Opening roads to motorized use requires NEPA

It seems like this should be obvious, but it apparently took a lawsuit to get the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to agree.

Thursday’s reversal by the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest of its June decision to allow wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs) on six Forest Service routes was met with mixed reviews by people on both sides of the motorized trail-use issue.

(The lawsuit) charged that opening the roads to WATVs not only violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) but was also premature, since the Okanogan-Wenatchee has yet to complete its long-overdue Travel Management Plan. The federally mandated plan is supposed to guide the use of off-road recreational vehicles on public lands.

Thursday’s Forest Service announcement said any decision to reopen those six roads to WATVs would be based on additional NEPA analysis, but didn’t reference the Travel Management process.

While the plaintiff’s primary concern may be the sequencing of travel planning and road management decisions, the NEPA concession could be at least as important.  The Forest Service has generally tried to limit its analysis of road use effects to the travel planning process.  The conclusion reached here could also be applied to roads and trails currently open to motorized vehicles that have never been through a NEPA process to consider their effects, or that have never been reviewed for effects on listed species under the Endangered Species Act.

6 Comments

  1. Doesn’t that seem a little extreme? Reviewing all ongoing activities that may have been grandfathered in because their opportunity to provide a use to forest users existed before the NEPA or the ESA was approved? If a contemporary effect is at issue, certainly, that could warrant a closer look. But, saying that anything that was not approved through the NEPA process needs to be reviewed adds a unrealistic workload.

    • Road closures may be the end result in some cases, but is it realistic to maintain so many miles of roads with limited resources (i.e., funding)? Roads are not self-maintaining…someone has to take care of them, not just use them. I don’t see many user groups stepping up to help out. Just another example of the American public loving what the federal government provides them for their enjoyment, but not willing to pay the actual costs for that enjoyment.

  2. I thought the American public already paid the bills? The FS spends millions of dollars every year closing roads, money that could just as easily be spent on maintaining them. Maybe even do some timber salvage projects and put some roadwork with them. Or maybe even have the biologists carry a shovel with them to clean out a culvert once in awhile. It’s a policy thing, close the roads and burn it up. It’s how we take care of our forests theses days.

  3. As long ago as 20 years, Bob, I was faced with this prospect — Congress limits my rd mtce budget by 70%. I assume this situation has not improved. Faced with the ANNUAL, recurring prospect of such a shortage I decided to allocate some 1x spending to reduce open road mileage. I think most managers would do the same. And BTW some 6 foot culverts are hard to clean out with a shovel. Small, ditch relief culverts, good point — it’s usually obvious when a culvert is not functioning properly.

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