Forest Service defends road closures at hearing
ELKO, Nev. (AP) – A U.S. Forest Service regional official on Monday defended the agency’s decision to close some roads in national forests across the West as an unpopular but necessary response to a rapid increase of off-road vehicle travel.
Regional Forester Harv Forsgren said in testimony prepared for a congressional field hearing in Elko that motor vehicle use has damaged natural and cultural resources.
Forsgren said he is aware the restrictions “may change the way people experience their national forests.”
But he said he wants “to stress that we view motorized travel management planning as an ongoing process” and suggested that officials are willing to modify the plan if circumstances change.
Forsgren oversees 34 million acres of national forest land in Nevada, Utah, western Wyoming, western Colorado and eastern California. He spoke before the House Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the subcommittee, agreed to hold the hearing in rural northeast Nevada at the request of freshman GOP Rep. Mark Amodei and Elko County activists critical of the Forest Service road plans and other policies they view as excessive regulation of federal lands across the West.
Bishop, a critic of the Forest Service plan, said “the last four to five decades have witnessed a paradigm shift toward a hands-off policy or preservation.”
He added, “we need our land managers working with us to keep the public’s lands open for the use and enjoyment of all.”
The Forest Service is at various stages of updating road designations in dozens of national forests across the West, including the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest that covers more than 6 million acres of Nevada and eastern California, including a good chunk of Elko County.
Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl traveled to Washington, D.C., late last year to testify before the same House subcommittee. He said the agency’s plans would limit off-road game retrieval and make criminals out of recreationists who’ve been traveling uncharted back roads for years.
Forsgren said the federal rule that initiated review of the national forest road system was adopted under the George W. Bush administration in 2005.
“The rule was prompted by the explosion in use of off-highway vehicles for recreation and other outdoor activities on national forest system land over the past several decades and the need to manage that use to attempt to minimize environmental damage and other adverse impacts,” he said.
In Utah alone, he said, the number of registered OHVs more than tripled from almost 52,000 in 1998 to more than 172,000 in 2006.
“Properly managed public motor vehicle use is necessary for safe access and protection of natural and cultural resources in the national forest system,” Forsgren said. “Unmanaged public motor vehicle use has been demonstrated to produce just the opposite.”