Conservation groups including Oregon Wild and the Sierra Club have filed suit against 137-mile proposal

After several years of development, a decision was finally signed last week on the new Ochoco Trail System Project.

According to Ochoco National Forest leaders, the project will designate and develop a multi-use trail system for off-highway vehicles in the Ochoco Summit area of the Ochoco National Forest. It will be established primarily on existing roads and trails that connect to open, mixed-use roads. The completed trail system will include a total of 137 miles of roads and trails, of which 53 miles will be newly developed.

"I recognize there are strongly held values regarding motorized recreation on public lands," said Ochoco National Forest Supervisor Stacey Forson. "This project will help us achieve our goals of providing legitimate and sustainable motorized recreation trails while curtailing unauthorized motorized use and access where negative resource impacts are occurring."

The trail system proposal originated in 2009, when the Ochoco National Forest conducted its travel management plan. The work resulted in adoption of a motorized travel system in 2011 that left about 80 percent of the forest off limits to OHV use.

After hosting public meetings on the loss of OHV access, the Forest Service chose to develop a trail system proposal that would provide OHV users a suitable, enforceable and sustainable riding opportunity in the Ochocos.

Development of the trail system has not come without setbacks. In the spring of 2014, the Forest Service had released its Draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and later that summer released a Final EIS and draft Record of Decision for the trail system.

However, those documents were then withdrawn and revised following the Bailey Butte Fire that burned parts of the Ochoco that summer. Finally, in February 2016, the Forest Service released a Supplemental Draft EIS and took public comment until April 4. Then on Sept. 22, the Forest Service released the Final Supplemental EIS and draft Record of Decision. It included five alternative trail systems ranging in distance from 124 miles to 158.

Ochoco National Forest leaders then fielded about 20 objections, which came from a variety of different organizations and interests. OHV groups sought more trail mileage and access, while conservation groups and government agencies like Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife raised concerns about impact to the environment.

Pushback against the trail system still remains. According to media reports, conservation groups Oregon Wild and the Sierra Club have both filed lawsuits against the plan following its final signature.

According to Ochoco leadership, grant funding has already been secured for some steps in the implementation process, which include identification, monitoring, and decommissioning of unauthorized on the east side of the project area. Establishing an official trail system will allow the Forest Service, with its partners, to apply for additional grant funding to provide trail maintenance, visitor information and law enforcement.

Forson notes that with collaboration from partner groups and public input, the decision was formulated after more than 10 years of planning and research, public meetings and discussion with interested parties.

"I'm proud of the interdisciplinary team's emphasis in designing designated routes in areas with minimal impact to the values the public cares about," she said.

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