Proposal would add thousands of acres to wilderness
Reclassified area would be off limits to snowmobiles and mountain bikes
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Public meetings to explain Forest Plan
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will host several public meetings — two in North Central Washington — to provide information about the newly released Forest Plan, and offer small group discussions. The local meetings will be:
• Okanogan: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Saturday, July 30, Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex, 175 Rodeo Trail Road, Okanogan
• Wenatchee: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6, Wenatchee Convention Center, 201 N. Wenatchee Ave., Wenatchee.
The meetings are intended to help the public become familiar with the Forest Plan, but the agency will also accept written comments.
— K.C. Mehaffey, World staff
Wilderness just one subject in Forest Plan
WENATCHEE — New wilderness is just one of several uses examined in the Forest Plan, which was released June 30 and is now open to public comment.
If the added wilderness recommendation ends up in its final plan, only Congress can designate new wilderness.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor Becki Heath said the Forest Service would not propose designating the new wilderness to Congress, but other groups could use the Forest Plan to provide rationale for seeking new wilderness land.
The Forest Plan provides a framework for guiding the Forest Service in making decisions. “It identifies desired conditions we want to work towards,” Heath said.
The agency will host several public meetings and use input to come out with a draft environmental impact statement for the new Forest Plan. Comments must be received by Aug. 29. The plan, including maps and information about meetings, is available at www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee/forest-plan.
— K.C. Mehaffey, World staff
WENATCHEE — The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest’s proposal to add 125,800 acres to existing wilderness is one feature of the agency’s new Forest Plan that’s already drawing attention.
Conservation groups are calling for more wilderness acres, while some users — including mountain bikers and snowmobilers — say there’s already enough wilderness on the forest. Snowmobiling and mountain biking are among several activities not allowed in wilderness areas.
The plan recommends adding thousands of acres to seven of the forest’s eight wilderness areas, which currently total more than one-third of the forest — or 1.47 million acres. Only the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness has no additional wilderness acreage under the preliminary plan.
Forest Supervisor Becki Heath said a major reason they’re proposing to add wilderness is to help the Forest Service manage existing wilderness boundaries and trails.
According to the plan, about 2.5 million visitors enjoyed the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in 2005. Unlike most other national forests, where the majority of use is by local residents, about 60 percent of people visiting this forest live more than 50 miles away. Those visitors pumped more than $177 million into local economies.
“On a national scale, the Okanogan-Wenatchee provides for over 10 percent of the total national backpacking use due to large wildernesses with extensive trail systems combined with fine weather,” the plan states.
But Heath said the Forest Service is not recommending more wilderness because it’s needed for recreational purposes.
She said the forest is required under forest planning rules to consider whether portions of its 1.5 million acres of roadless areas are suitable and capable of becoming wilderness. More than 927,000 acres of potential wilderness are not recommended as new wilderness.
The Sierra Club is one group that wants the Forest Service to recommend more of those acres as wilderness.
“Wilderness is the best way you can protect some of these areas,” said Graham Taylor, the Sierra Club’s conservation organizer for the Western regional office in Seattle.
Taylor said his group would like more land in lower elevations included in the recommendation, so wilderness can become more accessible for older hikers and families with children.
He said the Forest Service proposal adds only 3 percent of the forest to new wilderness. “These are unique opportunities to protect the forest, and the 3 percent of additional wilderness are not sufficient to protect the forest and balance out the needs of different users,” he said.
Gary Allard, of the Butte Busters Snowmobile Club in Okanogan, said he doesn’t expect to lose any snowmobile trails with the Forest Service proposal, but “We’re going to end up snowmobiling right next to the wilderness boundary,” he said.
Allard said he thinks the proposal flies against the Wilderness Act.
“If you read the bill, there should be a buffer. You’re supposed to have a quiet area, not bring it down to a paved road,” he said.
He said even if there are no snowmobile trails impacted, new wilderness means other uses will not be permitted, such as woodcutting. “We’ve got all this wilderness area that’s already non-motorized, and all we’re going to end up with is more catastrophic fires.”
Glenn Glover, executive director of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, said combined with new wilderness on the Colville National Forest, almost 250,000 acres of new wilderness are recommended. “There are significant amounts of mountain bike trail that would be within the proposed wilderness areas, and that is of real concern to us,” he said.
The mountain biking group will look at the proposal more carefully in the next few weeks to detail its concerns, he said. “It appears there were some fairly broad brush strokes used, and proper consideration isn’t being given to recreation,” Glover said.
He added that mountain bikers also like to see lands protected. “We are not opposed to all wilderness designations by the Forest Service,” he said, adding that he’d like to work with other conservation groups to help keep certain areas open to mountain bikers, and out of the wilderness.
Patrick Toombs, a member of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and manager of Das Rad Haus bike shop in Leavenworth, said local mountain bikers and hikers get along quite well, and rarely want to push each other off local trails.
“We obviously love wilderness, and we want what’s here to stay,” he said. “But as far as what I know about this proposal, it’s not good. It’s going to shut out too many valuable user groups — people who spend money in hotels and restaurants in Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Cashmere.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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