Over the Weekend – Blue Mtn. blues, Flathead secrets and monumental benefits

I guess this is a bookend to Sharon’s “Friday News Roundup.”



I recently provided an update on the status of the Blue Mountains forest plan revisions here.   And here’s a little more detail on that, especially on the question of “access.”  (This term gets used for a couple of different things, and this one is about closing roads on national forests rather than creating access across private property to reach public lands.)

One group says its leading the charge to fight for what they call “original rights” is Forest Access for All.  “We defend the rights that we’ve had since Oregon was a territory, free reign where we go and utilize the forests which are public lands,” says Bill Harvey, a group member and former Baker County Commissioner. “A couple decades ago the Forest Service began closing off sections of the forest and that’s when Forest Access for All was formed.” Harvey says his group’s particular ire is at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (WWNF), which he claims “have closed thousands of miles of roads in the forest the last twenty years.”

The group also has other “conflicts” with the Forest Service include the need for  more vegetation management, economic benefits of (motorized) recreation, and better public engagement.

“By law right now, we have an open forest. They will admit it, everybody admits it, and it’s in the books, I’ve seen it a million times. It is an open access forest,” says Harvey. “Why in God’s name would we want to give that up? Nothing benefits us to give up our rights that we have currently. We’re not asking for more rights, we’re asking for the existing rights to stay in place.

I’m going to disagree with him on this one, and I hope the Forest Service does, too (although it looks like they could have done a better job of setting the locals straight on this before now).  In 2005, Subpart B of the Travel Management Rule changed the culture of motor vehicle use on roads, trails, and areas from “Open unless closed” to a system of designated routes.  As for why?  The goal was to reduce resource damage from unmanaged motor vehicle use off that road system.



Newly revealed emails show that the Flathead National Forest under then supervisor Kurt Steele looked to keep a proposal of a tram up Columbia Mountain from public view for more than year prior to it being first proposed.

Does this sound familiar?  It sounds to me like the “Holland Lake Model” that got the forest supervisor a “promotion” to forest planning.  In this case the Forest properly rejected the proposal as inconsistent with its forest plan (thank you forest plan!).  But it does suggest a pattern of incentives and behavior that may be broader than the Flathead National Forest.

“The process where the public comes into play is when it becomes the NEPA process,” Flathead Forest spokesperson Kira Powell said about the emails.

“Bringing you into the conversation about this potential project on the Flathead NF because it’s coming from investors who apparently have the financial resources to build a tramway, meaning they likely have political savvy also … wrote Keith Lannom, who was deputy regional forester for Region 1 at the time …”

This account offers a window into the role of “political savvy” in Forest Service decision-making.



Since President Barack Obama created the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in 2014, visitation has tripled and the national monument has spurred economic growth in the Las Cruces area as well as other communities near the national monument, according to a new report.

According to this overview, the report looks at the various factors that made this particular monument so successful, including its location relative to population centers and the uses it caters to.  Also local community support.

“We have always recognized that the establishment of the monument was due in large part to the grassroots effort at the local community organizations and individuals,” Melanie Barnes, the state BLM director, said. “And due to this engaged and proud community, the monument has seen an increase in visitation.”

She said the BLM is working on a resource management plan that will address land use and resource protection. The public scoping period for that plan recently ended.


22 thoughts on “Over the Weekend – Blue Mtn. blues, Flathead secrets and monumental benefits”

  1. Whoa! The issue of Travel Management has been the biggest reckoning by the American people on forest service policies since cows were ran off the Forests in the East! I swallowed the whole “travel management” initiative, hook, line and sinker, and could justify about any action it professed. That is, until I left Federal service and saw a bloated, entitled bunch of “let’s close everything” mentality. I may be a bit strong in my description, but the sentiment from the USFS is there.

    MVUM; that document that IS the final authority on what’s open, and what “ain’t”. Unless of course, the Feds change the rules. I am fighting to keep a seasonal road open, that shows as open on the MVUM. But, it’s gated, and has had the road sign removed. I inquired on why the gate, and was told “oh, we made a Decision earlier to close and obliterate these “seasonal” designations as “low hanging fruit”. But it shows on the map, I say; well, the map is out of date (by seven years), and we really can’t enforce the closure until the map is changed! So why the gate and closed road?

    More power to the Counties fighting to keep their access open, because when it’s gone it’s gone!

    • I’m curious, was there an actual travel management decision to close those roads? Sounds really fishy from your description.

      As for the MVUM, every new trail I explore I am constantly discovering new errors in the MVUM vs. how routes are managed on the ground. On a weekend trip to the Taylor Park area in Colorado a couple weeks ago, I discovered several routes where the route shown on the MVUM was totally different than the maps for the 2010 Gunnison Travel Plan, and the actual conditions on the ground didn’t match either one. In one case where the road forked into a couple different routes, the travel plan and the MVUM showed the eastern route as open and the western route closed, but on the ground the eastern route was signed as closed and the western route was open. I found several other places like that as well.

      How in the world is the MVUM supposed to be the controlling authority if it is blatantly inaccurate? In practice, most people drive anything that appears open on the ground regardless of what the MVUM says. The idea that motorized travel can be effectively “managed” just by drawing (often inaccurate) lines on a map without gates and signage on the ground is just absurd.

  2. Another piece of the W-W travel management history from the Retiree Information Network. According to my source on the W-W, there are three counties. Two counties had collaborative groups that worked to some conclusions (perhaps ignored by later FS leaders, that would be another part of the story). So a more sanguine narrative could be “on the W-W two thirds of counties successfully reached agreement at one point in time.”

    Harvey is an outlier, but as with Jim Z’s comment, there are also reasonable people with legitimate concerns about travel management policies and how they are decided. You could even say Patrick’s lawsuit on the PSICC is about the same kind of concerns.

    • I was sent to work on salvage sales on the W-W in the 1990s. The road density was off the charts and roads were built in the valley bottoms – the streams were basically the ditch for the roads. I remember the 1″/mile fireman’s maps for the forest – you could not see the topo lines because the roads obscured everything. There are ESA-listed fish. I have a lousy arm, but I could throw a rock from one road to the next because they were so close together. What a relief to return to that area in the early 2000s and see how much road restoration there had been – you could still access the forest – but the roads are much farther apart now and while many are still in the valley bottoms, the aquatic impact is much less. So access is important, but does it need to be with a road density that completely obscures the topo lines on a 1″/mile map and puts chronic sediment into fish-bearing streams?

      • Anonymous, certainly not; however, the pendulum has shifted way to the left in closing system roads where density is not an issue. Now it’s “low hanging fruit”, meaning any road that someone doesn’t like for one reason or another, is on the chopping block! One of the roads I’m fighting closure is an access to over 10,000 acres, crossing a creek and the only access to a dangerous fuels and wildfire situation that if burns, will impact a major water supply to the front range! It is the only lower slope access that can safely be used. And it’s not just a closure, it’s an obliteration! Just stupid!!!

        • Jim, you mentioned the front range. Is the road you’re talking about in Colorado? If so, could you tell me what road it is and give more details on what’s been happening with it? I’d love to help with issue.

          • Patrick, yes in Twin Lakes area; Forest Road 174 – the Willow Stump Road. I sent a letter to the Regional Forester but doubt I hear anything back. Send me your email and I’ll shoot you my letter. I didn’t know at the time you had filed a lawsuit….

            • Ah yes, Willow Stump. We commented on that one extensively and filed a lengthy objection on it but the Forest Service never even considered our arguments and still decided to decommission it. I considered putting that in our lawsuit but ultimately decided we didn’t have a strong enough case since it’s a short lightly used dead end road entirely in a riparian area, with one of the deepest river crossings I’ve encountered in CO. We only included trails in our lawsuit we could show clear errors with the Forest’s analysis.

              Have they kept it gated this year? I just drove past it earlier today but forgot to check the gate. At least with that one there has been a decision to close it even though the new MVUMs haven’t been published yet.

              I would like to see your letter, and maybe we could try writing the Leadville Ranger District and see if they could at least keep it on the ground for emergency access. I’m not too hopeful for anything else. My email is [email protected]

  3. Yes, for sure; I heard a bit of the W-W story, and seem to remember a few heads were either rearranged or, rolled. Travel Management is certainly a double-edged sword; needed for resource protection but not a tool for environmentalists to bash the heads of off-roaders and FS managers. Too many times, the expedient closure is an “in your face” response to hours of collaborative work by user groups. And, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for misinformation and blatant falsehoods arise – and I’m talking about within Agency!

    It will be interesting to see how the PSICC Case evolves; that is the Forest of my ire on a poor Decision!!!

  4. From my Region 1 experience. The Forest Service has been good at following procedure and closing routes, both road and trail; but lousy at listening and understanding locals. The results of 20 years of dismissive Travel Management is what we’re now witnessing; reduced agency funding and morale, lack of adequate planning and management, and plenty of rogue disregard for the agency and its plans.
    One result of Travel Management and accompanying Forest Planning has been creation of new and revised Recommended Wilderness, and closing of several activities on thousands of miles of trails to “condition” the areas for future Wilderness designation. But the self-serving aspect of the planning allows for chainsaw use in the RWAs to keep trails clear of fallen trees, and for trails to be built using excavators, chainsaws, and motorcycles! Roads, trails and culverts have also been decommissioned using powered equipment.
    Locals who have lost access have also lost respect for Forest Service management. Those that would rather justify the closures than listen to the locals usually wind up moving away, transferring or retiring. They stick around just long enough to create a mess, then leave.

  5. Even as a motorized access activist I am scratching my head over what the folks in Oregon are saying about “open forests.” It is certainly my understanding that ever since the 2005 travel management rule was adopted, there is no longer any such thing as an “open forest” anywhere in the US. There might be a handful of forests that haven’t undergone formal travel planning under the 2005 travel management rule, but even those forests would still be limited to designated routes under whatever pre-TMR travel plan they had in place, or at the very least limited to existing roads that aren’t gated or signed as closed on the ground. Is that what they mean by “open forest”?

  6. Not all Forests were “closed” to open travel on the Forest floor, some Forests were actually open. The closed floor Forests had little issue but the open floor Forests had a major chasm to cross! All Forests needed to go through a Travel Analysis Plan, to identify a minimum road system (the TAP). Then the process of game retrieval, dispersed camping and “play areas” were analyzed to come up with the MVUM.

    There is no consistency in any of the dynamics of restrictions between Forests; it’s a free for all! Even in Region 2, adjoining Forests have little in common, as for anything outside travel routes. There are few up to date maps, and those that exist are full of errors. I asked a point blank question to a Line Officer on dispersed camping; they didn’t even know what was allowed on their own District! Good grief…..

    • Maybe our current leaders can only respond to the major alligators biting them in the rear and have no time to focus on recreation. Certainly a Line Officer can’t be expected to know everything about a District. I wonder if there’s a checklist somewhere..
      “What You Should Know About Your District to Be Considered Appropriately Knowledgeable.”

      • No, a DR should know what’s going on, and we were specifically talking travel management, in a meeting set up in advance to discuss “Travel Management”. However, it is becoming so confusing, even within Forests, I can see your point Sharon. I guess it’s the new dynamic of filling positions too. In situations such as this it is the Forest Sup and Deputy’s responsibility anyway…..

        Unfortunately, it’s worse in other Regions…..

  7. 36 CFR 212.50: “Motor vehicle use off designated roads and trails and outside designated areas is prohibited by 36 CFR 261.13.”

    36 CFR 261.13: “After National Forest System roads, National Forest System trails, and areas on National Forest System lands have been designated pursuant to 36 CFR 212.51 on an administrative unit or a Ranger District of the National Forest System, and these designations have been identified on a motor vehicle use map, it is prohibited to possess or operate a motor vehicle on National Forest System lands in that administrative unit or Ranger District other than in accordance with those designations” (with exceptions).

    36 CFR 212.56: “Designated roads, trails, and areas shall be identified on a motor vehicle use map. Motor vehicle use maps shall be made available to the public at the headquarters of corresponding administrative units and Ranger Districts of the National Forest System and, as soon as practicable, on the website of corresponding administrative units and Ranger Districts.”

    I read this to say the ability to enforce a closure requires that it be both “designated” through the appropriate process and “identified on a motor vehicle use map,” and the map must have been “made available.” Attempts to physically close a road that has been designated as open could probably be challenged (regardless of how it is mapped).

    Any “open forest” would not be in compliance with the Travel Management Rule. While there’s no deadline in these regulations, they were adopted in 2005, so an 18-year delay would probably be vulnerable. I seem to remember that the Forest Service was pretty serious about getting this done, but maybe there’s an outlier somewhere?

    36 CFR 212.51: “Motor vehicle use for dispersed camping or big game retrieval. In designating routes, the responsible official may include in the designation the limited use of motor vehicles within a specified distance of certain forest roads or trails where motor vehicle use is allowed, and if appropriate within specified time periods, solely for the purposes of dispersed camping or retrieval of a downed big game animal by an individual who has legally taken that animal.

    • Correct, though it’s open roads that have to be identified on the map, not closed ones. Which gets really confusing in situations where there are regularly used roads that aren’t signed as closed on the ground and there was also no travel management decision to close them, typically because of roads being missed in the inventory for the most recent travel plan. Technically those roads become “unauthorized” by default simply because they were never considered for designation in the first place. But in practice no one actually cares because the Forest Service has never made any attempt to enforce their closure and most people aren’t even aware they aren’t legal routes.

      I run across roads like that all the time here in CO where all the national forests have MVUMs created through travel planning processes that at least supposedly were based on a thorough route inventory. I’ve heard the situation is even worse in California where the forests deliberately only inventoried a fraction of the roads that existed on the ground.

      • Oh and the dispersed camping exception makes things even more confusing. Some forests only allow camping in designated campsites in some places, while allowing you to drive off of designated roads in other places with distances ranging from one car length to 300 feet. In places with the 300 foot rule, you end up with a lot of quite lengthy “social roads” going to campsites. These roads aren’t on the MVUM, but are completely legal to drive. It makes camping a lot more convenient, but the lack of consistency across different forests or even between ranger districts or different areas within the same forest makes it very difficult for people to know and follow the rules.

      • Thanks for that clarification. Since the rule is “closed unless open,” it would be less confusing if roads couldn’t be used unless posted as open (which should match what the MVUM says are designated as open). Does anyone do that?

        • Roads are not posted as open. The MVUM does that. My problems relate to roads posted as open on the MVUM but closed on the ground! That is a violation of the TMR!

        • Sort of. In my experience the Forest Service is quite good at signing the beginning of roads where they intersect other roads. What gets tricky is endpoints and side spurs further up. Tons of roads have some arbitrary endpoint shown on the MVUM when in reality the road continues on quite a bit further on the ground. These arbitrary endpoints are rarely ever marked on the ground, and its often unclear whether that endpoint was intentionally selected or was the result of a mapping error. To determine that you pretty much have to look back at the original travel plan documents if you can find them, and even then it’s often unclear in cases where the baseline inventory shows the road ending at the point and the remainder was never even considered for designation. Then there are short side spurs, route splits, bypasses around obstacles, etc. that often aren’t signed either way but are clearly regularly used. The reality is that no matter what the law says, if a road looks open on the ground and is clearly regularly used, most people are going to drive it.

    • Yes, but the open vs closed Forests were in existence when the 2005 TMR came to be. The forest floor closure was in the 2005 Rule, itself.


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