Ochoco National Forest staff recently issued a final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision on a new motorized trail network

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS - About 130 miles of new trails on Ochoco National Forest are part of the new plan that will accommodate motorcycles and other all terrain vehicles.

In 2011, following the signing of the Travel Management Rule by Ochoco National Forest, motorized vehicle enthusiasts voiced their outrage over losing trail and road access.

Now, Ochoco staff members are poised to approve a new project intended to create nearly 130 miles of new trails for ATVs and motorcycles to enjoy on the forest.

"ATVs became restricted on a lot of (forest) roads," said Patrick Lair, the public affairs specialist for Ochoco National Forest. "We recognized a need to provide suitable recreation opportunities for motorized users."

Ochoco staff released their final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) for the Ochoco Summit Trail System Project on March 14. The final document followed a prior draft decision issued in February 2013 that proposed four possible trail projects. The recent draft provides fewer miles than an option calling for 170 miles of new trails, but more than another that would only provide 101 miles for off-road vehicles.

"I couldn't tell you exactly how they got to every single mile that's in there," Lair said, "but obviously they were balancing a lot of resource concerns." Such interests included erosion, and the elimination of stream crossing and passage over elk winter and calving habitats.

"A lot of private landowners had a lot of comments based on the draft saying we really don't want a bunch of traffic going right here next to our house," Lair continued. "So, there was a lot of shifting of routes based on all of these factors."

Upon signing the final EIS and draft ROD, the documents were subjected to a 45-day objection period. Unlike prior appeal periods, commenting is restricted based upon prior involvement in the process.

"We are under a new set of regulations for NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)," Lair explained. "Now, you issue a draft decision and anyone who has submitted a written comment during any of the advertised comment periods, they have standing to file and objection."

Lair called this the last step in the process for public involvement and unless people with standing file an objection, Ochoco staff will sign the document.

Lair was not aware of any objections filed against the trail system thus far, although plenty of people have opportunity to do so. Throughout the trail system development process, about 500 to 600 people have submitted written comment on the proposal.

"There was a lot of feedback," he said. "Our planners felt that it was one of the higher profile projects that we had in recent years."

But up to this point, input has been mostly positive.

"Most people have been generally supportive and thankful to planners for the way they worked with the public and tried to integrate their concerns," Lair said.

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