Wallowa-Whitman chief: No hurry on roads plan

The Associated Press /

BAKER CITY — The new supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest says he doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to make a decision about closing roads in the 2.4-million-acre expanse he manages.

“Maybe I will,” John Laurence, 63, said with a laugh during a recent interview with the Baker City Herald.

Laurence replaced Kevin Martin as the Wallowa-Whitman’s leading official on Jan. 14 and is the forest’s third supervisor since August. A proposal from Martin’s predecessor last year caused an uproar among forest users, and was withdrawn.

The issue dates back more than five years, when then-Wallowa-Whitman supervisor Steve Ellis said the forest would look at restricting some motorized access.

Roughly 6,000 people have signed a petition urging the Wallowa-Whitman to not close any roads to motor vehicles, contending it would prevent people from pursuing activities such as riding ATVs, hunting, picking berries and gathering firewood.

Those who support closing roads say the forest must limit vehicles to protect elk habitat and prevent environmental damage. They point out that the Wallowa-Whitman has 6,900 miles of roads open to motor vehicles, and closing some roads would not severely restrict public access.

Laurence recognizes that the polarized debate over what’s known as the Travel Management Plan posed a challenge to his predecessors and it will similarly challenge him.