Siskiyou off-road travel plan released

After four years of planning, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy recently decided where people can ride motorized vehicles on the forest's 1.8 million acres.

"I recognize that no single user or group will completely agree with my decision, but I do hope they can appreciate that their comments and concerns have been heard," Conroy wrote in the record of decision. "This new strategy meets the purpose and need for the project, providing a balanced, managed system of motorized use while addressing the environmental and social issues the agencies heard from the public."

The decision took away about 10 percent of the trails where motorcycle sand quads could previously ride, from 255 miles to 230 miles, leaving 981 miles of trail off-limits. It allows all motorized vehicles on 3,176 of the forest's 4,573 miles of open roads, leaving 1,361 miles open to only highway-legal vehicles.

In the spring, the agency will provide free maps showing all open routes, seasonal closures and what types of vehicles are allowed. Routes not on the map will not be open to the public.

The plan also leaves 20 acres for cross country travel at the Woodruff Meadows play area north of Prospect, according to Steve Johnson, recreation planner.

Previously 275,000 acres, or about 15 percent of the whole forest, was open to cross country travel (excluding roads and trails) but only a fraction was actually usable because of vegetation and slope, Johnson said.

What jumps out at George Sexton of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center of Ashland is the number of open trails that intersect botanical and other protected areas. Motorcycle and quad enthusiasts made up 2 percent of all forest users between 2002 and 2007, and Sexton believes they should be limited to roads.

While 25 miles of sensitive trails were taken off limits, the popular Boundary Trail was left open year-round and the McGrew Trail southwest of O'Brien is still open in the dry season.

"Most reasonable people think that motorized recreation should take place on roads," Sexton said. "To sacrifice botanical areas, research natural areas and riparian reserves for 2 percent of users doesn't strike us as balanced. Someone has to be a voice for botanical areas and salmon-bearing watersheds without a voice, and that's KSWC."

"It wasn't an easy decision because of the passion on both sides," Johnson said.

Rocky Reeser of Medford was happy the Boundary Trail remained open, but lamented loss of other forest roads and trails in the Big Pine campground area.

The plan took away 10.2 miles of motorized access to roads near the McGrew Trail and Oregon Mountain Botanical Area, 6.4 miles of roads in the vicinity of Eight Dollar Mountain and Deer Creek, 11.9 miles of roads around Tennessee and Fiddler mountains, and about 12 miles of trails in the vicinity of Taylor Creek, Big Pine Spur, Onion Way and Swede Creek.

The plan will also allow motorized access to six gravel bars along the Rogue River between Foster Bar and Quosatana Creek, four popular bars on the Chetco River and one on the lower Illinois River.

Johnson and Wild Rivers District Ranger Joel King emphasized that changes can be made in the future.

There are also exceptions to the motorized bans for valid mining, firefighting, special events, livestock handling, and other permitted activities.

Motorized vehicle decision

The Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest's new plan does the following:

* Allows 3,176 miles of road for street-legal and off-road vehicles.
* Takes away 25 miles of trails formerly open to off-road vehicles, including some in the Big Pine and Taylor Creek areas.
* Leaves open 230 miles of trails, including popular McGrew and Boundary trails.
* Takes away about 30 miles of roads formerly open to all vehicles, including those near Fiddler Mountain, Tennessee Mountain, Oregon Mountain, and Eight Dollar Mountain.
* Says that any cross-country travel (not on designated trails or roads) is now prohibited.