Off-roaders decry loss of access

Forest Service says it’s trying to protect habitat

Those who ride all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles in the Plumas National Forest see their opportunities for wilderness fun disappearing, no thanks to the U.S. Forest Service.

The agency’s new Motorized Travel Management Plan for the forest, they charge, puts miles of forest roads off limits.

The plan has reduced the number of legally useable roads in the Plumas forest from 1,107 to 873 miles since it was put in place last month.

Doug Teeter, head of the Sierra Access Coalition, says his group is working to reverse the plan with a lawsuit filed against the Forest Service.

The USFS, Teeter argues, is taking away the rights of citizens to enjoy the lands they pay taxes to use. What’s more, he said, the service failed to seek the cooperation and approval of local counties, associations and other government services when it finalized the plan.

“They are using illegitimate reasons for closing hundreds of miles of our public forest roads,” he said.

But the Forest Service says it is responsible for protecting habitat as well as providing recreation.

“Nationally, we’re trying to strike a balance,” said Laurence Crabtree, acting supervisor of the Plumas National Forest. “We want to provide motorized access while minimizing impacts to non-motorized recreation, wildlife and watersheds.”

A significant number of the closed roads include “non-system roads,” said Leanne Shramel-Taylor, spokeswoman for Plumas National Forest. Non-system roads, she explained, are those that are not part of the Forest Service’s mapped routes.

Not so, Teeter insisted. The roads being closed are the graded and designated roads that loggers, miners and others had established long before recreationists were traveling on them.

Dave Garcia, a former forest ranger and chairman of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said that there are concerns about the recreationists’ use of forest roads and the effect on the local watersheds, including erosion.

“Those roads increase the odds of landslides in the forest from which the silt flows into the creeks and harms the water quality,” Garcia said. “Approximately 60 percent of our fresh water comes from national forests, and 75 percent of that water isn’t meeting the EPA’s health requirements.”

Old logging roads that remain open for use and current roads being used by private logging companies are the biggest detriment to the fisheries and watersheds, Garcia said.

“The dirt in the water isn’t allowing salmon to spawn and is causing harm to the forest habitat,” he said. “We’re not trying to kick the public out of the public land; that is their right to use. We just want to be able manage it.”

In September the Butte County Board of Supervisors voted to join the lawsuit against the Forest Service plan. At that meeting Oroville-area Supervisor Bill Connelly voiced his enthusiastic support of and proud participation in off-road motorcyle riding.

Chico-area Supervisor Maureen Kirk cast the lone nay vote.

“We’re already in a financial quagmire as it is,” she said by phone recently. “I don’t think we need to be spending money on something like this.”

During the board’s first meeting in September the Forest Service seemed willing to compromise, Kirk said, but by the time the next meeting rolled around, the supervisors had decided to vote on joining the lawsuit.

“Even if they do win the lawsuit, I’m not sure that recreationists are going to get all of what they want,” she said.

Although Kirk didn’t back the lawsuit, she said she does understand the recreationists’ concerns.

“I think the trails from Butte Meadows up to the high lakes area should be kept open because that’s a destination area,” she said. “There should be a compromise where some of the popularly enjoyed trails are left open and those that aren’t [popular] are closed.”

Teeter lives in Paradise and is a member of the Paradise Ridge Riders, a group of off-road motorcyclists who, according to their website, are “dedicated to promoting responsible use of off-road vehicles in and about our local area.

Made up of business owners, public servants, professionals, educators, schoolchildren and retirees, the group is united behind a common bond: “to see that the forest lands in which we ride will remain open for future generations to enjoy.”

The Sierra Access Coalition is a Plumas County-based group that, according to its website, is similarly working to protect forest access for riders. Butte County Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, of Paradise, is one of its members.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the Chico Tea Party Patriots, Teeter said the Forest Service’s mapping information had discrepancies in trail locations—such as proximity to watersheds and privately owned land—that determined which roads were closed.

He said a member of the Sierra Access Coalition has advanced GPS topographic tools and was able show that the Forest Service’s route locations were not accurate.

The Forest Service, Teeter said, was required by law to coordinate with the five counties that are part of the Plumas Forest, but it did not do so, which is why Butte County supervisors voting to join the Sierra Access Coalition’s lawsuit. Plumas County has shown support for the coalition but has not joined in the lawsuit.