Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Clearwater County’s next course of action on trail closures

By Alannah Allbrett
  Deputy Regional Forester Jane Cottrell upheld the travel management decision, Plan C, which defines and limits motorized use in Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests. The decision was made April 12, and received at Clearwater County offices April 13.
  When asked if the county intends to file suit against the Forrest Service as the next step, Commissioner, Stan Leach said the county has 45 days, from notification, to file suit if they decide to do so. Leach said the commissioners met yesterday to gather information to make an informed decision.
  Leach said that the Forest Service is not required to agree with the county, but legally, they are required to look at the county’s plan and to make a “plan-to-plan comparison to show they’ve taken steps to meet Clearwater County’s objections where they might exist.” That due process is called “coordination.”
  At the direction of the board, Clearwater County’s attorney, E. Clayne Tyler, is consulting with Fred Grant, a property rights attorney in Boise. Grant has been called “a champion, in the process of coordination, to stymie federal land-use and protected-species decisions.” Leach said that Atty. Grant has been instrumental in helping the Owyhee Initiative, another collaborative group in southern Idaho, with land management use issues.
  According to The Record Searchlight, “Grant espouses a theory that federal agencies by law must deal with local governments when revising their public land travel plans…”
  Leach said that a decision to file a legal suit, if one is made, would require the agreement of all three commissioners. “We are trying to do our best to protect the rights, customs, and cultures of Clearwater County,” said Leach.
Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan decision upheld
  Orofino - The Northern Region’s Deputy Regional Forester, Jane Cottrell, has upheld the travel management decision announced by Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell on Jan. 12 of this year.
  That decision defined how motorized uses will be managed on the roads and trails within the boundaries of the 1.8 million-acre Clearwater National Forest.
   Brazell selected Alternative C Modified, an alternative described as “Motorcycle Loop Trails and Wildlife Habitat,” because it best responded to public input requesting motorcycle loop opportunities and protection for fisheries and wildlife habitat.
  In affirming the decision, Deputy Regional Forester Cottrell concluded all issues presented in the appeals were adequately considered in the Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement and project record.
  “I find the Forest Supervisor has made a reasoned decision and has complied with all applicable laws, regulations and policy, and is consistent with the overall mission of the Forest Service,” Cottrell wrote.  “I affirm the Forest Supervisor’s decision to implement the Travel Management Plan Record of Decision.”
  With the affirmation, Cottrell also instructed the Forest to provide additional information and rationale related to elk habitat effectiveness calculations, effects determinations for sensitive species, field reviews of stream crossings and determinations of riparian management objectives.
  Twenty-six groups and individuals, including the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, County Commissions for Clearwater and Idaho Counties, and Friends of the Clearwater filed appeals. Six appeals were dismissed because appellants   failed to provide comments during the comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
  Brazel was pleased with the decision.  “This is the culmination of more than four years of hard work and countless deliberations.  It is time to move forward.”
  Brazell noted that Forest users are very polarized about the issue of travel management.  While many seek increased motorized opportunities, others argue passionately for the elimination of motorized uses in many areas of the Forest.  He said he believes the selected alternative, C Modified, represents the best balance that can be achieved in accordance with existing laws, regulations, policy and Forest Plan direction.
  Forest efforts will now shift to addressing the clarifications requested by Cottrell and preparing a Motor Vehicle Use Map that will display the travel management decision for Forest users with the goal of implementing the decision beginning in June 2012.
  Cottrell’s decision constitutes the final administrative determination of the Department of Agriculture.
  The Clearwater National Forest initiated the travel planning process in response to national agency direction to designate roads, trails and areas where motorized travel will be permitted and to display them on a Motor Vehicle Use Map.  This is a fundamental change from the current system where travel is permitted everywhere except where specifically restricted.
  Drivers of full-size and off-highway vehicles will notice few changes between the routes currently available for travel and those designated through the travel planning process.
  Alternative C Modified limits motorcycle routes in sensitive fisheries and wildlife habitat on the North Fork Ranger District and restricts motorized and bicycle uses in areas recommended for wilderness by the 1987 Clearwater National Forest Plan.
 All project documents are posted on the website at

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