Walden introduces forest travel bill

By Andrew Clevenger The Bulletin

Bill in Congress:

H.R. 4272 would stop the implementation and enforcement of the U.S. Forest Service’s 2005 travel management rule in Western forests, and would require the agency to seek local approval before making a change to public access in a National Forest in the West.

What’s next: Introduced and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, unveiled legislation Monday that would require the U.S. Forest Service to get local input before changing public access to national forests in the West.

Under the Forest Access in Rural Communities Act, the Forest Service would be barred from implementing its 2005 travel management rule, the agency’s method of determining which roads, trails and areas are open to motorized vehicles, on national forests West of the Mississippi River.

The bill would also make the Forest Service consult with counties that contain or are adjacent to the road under discussion during the planning process before it could change a road’s status. The counties must sign off on the change before it goes into effect.

“For too long, the input and wishes of local citizens have been pushed to the back seat when it comes to decisions about access to our public lands,” Walden said in a prepared statement. “This common-sense bill will put local communities back in the driver’s seat in the Forest Service’s travel management planning process.”

As an example of the government ignoring local input, Walden pointed to the Forest Service’s proposed changes to access in the Wallowa-Whitman Forest two years ago. The Forest Service eventually withdrew that plan for the 2.3 million-acre forest after opponents complained they hadn’t been given the chance to voice their opinions.

Snow in Washington, D.C., closed the federal government Monday, and a spokesman for the Forest Service could not be reached for comment.

Walden announced he had filed the bill at AC Power Sports in La Grande.

“Whether it’s for hunting, camping, firewood-cutting, berry-picking, or just enjoying a ride through the woods in a truck or ATV, accessing our forests is a way of life in rural Oregon,” Walden said. “Far too often, though, management decisions are handed down from Washington, D.C., by agencies who have likely only seen the forests on a map. It’s time for that to stop. This bill will bring management back where it belongs — local communities with firsthand knowledge about the state and uses of these forests.”

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com