Vehicle trail system is bad for hunters and habitat

Richard Nelson /

Published May 15, 2013 at 05:00AM

The proposed Ochoco Summit Trail System is opposed not only by the Oregon Hunters Association but many other organizations that are concerned with wildlife and habitat.

The Ochoco National Forest Management plan states, “Off-road vehicle use and trail construction, will be allowed where they are not in conflict with other resource objectives.”

Deer and elk are a resource that has been impacted negatively; the cost to Crook County is in the millions because of lost hunting opportunity. The tag numbers are now a fraction of what they were 20 years ago.

The off-roaders may claim that is because the population has declined. Not true. The number of tags has increased over that amount on private ground where the animals have been driven to. One season for 2013 has been canceled with a corresponding increase on private land where they are not wanted because of the damage they do.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the damage complaints from 1989 to 2008 have gone from 7 to 55 on adjacent lands. The cost of several thousand dollars to hunt these private lands is beyond most of us. I don’t blame the ranchers for trying to recoup some of their loses.

Larry Ulrich’s letter said the forest is required to have a trail system. I don’t know where the “required” comes from when the Forest Service data shows that only 0.2 percent of forest users are off-highway vehicle users, and there are already more trails in Central Oregon than anywhere else.

The Forest Service has a travel management plan that plans to close roads and stop cross country travel by all vehicles; the draft environmental impact statement says they will not stop the off-road travel unless they build this trail. Why? He goes on to say that they do not come to the forest during hunting season, which causes me to relate a personal experience.

There was a group there during the opening weekend of deer season. When I went to their camp to suggest they not ride cross-country and go through the middle of our camp and through a pond there, I found 27 of them there and none of them were hunters. The constant noise and dust and mud was not appreciated. I will not repeat the response I got. We finally blocked the area through our camp because of concern for our kids and dogs.

I know some will say that a “few bad apples” do not represent all, but you can see the damage to water sources, and most have seen OHVs coming back to town covered in mud. There seems to be a desire to see how much noise you can make and see how much mud you can get in.

The Starkey research revealed that elk will move three-quarters of a mile from a single ATV. They move to private land. If they stand and look at Ulrich as he claims they have, they have become so accustomed to human intrusion they are not wild and are easy prey to poachers. ODFW offered to work with the OHV groups to find a site that would not have the extreme negative impact on wildlife. They want what they want and will never be satisfied. They will always want more and different. How about going to private land with your money instead of taxpayers? We are losing thousands of acres of habitat every year to development and human intrusion every year. How much can they stand?

The Forest Service says they are short of money, closing the Ochoco and Rager ranger stations and reducing road maintenance. Congressman Greg Walden has been asked to have them justify spending a million dollars or more with an obligation to maintain forever.