 PM

Re: Links not working

Hi Beth and Ramona,

The Forest Service was doing some website maintenance over the weekend, so that might have been the issue. The links appear to be working now, but please let me know if you continue to have any trouble.

Frances Chiem
WTA Advocacy & Outreach Associate

Posted by:


Francakes on Jul 05, 2016 09:55 AM

USFS has again taken plan off-line

I was able to view the Plan for quite a time in middle of the day, is now unavailable.
Sierra Club has it that comments must be in by July 7th! So, tried to check.

Posted by:


Ramona on Jul 05, 2016 05:52 PM

Thank you

Just wanted to thank WTA for highlighting this issue and directing my attention to it. Great work!

Posted by:


Twiga on Jul 06, 2016 03:09 PM

You're asking for more studies??

Asking for more studies seems absurd when the forest service already doesn't have enough budget for basic maintenance of trails and other facilities.

Posted by:


fry_dave on Jul 06, 2016 04:33 PM

I am opposed to the suggestion

I am opposed to going with what WTA's suggestion to use plan C. The riders are the ones that clean out most of the trails in the Okanogan. Without this being done by them the trails would be in a complete mess. Its not like there are a lot of riders and those I have met while hiking are VERY courteous.

Posted by:


onewhohikes on Jul 07, 2016 05:39 AM

Re: I am opposed to the suggestion

Hi onewhohikes,

Thanks for your feedback. We do appreciate the work that others do, including the motorized community, to help maintain our trails. I wanted to clarify WTA's position on the OWNF travel management plan.

We are not opposed to motorized use on the forest, nor are we asking for any roads or trails to be closed to the use. What we are suggesting is that the the process that the Forest Service began in 2006, which was reviewing all roads and trails that were open to motorized vehicles, should be done now -- a site-specific analysis. Only with this analysis can the Forest Service identify where impacts are happening on the land and where possible conflicts are occurring with nonmotorized recreation such as hiking. Through this analysis, the Forest Service can determine whether or not that motorized use should continue there, depending on the impact(s) its creating. We think that the new class of vehicles, WATVs, and their routes (both on open roads and trails) should also be part of the site-specific analysis of impacts before they are opened to that use.

We do support the Forest Service's decision to close the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to cross-country travel as this decision would bring them up to speed with a national ruling that closed all forests across the country to cross-country travel.

I hope this helps to clarify where WTA is at with the OWNF proposal.

Andrea Imler, WTA's Advocacy Director

Posted by:


Andrea Imler on Jul 07, 2016 03:20 PM

Prefer alternative C

I prefer alternative C, because it gives most of the present motorized travel on forest roads, while preserving significant non motorized areas off of the roads.

Posted by:


Banjeff on Jul 12, 2016 10:32 AM