Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Wallowa-Whitman Forest Travel Management Plan: What's it all about?

Photo: Cayuse Flats OHV damage near Granny View on the Hat Point road. High elevation meadows are very slow to recover and the exposed bare soil helps invasive
weeds spread into otherwise healthy native plant communties

The 2.3 million-acre Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (WWNF) holds the dubious title of being the third most roaded National Forest in the nation with 9,111 total miles of roads. While it’s hard to imagine enough roads to stretch across the U.S. several times, packed into the non-wilderness areas, this is the imprint left from the height of industrial resource extraction. The road system is the most environmentally degrading legacy on the WWNF and there is not a single management reason why we need a road system anywhere near this size and a long list of reasons why we need a much smaller one.

So why are there so many miles of roads on the Wallowa-Whitman? In the early 1900s, roads were built along streams and rivers primarily for mining operations. In the 1950s and '60s, as more wood and minerals were extracted, roads were located on mid-slopes and ridge tops. The majority of the road system was built in the 1970s and '80s for intensive timber harvest. The eventual result was damaged watersheds roaded from drainage to ridge top. Oregon was hit heavily by extractive industries. The first- and second-most roaded national forests in the nation are also in Oregon.

The WWNF currently has 1,806 miles of designated roads and OHV trails inside riparian areas alone. One motorized stream crossing can do a lot of damage to water quality, yet the Wallowa-Whitman currently has 13,597 total road and OHV trail stream crossings! The survival of salmon, steelhead and bull trout are jeopardized by the excessive number of roads in riparian areas and stream crossings.

Right now, elk populations are on a downward trend and elk are moving onto private land, causing chronic problems for wildlife managers, ranchers and hunters. Road densities on the Wallowa-Whitman routinely exceed 2.5 miles per square mile of land, a threshold above which elk do poorly. A key indicator for elk security is the total percent of habitat in the project area greater than one-half mile from a road. Right now, 89 percent of the project area qualifies as within the "poor quality security area" (less than one-half mile from a road). For other key national forest resources, such as old-growth forests, snags and fisheries, the situation is similar. With numerous routes going to the same place, the current road system provides a level of access that is causing widespread damage to our national forest.

What the Travel Management Plan is really about is determining what we are going to find on the WWNF once we get there. Will we find wildlife and fisheries thriving within intact and pristine environments that provide our society with invaluable ecosystem services while simultaneously offering our families solitude from increasingly busy, technical lives or will we find frustration, beat-up landscapes with widespread roads and noise from vehicles?

I support the alternative that closes the most roads because there would remain over 2,500 open miles of roads on the WWNF. This would provide ample access and also be a huge step toward ensuring a WWNF we can all enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment