PRINEVILLE — A high-ranking U.S. Forest Service official Tuesday heard nearly three hours of objections to an Ochoco National Forest plan to create an off-highway vehicle trail system on Ochoco Summit.
The critiques of the plan came from a variety of voices — hunters who want trails to stay away from elk, four-wheel drivers who want to see more miles of trail and conservationists who want streams protected. People living near the planned trail system and a state wildlife biologist also aired concerns about the plan. Nearly two dozen people spoke at the meeting, each given up to seven minutes to make their argument.
Now Maureen Hyzer, a deputy regional forester from Portland, will review written documents and notes from the Tuesday presentations before giving direction to Ochoco Supervisor Kate Klein on what to do next with the plan. The trail system is expected to cost $535,000 to create and will connect old roads and build new routes.
“There could be a number of things I talk to (Klein) about,” she said.
Klein has yet to sign off on the trail system plan, which is going through an objection process adopted by the Forest Service last year. The process replaces one in which agency officials would finalize a plan and then take appeals on it.
“So this is a process to give people time to work everything out,” Klein said.
The plans for a trail system on Ochoco Summit drew 250 comments and then 25 objections, the most so far for a Forest Service plan in Oregon or Washington. The Tuesday meeting drew more than 50 people, with the Forest Service giving people who had filed a written objection a chance to speak.
The objections came earlier this spring. In March, the Ochoco National Forest released revised plans for the trail system, calling for a 129-mile system with 100 miles of designated trail and 29 miles of high-clearance road.
Charlie Engle, a horseback rider from Bend, said the Ochoco’s plan for a motorized trail system is simply in the wrong place.
“This is really beautiful, high-country area,” he said.
Wild horses and elk roam parts of the forest planned for the trail system. Representatives from the Oregon Hunter’s Association and Greg Jackle, Ochoco district biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, expressed concerns about how motorcycles and all-terrain and four-wheel drive vehicles operating near elk could affect the animals.
“The Ochoco unit is a premiere unit for hunting elk,” he said. It takes rifle hunters seven years to draw a tag for the unit.
Hunters, horseback riders and motorized users can all share the woods, said Larry Ulrich, president of the Ochoco Trail Riders, a Bend-based off-highway motorcycle and ATV club.
“It is hard to understand why all these people oppose this,” Ulrich said. “It is a big forest. (There’s) plenty of room for everyone.”
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