Six Rivers National Forest shared a “sneak preview” Wednesday of the possible alternatives that will be in an upcoming draft environmental analysis of which forest roads will remain open to motorized vehicles and which old mining and logging roads might be adopted into the National Forest Transportation System.
The Smith River National Recreation Area Restoration and Motorized Travel Management Project will ultimately decommission some forest routes, close access to motorized vehicles on others and add some previously unauthorized routes to the forest’s road system.
The long, drawn-out environmental analysis process required for all federal projects under the National Environmental Policy Act has been ongoing for this project for almost ten years, partially from lawsuits filed by off-highway vehicle recreation groups.
During Wednesday’s workshop in Gasquet, Forest Supervisor Tyrone Kelley asked the roughly 40 people in attendance to work in collaboration with him to bring the project to a close.
“I think we can get there, but we all need to work together,” Kelley said. “We really need your help to close this out.”
Project leader Christy Prescott summarized the 650 public comments received during the last public scoping period into four significant issues, outlining the public’s concerns with the project:
• Closing roads and trails will negatively impact motorized recreation opportunities on the NRA.
• Allowing motorized vehicles in Inventoried Roadless Areas (like High Plateau west of the North Fork Smith River) negatively impacts non-motorized recreation opportunities in solitude and undisturbed landscapes.
• Motorized use of trails and roads will negatively impact forest resources, like threatened or endangered plants and could spread noxious weeds and Port Orford cedar root rot disease.
One last concern came from local tribal organizations who commented that motorized trail and road use could damage American Indian sacred sites on the NRA, some nominated or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
These “Traditional Cultural Properties” cover ten percent of the area analyzed by the travel management project. Because of the amount of land near TCP’s, Prescott said that Six Rivers has negotiated with local tribes to allow those areas to be analyzed with a separate project. That could include another long, drawn-out environmental analysis process.
The alternatives that were shown on Wednesday include one that caters to the desires and comments of off-road enthusiasts, such as adding more motorized roads and trails to access dispersed camping sites, including Unauthorized Routes (usually old logging and mining roads) and less restoration of Unauthorized Routes.
Another option caters to environmentalist concerns: no motorized trails in Inventoried Roadless Areas; no addition of unauthorized routes with high risk and low need; increase protection for botanical resources and Port Orford cedar and restore hundreds of miles of unauthorized routes.
A middle-of-the-road alternative to attempt to appease both sides would add unauthorized routes to popular dispersed camping sites but not any with a high risk and low need, and it would return the land back it natural drainage patterns on 101 miles of unauthorized routes.
At the request of the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, most of the alternatives include the designation of parking along FS 17N49, Gasquet Mountain Road.