Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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WWF appeals Forest Service road closures

Poynette, Wis. – A U.S. Forest Service decision to prohibit
motorized vehicles on 50 percent of the existing roads on the
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is being appealed by the
state’s largest conservation organization.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, representing 161 hunting,
fishing, trapping, and forestry-related groups, is challenging the
federal agency’s finding of “no significant impact” from its Travel
Management Project.

CNNF Supervisor Jeanne Higgins issued a Sept. 25 decision that
will close about 2,300 miles of road to vehicle traffic when the
first official travel map is released in January.

The agency states that thousands of miles of unclassified roads
exist on the forest that were never intended to be for public
access. They include old skid roads from logging operations and
trails that were kept open by vehicular traffic.

WWF Executive Director George Meyer claims the Forest Service
used a flawed public involvement process and failed to follow
established criteria for designating roads.

The appeal alleges that the majority of forest users were never
notified of the potential closure of more than 50 percent of the
forest roads because they live outside of northern Wisconsin.

As an example, Meyer noted that the agency’s five public
meetings in the spring of 2007 attracted a total of 156 people. He
said that compares with the 300 people who would attend just one
hearing of the Wisconsin DNR on issues concerning the state

“Knowing that these public lands recreational issues are a
matter of statewide concern, public hearing and involvement needed
to be done on a statewide basis,” Meyer wrote in the appeal.

He claims that most of the roads scheduled for closure were
selected contrary to federally established criteria for designating
roads, trails, and areas.

“The great majority of roads proposed to be closed to vehicular
traffic do not cause adverse impacts on cultural and natural
resources, cause public safety problems and specific factual
conflicts between forest users,” Meyer wrote.

He said there were relatively few road closures whereby the
Forest Service actually documented real wildlife and resource
problems that were associated with the continued existence of

“The Federation supports these closures because they were based
on scientific, factual information and were field-verified,” Meyer
noted. “We will also support future closure that are based on this
type of analysis and information.”

Conversely, Meyer said the agency violated the provisions of its
analysis criteria by failing to recognize that recreation
motorized-use opportunities would be severely curtailed by the

“The decision is also contrary to the record since the Forest
Service indicates that the single most significant issue raised by
the public in the planning process was insufficient motorized
access,” he wrote.

Additionally, the appeal contends that the agency’s road maps
are in error and don’t accurately depict the roads that are open or
closed, and therefore don’t provide actual notice to the public on
which roads are open and closed.

It also alleges that the Forest Service failed to provide a
process for the use of the proposed closed roads for disabled

The remedy sought by WWF for all of its appeal issues is that
the decision be remanded to the Forest Service for improved public
disclosure, verification of map accuracy, proper road analysis in
accordance with federal rules, and establishment of a process that
allows disabled individuals to use the roads.

Alternative 3

In her final decision to implement the Travel Management Rule,
Higgins selected a modified version of Alternative 3, which allows
wheeled vehicles on 2,363 miles of roads and 334 miles of trails
that are under Forest Service jurisdiction.

“The modification includes approximately 205 additional miles of
road that were evaluated following public requests and will be
added for use,” she said.

Higgins said all of the trails open to ATVs are located on the
Chequamegon side of the 1.5 million-acre forest; however, the
Forest Service is working on corridor access projects in Alvin,
Florence, and Phelps.

The decision technically closes 2,294 miles of roads, or about
49 percent of the 4,657 miles of roads under federal control.

Higgins said the purpose of the motor vehicle use map is to show
the public which roads are open to motorized traffic, effectively
prohibiting all cross-country travel on the forest. The map will be
updated annually based on public input.

She said no roads will be physically closed by berming or gating
in the first year as the agency gathers more public input,
especially from once-a-year forest visitors such as deer

“Any roads suggested by the public to be added or deleted from
the map will be evaluated through the same roads analysis process
used for the first map,” Higgins said. “So far, about 65 percent of
the roads that were brought to our attention have been added to the

She said the physical closure of even an unauthorized road that
has been kept open by forest users will entail a separate
environmental assessment and public scoping period.

“This map will not cause us to actually close any roads, not
without a separate assessment that gets into more local details
about the specific road in question,” Higgins said.

Most of the unauthorized roads in question are remote two-tracks
that have never been graveled, improved, or signed, she said.

“Many of these roads are impassable with a vehicle because of
new vegetation or windfalls,” Higgins said. “Most of them require a
four-wheel-drive vehicle.”

The Forest Service is analyzing roads that people want kept open
based on a set of diverse criteria involving water quality, road
condition, endangered or sensitive plant and animal species, and
non-native invasives.

Alternative 3 was a late addition to the process that added 78
miles of roads and trails beyond what the federal agency had
proposed in Alternative 2. It also included the addition of 203
miles by public request, after the roads were analyzed.

The first option was a no-action alternative that would have
kept all 2,703 miles of unauthorized roads open.

Higgins said the first motorized vehicle use map will be
available online and at district offices for no charge in January
2009. The second, updated version based on public input in the next
year will be available by March 31, 2010.

She said off-highway vehicle use has increased dramatically in
the past decade.

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