Concerns voiced over location of proposed Ochoco trail system

Representatives of Central Oregon LandWatch, the Sierra Club, Oregon Hunters Association and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife came to Prineville on Tuesday night to voice their objections to the proposed Ochoco Summit Trail system.

They were joined by over 60 local residents and other concerned parties to meet with Maureen Hyzer, deputy regional forester for the Pacific Northwest Region, and Kate Klein, forest supervisor for the Ochoco National Forest, with the hope of influencing their decision with regards to the KEVIN SPERL/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Deborah Krause and EJ Honton, residents of the Marks Creek area of the Ochoco National Forest, present their objections to the proposed Ochoco Summit Trail System.

“I’ve been working with counties for over 30 years and this is only the second Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) project we have actually opposed,” said Paul Dewey, founder of Central Oregon LandWatch. “We were hoping that the OHV community would recognize the threat to wildlife.”

Threats to wildlife, including wild horse and elk populations, destruction of property, watershed impacts, travel management of existing roads in the forest and simple peace and quiet were all on the minds of those in attendance.

Initially proposed to the public in 2009, a “Record of Decision” for this project was issued by the Ochoco National Forest in March 2014, indicating that “Alternative 3 Modified” was the plan selected for implementation. The plan calls for 129 miles of OHV roads and trails in the vicinity of Big Summit Prairie, with 50 of those miles requiring new construction.

Debbie Anderson, representative of the Pacific Northwest Region Forest Service, assured those in attendance that no decision has yet been made regarding the project.

“This meeting is pre-decisional, and we want to hear your key areas of concern where you think resolution is possible,” she said. “Adequate time remains to continue the dialog if resolution appears to be possible.”

Each of 21 objectors was allotted seven minutes to present their case.

Marks Creek residents Deborah Krause and EJ Honton were concerned that the Forest Service’s decision was being made using invalid data, especially with regards to current road density within the forest.

“I have maps from 1978 that show a lot of roads that are not on the maps being used by the Forest Service,” said Krause.

Dewey agreed, saying “There is no baseline data about open, closed, or unofficial roads ... What is on your maps is not what is out there. Until we have that, we can’t make good decisions about what should go there.”

Charlie Engle, speaking on behalf of Connie Baker who was unable to attend, simply stated that the proposed trails were in the wrong area.

“The Ochocos are an area of incredible beauty and resources,” he said. Many OHV roads that used to be single track become 10-foot-wide roads. Meadows, bogs, stream, hillsides and existing trails are all damaged by ATV riders. For ATV's it is all about vroom, vroom, vroom and go, go, go.”

Larry Ulrich, president of the Ochoco Trail Riders, attended the meeting to voice his support of the trail system.

“Prior to 2011 we could ride anywhere we wanted to,” he said. “It’s a huge forest and there is plenty of room for everyone. I don’t know how many deer I have seen watching us go by and they don’t seem to be bothered. I think it is a fallacy that we disturb them.”

Don’t tell that to resident Susie Issacson.

“I feel like we are keepers of the forest, and I do ride my horses up there,” she said. “My focus is about the degradation of the Ochocos.”

Issacson said she has personally seen OHV users chasing elk up one hill and down another, and others “cookie cutting” in the meadows. But, it’s the littering that really bothers her.

“We play a game with our grandkids called ‘who can find the most bottles,’” she said. “I can tell you that Coors Light is really popular up there.”

Craig Woodward is another landowner with property adjacent to the forest.

“I own the nearest land that is north, south and west of the points of the proposed trail system,” he said. “This system is a contradiction to the current use for photographers, wildflower lookers and bird watchers.”

Woodward agreed with Issacson’s assessment of OHV-user behavior, saying “for some of them, when they get out of sight there is no controlling what they do out there.”

Art Waugh, a representative of the Wolfpack 4x4's of Lebanon, spoke in favor of the proposed system, hoping it will add to available trails.

“At this time there is one destination trail system for class 2 OHVs within Oregon that is east of the Cascades,” he said.

He also came to offer assistance in managing the trails, saying his group has always been willing to volunteer time and equipment, and would go so far as to adopt a number of trails.

Greg Jackle, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, disagreed with Waugh’s assessment on availability of trails, saying there were over 600 miles of OHV trails in Central Oregon and questioned the need for more.

Jackle also took issue with the Forest Service’s assessment of the trails impact on wildlife.

“We don’t feel you’ve used the best available science to determine road density impact on the elk population,” he said.

After almost three hours of presentations, Anderson wrapped up the meeting by promising all objectors a written response from the Forest Service.

“Notes will be sent out to each of the objectors via their email address,” she said. “They will also be posted on line.”

Hyzer added that she intends on reviewing each and every objection along with all of the official documentation previously filed.

“At that point, I could direct Kate (Klein) to do more work to address the issues and answer new questions,” she explained to those in attendance. “I could also direct her to work with the objectors to resolve their issues. There is probably a suite of all of those that will happen.”

Anderson noted that the review period was currently in day 50 of a 75-day review period.

“Until Maureen issues a written response to the objectors, no decision can be made,” she added.

An unidentified member of the audience had the last word, as people prepared to leave, requesting that Forest Service personnel actually get out into the Ochocos to see what is happening.

“People need to get out there on the ground,” she said.

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