Eastern Oregon Mining Association
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- Miner G M
- 05/10/2009

Most of you know of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest (WWNF) effort to change its Travel Management Plan (TMP). You should also know that it plans to release for public comment its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in June.

All this is based on the Forest's proposal to close 4,261 miles of roads in the forest and to redesignate all roads, trails and areas as closed unless the Forest Service designates some roads open and publishes a map for the public showing which roads they can use.

In case you didn't know, this proposal will close at least sixty percent of the roads in the WWNF, which extends into five counties in Eastern Oregon. These are roads in the forest that are in Baker, Wallowa, Union, Umatilla and Grant counties.

The proposal is quite a switch for a sub-management plan, because the current 1990 Forest Plan (the master management plan) requires all sub plans to follow the direction of the master plan -- and the master plan is forest access friendly and cross-country travel friendly, as long as environmental damage is not occurring.

However, what most do not know is that the 2005 Travel Management Rule actually supports prior decisions made for roads, trails and areas in management plans. The 2005 Final Rule says it plain enough: The Department believes that reviewing and inventorying all roads, trails, and areas without regard to prior travel management decisions…would be unproductive, inefficient, counter to the purpose of this final rule, and disrespectful of public involvement in past decisionmaking... and, Nothing in this final rule requires reconsideration of any previous administrative decisions that allow, restrict, or prohibit motor vehicle use on NFS roads and NFS trails or in areas on NFS lands and that were made under other authorities, including decisions made in land management plans...

I wrote the above to refresh your memories of what the Forest Service is about to do to the citizens in the five counties. There is a way to protect the general welfare of the citizens in these counties and it's called coordination.

The U.S. Congress requires that Federal land management agencies coordinate their plans, programs and projects with local governments in all of the Acts that deal with natural resources. What is most interesting is that even in the 2005 Travel Rule it states, The proposed and final rule requires public involvement in the designation process (Sec. 212.52), and coordination with appropriate Federal, State, county, local and tribal governments in designating roads, trails and areas for motor vehicle use (Sec. 212.53)…

It was after the Forest Service held its series of meetings on its proposal to close practically all but a few roads in the forest, then, in July of 2008 the five counties agreed together to be cooperating agencies. All of the laws state that Federal agencies have to coordinate their plans with local governments.

Yet instead, the Forest Service asked that the five counties sign a subservient agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which they did.

This MOU effectively relinquishes their right to object or participate and gives all final decisions exclusively to the Forest Service.

Under coordination, the Forest's plans would have to be consistent with the planning process of the counties.

The problem is that county commissioners were elected to protect the general welfare of the citizens in their jurisdictions. They are there to protect the custom and culture of access to the forests, as well as access for grazing, mining and a host of other uses. These citizens produce products from their access to the forest and this has been the custom since the founding of the counties, therefore closing sixty percent of the roads in the forest will also affect the counties tax base and the economic stability of the citizens who use the forests.

There have been several attempts to get the commissioners of the counties to rescind their signature participation in the MOU and start requiring the Forest Service to coordinate its TMP with the counties.

Until they do, the Forest Service will continue to make decisions that go against the needs of the citizens in each of the counties. This will be perilous for the citizens; because the window of opportunity for the counties to require coordination is closing fast. When the Forest Service makes its Record of Decision (ROD), it will be too late for the citizens to do anything other than cooperate with the decision of the Forest Service.

Every citizen should call and write to their commissioners now and tell them to rescind their signature participation in the MOU and require the Forest Service to coordinate, now, while there is time to do so.

If you do nothing now, then you will enjoy the decisions of the Forest Service, even if it goes against your use and access of the forest.