Ochoco Summit OHV trails plans on hold for now

Planning to begin anew after fire season

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

The Ochoco National Forest has pulled plans for a controversial off-highway vehicle trail system, in response to objections and because of recent wildfire in the area of the proposed trail.

But the plans for a 129-mile system on and around Ochoco Summit aren’t dead. Once fire season is over, forest planners are set to start a supplemental environmental review and make changes to the plans, Kate Klein, Ochoco National Forest supervisor, said Wednesday.

“It will be an opportunity to work with the objectors and the public to build a stronger proposal and build more support for the project,” she said.

Objections to the Ochoco Summit Trail system have come from all sides. Hunters and state wildlife officials worry the trails would move elk onto private land and diminish hunting opportunities. People living near the proposed trails say they could bring unwanted noise and traffic to their neighborhood. Off-highway vehicle users have supported the plan, but objected because they want to avoid changes that would trim miles from the plans.

In June, a deputy regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service came from Portland to Prineville to hear from the people objecting to the plan. The Ochoco Summit Trail system plans drew 25 objections in all, the most of any project so far in Oregon or Washington since the Forest Service moved from an appeals to an objections system in 2013.

Since the June meeting, lightning-sparked fires have charred thousands of acres in and near the Ochoco National Forest. The fires included the 12,250-acre Waterman Complex Fire, which burned on both sides of U.S. Highway 26 as it crosses over the Ochoco Summit and prompted a weeklong closure of the highway.

Klein said part of the new planning will be an assessment of how many miles of the proposed trail system were burned.

Although planners don’t have a timeline together yet for revising the Ochoco Summit Trail system plans, Klein said there probably will be a field trip in September or October for people interested in the project.

“(A field trip) helps everyone understand what is being proposed and what the concerns are,” she said.

Among the objectors, Richard Nelson, past president of the Bend chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association, said he received a certified letter telling him about the Ochoco National Forest withdrawing the plans and preparing to start on a supplemental plan.

“The process just starts all over again,” he said.

He said he still has concerns about the effect the trails would have on elk and hunting in the Ochoco, and he feels OHV users already have plenty of places to go around Central Oregon.

“It’s not like they don’t have a place to ride,” he said.

Larry Ulrich, president of the Ochoco Trail Riders, a Bend-based OHV group, disagrees. His group has worked with the national forest since 2003, and the group and the national forest determined the Ochoco Summit area would be an ideal place for more OHV trails. The Ochoco formally introduced the plans in 2009.

Ulrich said he’s going to keep involved as planning starts again.

“We are definitely not giving up,” he said. “We are going to keep pursuing it.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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