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Travel Management Planning Letter to Secretary Perdue

In early March of 2019, six eastern Oregon counties submitted a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking that the Maheur and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests be exempted from the 2005 Travel Planning Rule. Both forests have deferred work on Travel Management for many years; in the case of the Malheur, they haven’t worked on Travel Management since 2010, and the Wallowa-Whitman put this planning process on hold in 2012. In the meantime, every other National Forest in the country has completed the process.

This gives these two forests the distinction of being the only two forests with unregulated cross-county travel (prohibited by the Travel Management Rule). They also have some of the highest open road densities in the national forest system. According to the most recent Forest Service data, the Malheur contains 7,033 miles of open roads and 2,637 miles of closed roads, for a total of 9,670 miles of existing inventoried roads. The Wallowa-Whitman has 4,633 miles of open roads and 4,486 miles of closed roads, for a total of 9,119 miles of existing roads. For perspective, the equatorial circumference of the Earth is about 24,901 miles. If all the roads on these two forests were stretched end to end, they would be only be 6,122 miles short of encircling the planet!

Why does this matter? Unrestricted cross-county travel, excessive roads, and unmaintained roads all cause damage to soils, water quality, and wildlife habitat, in turn leading to issues such as population declines in threatened and endangered species (like bull trout and steelhead that depend on clean and cold waters), and displacing mammals (like pushing elk onto private lands). Lack of Travel Management also makes it hard to find areas of the forests undisturbed by the sounds or smells of motorized travel.

The Travel Management Rule addresses these issues by requiring the Forest Service to designate specific areas and trails as open to off-road vehicle use, with all remaining areas being closed to motorized use. Forests must also designate an open road network that minimizes damage to soil, watersheds, vegetation, and other forest resources; impacts to wildlife habitat; and conflicts among different recreational groups. The road network shouldn’t be larger than what is needed, or what the forest can pay to maintain.

The Counties justify their request, in part, based on the fact that the Forest Service has to date failed to comply with the Travel Planning. This reasoning makes no sense! Past failure to comply with the law is not a valid reason to continue to fail to comply with the law.