Settlement retains forest roads for non-motorized users

No doubt, on Earth Day this Friday, many nature-lovers will celebrate the settlement of a recent federal court lawsuit that stops the Forest Service from opening 350 miles of roads to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs).
     It's also a sure bet that many motorized off-road enthusiasts will mourn their loss of recreational terrain in Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest.
     It's a familiar plight in the Northwest: environmentalists versus off-road vehicle users.
     I read about it last week in the Cle Elum newspaper, published in a region that draws both groups – WATV riders and leave-no-trace hikers – in large numbers.
     It began last June, when the Forest Service opened six new routes totaling 350 miles to WATVs. Opponents filed a lawsuit four days later in Seattle, charging the action violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Travel Management Rule. The latter designates which roads and trails can or cannot be used by motor vehicles.
     The Alpine Lakes Protection Society (ALPS), Kittitas Audubon Society, and Sierra Club joined forces to halt the Forest Service action. The coalition and the Forest Service settled their dispute last month.
     “Fifty years ago, too many hiker-horse trails were taken over by machines without any environmental analysis being done, and the Travel Management Rule is designed to fix that,” said ALPS president Karl Forsgaard. “Some of those trails need to be de-motorized and returned to hiker-horse use. The Forest Service needs to take a hard look at the machines’ impacts in the backcountry, degradation of habitat quality, and impairment of other recreational users’ experiences.”
     Read this related article in The Spokesman-Review.

by  Jon Osterberg

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