By Marcy Stamper
In another reversal, the U.S. Forest Service plans to close roads in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest that had been opened to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) for the past few months, according to Karl Forsgaard, president of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society.
The Forest Service opened 350 miles of roads to ATVs in all seven ranger districts in the forest at the end of June.
Forsgaard was one of a group of representatives of environmental organizations, ATV rider groups, county road departments and the governor’s office who participated in a conference call on Friday (Sept. 25) with Jason Kuiken, the deputy forest supervisor for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
“Recently there have been developments regarding the WATV [wheeled ATV] routes that we would like to share with all of you who have been involved throughout the process,” wrote Kuiken in the email notifying the parties about the phone meeting.
In the conference call, Kuiken explained that they need to evaluate the new ATV routes under the National Environmental Policy Act before the Forest Service can change which vehicles are allowed to travel on the roads, said Forsgaard. Before June, ATVs had not been permitted to use these roads.
The Forest Service is still working on a press release explaining the ATV developments, according to Cathy Dowd, public affairs officer with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest has been working on its travel management rule for the past decade, which, when complete, will include a detailed map showing all roads and trails open to motorized travel, according to Jennifer Zbyszewski, recreation program manager for the Methow Valley Ranger District. The map will also show the types of vehicles allowed on them.
Forest managers had been hoping to have a draft of the environmental analysis on the travel management changes for public review this fall, but it was delayed because staff had to be diverted to wildfires this summer, according to Forsgaard’s account of the phone conference.
Wheeled ATVs are a special class of ATVs that must have certain safety features, including lights, mirrors, and a special license.
The Alpine Lakes Protection Society was a plaintiff, along with the Kittitas Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, in a lawsuit filed against the Forest Service in June. The lawsuit claimed that the Forest Service failed to follow environmental laws that require public input and an analysis of which roads or trails would be open to any motorized use, including by off-road vehicles and wheeled ATVs.
Kuiken did not mention the lawsuit in his remarks during last week’s conference call, said Forsgaard.