New proposal could reduce forest travel

Park Falls, Wis. – The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public
input on a project that will close 55 percent of the existing roads
and trails on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to motorized
vehicles.

Under a proposed Travel Management Rule, total road miles open
to vehicles would plummet from 4,657 miles to around 2,100 miles –
a figure that deviates slightly depending on which of two
alternatives is chosen.

What the public wasn’t told last year, even prior to the open
houses in October, was that the Forest Service had planned to close
all but 203 miles of the 2,703 unauthorized miles of roads on the
1.5-million-acre forest.

Forest Service officials provided maps on the alternative and
encouraged forest users to comment on roads they wanted open, but
didn’t quantify what the alternative meant to motorized access on
the forest.

At that time, Joan Marburger, a spokeswoman working out of the
Park Falls office, said they hadn’t developed the alternative
enough to know how many or what percentage of the unauthorized
roads would be closed under the plan.

Jeanne Higgins, forest supervisor, said there were strong
comments at the October open houses against the closing of many of
the 1,000 unauthorized roads on the 1.5-million-acre forest.

Officials said last fall that about 80 of the unauthorized roads
are located in the Eagle River-Florence District.

The Forest Service announced in November that, in response to
public comments, it was drafting a third alternative that provides
more vehicle access. But the volume of open roads in the new
alternative rose only slightly, from 2,080 miles to 2,158 miles, or
3.7 percent.

The biggest change in Alternative 3 was the addition of 22 miles
of roads for all-terrain vehicle use on the eastern Nicolet land
base and the seasonal opening of 42 miles of road for fall hunting
access.

Both the no-action alternative and the Forest Service proposal
that was taken to open houses provided zero miles of ATV trails on
the east side of the forest.

Higgins said there are 2,703 miles of unauthorized roads on the
Chequamegon-Nicolet, most of which could become off-limits to
motorized traffic. Once effective, the rule will prohibit
cross-country travel.

She said the roads open to only highway-legal vehicles would
drop from 4,169 miles under the no-action alternative to 1,621
miles under the Forest Service proposal.

The agency’s preferred plan would retain 203 miles of the
unauthorized roads, while Alternative 3 would retain 262 miles of
those roads.

The agency has completed an environmental assessment that
analyzes the three alternatives. A 30-day comment period was to
begin sometime last week when notices are published in the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Written comments must be submitted to: Forest Supervisor Jeanne
Higgins, Attn: Travel Management Project EA, 1170 Fourth Ave. S.,
Park Falls, WI 54552. They also may be faxed to (715) 762-5179.

Electronic comments must be submitted to:
comments-eastern-chequamegon-nicolet @fs.fed.us. They should
include “travel management project” in the subject line.

Wolf pack effects

Under its initial proposal, the Forest Service would keep open a
network of 1,621 miles of road for highway-legal vehicles and 450
miles of road that is open to both highway vehicles and ATVs. It
proposed that only nine miles of road be open only to ATV use.

Using Alternative 3, those numbers increase to 1,664 miles of
road for highway vehicles and 474 miles for both vehicle types.

The major closures of unauthorized roads involve those that run
within wolf pack territories – where the totals would go from 3,096
miles to 1,508 miles.

Other resource concerns that are prompting the closure of
unauthorized roads include those within one-quarter mile of elk
calving areas (from 53 to 20 miles), those within 100 feet of a
non-native invasive species site (from 674 to 415 miles), and roads
in high-risk soils (from 265 to 108 miles).

Most of the ATV miles are on the Chequamegon side of the forest,
where ATVs were allowed virtually anywhere prior to the
establishment of a designated trail system in 2004.

Public Affairs Officer Suzanne Flory said that the estimated
1,000 unauthorized roads on the forest include about 80
unauthorized roads in the Eagle River-Florence Ranger District.

Flory said even some of the roads the public spoke in favor of
keeping open might still be proposed for closure, based on resource
issues.

“But for certain, if an unauthorized road wasn’t brought up in
January 2007, it didn’t appear on the latest maps,” Flory said.

The Travel Management Rule requires that the Forest Service
designate those roads, trails, and areas that are open to motorized
vehicle use. If appropriate, class of vehicle and season of use
also will be designated.

ATV corridor

As an example, the rule includes 10 miles of proposed corridor
route on existing gravel roads for ATVs in Florence County.

Officials said the ATV routes would connect the Nicolet Trail
near Tipler with a county trail system on the eastern side of
Florence County. They said the proposed route was urged by the DNR,
which maintains the Tipler trail, and the county.

Flory said one section of the corridor would use Level 2 roads
that are used mostly by pickup trucks and the other section uses
multi-use roads that accommodate all vehicles, including cars.

“The corridor would connect ATV riders in the Tipler area with
the Pentoga Road bridge, which leads to Michigan trails,” Flory
said.

An annual event

Forest Service officials have stressed that the designated road
map will be updated annually.

“Just because a road is off the map doesn’t mean it is closed to
motorized traffic for all time,” Flory said.

She said the berming and gating of unauthorized roads isn’t
likely to occur anytime soon; there are budget issues that will
prevent most of that work from being done.

The first official transportation map from the process will be
published in 2009.

Maps are available at the Forest Service offices and at the
following Web site: www.fs.fed.us/r9/cnnf/rec/tmr/index.html.

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