Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The BLM's Great OHV Trail Giveaway

The BLM has created defacto designation for OHV routes in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area without public comment, environmental review, or public disclosure of environmental and social impacts. The damage depicted in this photo is directly adjacent to an unauthorized OHV trail proposed for maintenance.

The Medford District BLM has recently published a Categorical Exclusion (CE) approving maintenance on 65 miles of unauthorized and unapproved OHV trails in the so-called John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area. Despite being promoted and publicized by the BLM as an official OHV Area, not a single OHV trail in the area known as the John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area has ever been legally approved for OHV use. Instead, the BLM has allowed unauthorized OHV use and illegal user-created trails to proliferate throughout the area, creating extreme environmental and social impacts. 

For over a decade, the BLM has gone as far as posting illegal routes as open to OHV use, and they have managed our public lands as an OHV sacrifice area, without authorization or approval. The BLM has also promoted OHV tresspass on adjacent private lands by allowing unmanaged OHV use in a checkerboard of land ownership. Conflicts between OHV users, private land owners and other public land users are reaching an unprecedented level in the area.
Unauthorized OHV routes such as this one should be closed to OHV use, but are instead posted and designated for OHV use as "existing" trails. The BLM has identified this particular trail for maintenance, despite it being an unauthorized, user-created trail, and despite "considerable adverse effects," including erosion gullies over 3' deep.

For far too long the BLM has turned a blind-eye to the mounting impacts of OHV use in the so-called John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area.  The BLM has allowed significant damage to natural resources, wildlife habitat, native plant habitat, endangered species habitat, riparian areas, soils, water quality and hydrology to expand exponentially as OHV enthusiasts reach farther across the landscape in a web of logging roads and user-created trails. This web of unauthorized OHV trails and logging roads bleeds sediment into nearby streams, provides a conduit for noxious weed spread, and disturbs both local wildlife and rural residents.

The unauthorized OHV trails in the area have never been subjected to adequate environmental review, public comment, or public disclosure of impacts. Every time the BLM tries to push the project through, their attempts have been frustrated by citizen outrage, administrative protest and environmental law.

The BLM published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in 2009. The DEIS proposed widespread OHV use and designation of existing trails. The proposal was never approved or implemented due to persistent public pressure and extreme user conflicts, but unauthorized OHV continued unabated. 

The BLM then tried public mediation with representatives of numerous affected parties. This did not resolve the long-standing controversy either and the BLM could not move forward with a legal OHV Area. Public opposition to the proposed OHV Area has been consistently strong, with nearby residents, private landowners, industrial timber companies, environmentalists, hikers, botanists, hiking groups and others opposed to designation of the John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area.
The unauthorized, user-created Baldy Mountain OHV trail impacts riparian reserves, Northern spotted owl nesting sites and endangered Gentner's fritillary (Fritillara gentneri) sites.

In the face of mounting opposition, user conflicts, private lands trespass and environmental impacts, the BLM has unilaterally decided to allow OHV use in this controversial area and legitimize "existing" unauthorized OHV trails with defacto designation. Recently, the BLM approved a Categorical Exclusion meant to cut the public out of the process and avoid environmental review on nearly 23,000 acres of public land. The Categorical Exclusion approved maintenance and pseudo designation on 65 miles of unauthorized motorized trails.

Through a Categorical Exclusion the BLM is silencing opposition by taking away the public's right to provide comment on the decision. They are also categorically excluding themselves from scrutiny by refusing to allow an objective analysis of impacts. In other words, they do not want to acknowledge the true impacts and they do not want to hear from you, the public, that owns these lands. 

The Categorical Exclusion provides the agency and motorcycle riders the ability and the public funding to maintain unauthorized OHV trails. In an administrative sense, these unauthorized trails simply do not exist. The Categorical Exclusion legitimizes illegally created and environmentally damaging OHV trails by allowing maintenance on unapproved, but "existing" routes.

The Categorical Exclusion is predicated on the BLM's claim that the project is not controversial, will not significantly impact other public land users, the environment, or future land management decisions. All these claims are untrue. 
 
The unauthorized, user-created Bunny Meadows OHV trail is highly controversial, creates significant environmental impacts and facilitates private land trespass on Forest Creek Road.

1,200 local landowners and residents have signed petitions to close the area to OHV use. The so-called John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area has been the subject of significant controversy for over 20 years. 

The environment has been heavily degraded, as is pointed out in the Categorical Exclusion, "trail maintenance is proposed to correct trail rutting, braiding, and associated erosion." The Categorical Exclusion also acknowledges that trails "have and continue to experience damage due to lack of maintenance, the relative wet winter climate of southwestern Oregon and increased visitor use. Trail conditions have deteriorated and are unsafe in specific locations; ruts are developing due to broken erosion controls and trail features." 

Executive Orders 11989 and 11644 require the agency to close all OHV routes creating "considerable adverse effects," such as those described in the Categorical Exclusion. Instead of closing the routes the agency is designating them for OHV use as "existing" trails — no matter how extreme the impacts.

The Categorical Exclusion also fails entirely to account for other existing recreational uses in the planning area, including hiking, bird watching, botanizing, primitive camping and equestrian use. Only motorized use is addressed in the Categorical Exclusion. 

Nearly every other forest user is negatively impacted by OHV use. In fact, implementation of the Categorical Exclusion will dramatically impact non-motorized recreational opportunities on the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail and in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. 
The BLM is opening the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, its sweeping grasslands and intact habitats to OHV use.

Non-motorized users suffer from an "institutional inequality" in BLM land management. The inequality promotes illegal OHV use over non-motorized recreation. OHV users have been allowed free-reign on BLM lands, to develop unauthorized trails while avoiding public scrutiny, agency enforcement and environmental review. Non-motorized trails have to go through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to achieve approval or designation, but motorized trails do not. How is that equal?

Miles and miles of unauthorized OHV trails have been built at no cost, with no red tape, and minimal, if any, trail standards to speak of. The BLM's newest Resource Management Plan (RMP) is being used as an excuse to declare these illegal, unauthorized routes routes as "existing," and attempts are being made to legitimize their use through Categorical Exclusions, defacto designations and the irresponsible signing and/or publicizing of unauthorized OHV trails. The free-for-all, anything-goes management of our public lands has created significant environmental and social impacts. It has also encouraged further unauthorized motorized use.

In stark contrast, there is no loophole for "existing" but not authorized non-motorized trails. Non-motorized trail proposals have been forced by the BLM to wade through significant red tape, conduct full environmental reviews, design sustainable trail and meet stringent trail standards (as we all should). The non-motorized trail community has also been forced to build trails, mostly with privately funded money.

In effect, those with the lightest impact on the land, the non-motorized users, are being forced to meet the most stringent trail standards and jump through the most hoops, at the largest financial expense. Meanwhile, those who illegally build OHV trails and impact the land, benefit by not having to submit to the costly approval process, meet sustainable trail standards or jump through time consuming bureaucracy to achieve approval.

The non-motorized East Applegate Ridge Trail and phase one of the Jack-Ash Trail took hundreds if not thousands of volunteer hours, multiple tens of thousands of dollars to fund and five years of red tape to receive approval. Each group is now building a little over 5 miles of approved non-motorized trail. In the meantime, the OHV community continues to build illegal trails, damage the land, benefit from less stringent trail standards, trespass onto private land, generate massive user-conflicts and significant environmental impacts. OHV enthusiasts are then awarded by BLM with the designation of 65 miles of "existing," but unauthorized motorized trail, free of charge, and with free maintenance. The hypocrisy is deeply entrenched in the Medford District BLM, where two separate standards are applied to motorized and non-motorized use.
This erosive, unauthorized OHV track is proposed for maintenance and designation as an "existing" trail in the Categorical Exclusion, despite clear environmental impacts.

The BLM is claiming that the Great OHV Trail Giveaway is authorized under the 2016 Resource Mangement Plan (RMP). The RMP allows motorized use on "existing" trails for an interim period, yet does not define or inventory "existing" OHV trails, providing a loophole big enough to drive an OHV through. The BLM is claiming that although unauthorized, the trails in question are "existing" and can thus be maintained. 

No other illegal activity conducted on federal land, is condoned by allowing "existing" illegal activity to persist. For instance, the agency has many illegal trash dumping sites on the district. Shall we encourage such illegal activity by designating existing trash dumping sites on public land? How about designating areas for existing illegal marijuana grows on BLM land? A designated area for existing illegal poaching? Get the point?


Stop The BLM's Great OHV Trail Giveaway!  The Applegate Valley is not a sacrifice zone for extreme OHV use! 







 

1 comment:

  1. The article fails to say where one can get more info, request a copy of the Categorical Exclusion, or send comments. I think it would be Elizabeth R. Burghard, BLM Medford District Manager, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford, Oregon. Or call them at 541-618-2200. Or send them an e-mail at BLM_OR_MD_Mail@blm.gov

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