60-day comment period for controversial document
A long-awaited and controversial Forest Service proposal that outlines possible changes to motor vehicle access in the Smith River National Recreation Area, including the decommissioning of some roads, was issued Friday, kicking off a 60-day public comment period.
The Smith River NRA Restoration and Motorized Travel Management Project draft environmental impact statement includes five alternatives and maps ranging from keeping the status quo to options that lean toward pleasing off-road enthusiasts or satisfying people who value roadless areas and more protection of plants and trees.
For some, there’s no better way to enjoy Del Norte’s share of Six Rivers National Forest than by cruising old mining and logging roads in a burly off-road vehicle.
For others, the best way to experience the Smith River National Recreation Area is on foot, backpacking or hiking in hard-to-reach places for solitude.
The Forest Service’s preferred alternative in the environmental document would:
• Add 16 miles of motorized access
• Designate mixed-use on 0.4 miles of road 17N49 (Gasquet Mountain Road)
• Add 50 routes to dispersed sites
• Designate parking at four sites along 17N49
• Restore (tear up road, let nature takeover) and barricade 101 miles of Unauthorized Routes
• Storm-proof 122 miles of roads and motorized trails
• Implement seasonal gate closure on 52 miles of roads and motorized trails
• Change six acres of semiprimitive nonmotorized to semiprimitive motorized.
Striking a balance between the wants and needs of various forest users has proved a major headache for Six Rivers National Forest, inspiring a lawsuit filed in 2010 by Del Norte County, Del Norte Rod and Gun Club, Lake Earl Grange, Blue Ribbon Coalition and several other off-road vehicle groups.
The suit alleged that the Forest Service didn’t follow proper procedure before designating which routes are open to motor vehicles via a map released in 2009 as part of the Travel Management Rule process.
The attorney for the plaintiffs, including the county, agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in March and have each party pay their own costs and attorney fees.
Oddly, county officials and David Finigan, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said Monday they were not aware of the dismissal, even though such an action should require approval from the plaintiffs.
County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr said she intends to contact Paul Turcke, the Idaho-based attorney representing the county in this suit, this week to find out what happened.
Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson has often said that limiting motor vehicle access in the Six Rivers National Forest via road decommissioning would endanger public safety by making it more difficult for search and rescue operations or for targeting off-the-grid criminal activities.
Forest Service officials have said that the Travel Management Rule was simply intended to update the National Forest Transportation System (NFTS) and address unofficial roads, like old mining and logging routes, in the forest, some of which have storm drainage issues.
In June 2013, the county supervisors passed a resolution recognizing 20 mining roads based on an 1866 law, in a move to prevent the Forest Service from limiting access on those routes. County staff members said that any roads established before 1976, when the 1866 law was repealed, would remain valid rights-of-way.
At the time, Six Rivers Forest Supervisor Tyrone Kelley said that the statute, RS 2477, only applied to roads that existed in 1866 and the matter would be decided in court.
The proposed action that was circulated for public comment in April 2012 is modified in the alternative released last week in order to avoid Traditional Cultural Properties, areas that are listed or nominated for the National Register of Historic Places, including American Indian sites.
To access the DEIS and maps online go to www.fs.usda.gov/goto/srnf/srnra.
The DEIS and maps will also be available for viewing at the Forest Service offices in Gasquet and Eureka, as well as, the Del Norte County Library in Crescent City.
Information for providing public comment is in the cover letter.