As of Friday, July 1, 2016
DAILY SUN NEWS EDITORIAL
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is pushing a “preferred” plan that would slash backcountry vehicle access by nearly 80 percent and eliminate your ability to ride cross country.
Here in the heart of farmland, you may think the forest is far-removed. You may think that forest access doesn’t affect you.
But it does.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest extends from the Naches area here in our own county all the way to the Canadian border north of Oroville. The forest, at last full accounting, has more than 8,000 miles of roads and more than 1,000 miles of motorized vehicle trails. The trails and routes allow you to ride from U.S. Highway 12 all the way to the border without having to leave the North Cascades.
The roads and trails provide access to lakes, hiking areas, waterfalls, remote mountains and more. They provide an opportunity for accessing game during hunting season and for acquiring fire wood before winter sets in.
Officials would prefer you didn’t have those opportunities — at least not on the scale that Eastern Washingtonians are accustomed to having. So, forest managers are pushing their so-called travel management plan in the name of wildlife and habitat. They claim it’s necessary to restrict access to the public-owned land.
But is the travel plan really necessary? And is it really about protecting wildlife and habitat? Or is it really about controlling our culture, heritage and lifestyle here east of the Cascades? We believe it’s the latter.
Certainly some areas of the public forest should have restrictions on motor vehicle use. But eliminating 6,360 miles of roads and prohibiting all off-road riding is not the answer.
Unfortunately, federal officials would rather keep you out of public lands than manage them effectively.
Closing roads leads to less use and hampers the ability of fire crews to contain wildfires. Closing roads to motorized vehicles impedes the ability of some handicapped residents to access fishing, camping and other sites. And closing roads will make it easier for federal officials to further restrict activities on public lands.
We disagree with the federal government’s preferred plan of shutting down motorized travel on all but 1,640 miles of forest roads. If you’re an outdoor recreationalist. You should too.
If you want your forest roads and trails to remain open, you’ll need to speak up. Forest officials will hear from the public again during a 5 p.m. session tonight in Okanogan County Public Utility District headquarters, 1331 N. Second Ave., Okanogan.
But if you can’t make the meeting, you have until July 8 to submit written comments on the plan. To review the documents or submit comments, go to www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=46467.
We encourage you to oppose efforts to restrict motorized vehicle access to the public forest.