Our crystal ball is pretty much like everyone else’s — fuzzy and inaccurate. But when we read about U.S. Rep. Greg Walden’s bill to stop the U.S. Forest Service from closing roads and trails in national forests, we hope we have a solid prediction anyway: The bill should do most of what we and Walden would like even if it doesn’t pass Congress.
It should create a more inclusive process to determine what roads and trails the Forest Service closes to motorized access under its travel management rule.
Walden’s Forest Access in Rural Communities Act would prohibit the Forest Service from implementing its existing rule. The bill also requires the Forest Service to consult with affected counties before changing such access and incorporate their needs. It further requires the “concurrence” of each affected county before implementation of a travel management plan.
The Forest Service is in a difficult position. It is in a tug of war over managing the forests and almost everyone is pulling in different directions.
Save the trees. Save the bees. Save my right to hike. Save my right to bike. Save my right to drive in the mud. Save my right to hunt. Save the watershed.
Balancing those divergent interests might be easier, if Oregon didn’t have more of its land controlled by the Forest Service than almost any other state. National forest land makes up about a quarter of Oregon’s land — more than 15 million acres of Oregon’s 61 million acres.
So if the Forest Service is going to start shutting down access, Oregonians surely deserve plenty of say. As we have written here previously, based on the experience of the community living near the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, the Forest Service needs to do a better job of including the community in its decisions.
It shouldn’t take an act of Congress to persuade the Forest Service that’s important. And the Forest Service is saying it’s going to do a better job on the Wallowa-Whitman. The threat of an act of Congress could be just what’s necessary to ensure the Forest Service gets it right.