By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest has closed six routes to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs) and will only consider reopening them after additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, according to a Sept. 28 announcement from their staff officer.
Managers with the Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest opened 350 miles of roads on a trial basis at the end of June after working with ATV rider groups and environmental organizations to identify suitable routes. The withdrawal of the administrative decision that opened the roads to ATVs is effective immediately.
Two of the six routes included roads in the Methow Valley Ranger District — one from Boulder Creek to Tiffany Springs and Conconully, and one from Black Canyon to the Chelan Lake side.
Reopening these or other routes to WATVs will require a new “decision document,” according to the Forest Service.
“We’ve been talking with the Forest Service, trying to get this thing ironed out — this on-again, off-again stuff,” said Ed Surette, a board member of the North Central ATV Club.
Since a state law was passed in 2013 that created the new class of wheeled ATVs and expanded potential opportunities for riding them, administrators with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest have flip-flopped repeatedly about whether WATVs are allowed on forest roads.
This summer, Surette partnered with staff from the Methow Valley Ranger District to monitor the trial ATV routes. In several trips, they saw no damage they could attribute to ATVs, he said.
While ATV riders had been anxious to have access to the forest, there was not a lot of riding this summer, said Surette. People took trips to Conconully, where they can ride into town for lunch, but restrictions on riding into Winthrop or Twisp made the routes less attractive, he said. Beyond that, many of the areas were closed in August because of wildfires.
Waiting for map
Despite the frequent reversals, Surette was sanguine about the process while the Okanogan-Wenatchee completes its travel-management rule, which is years overdue.
When complete, the rule 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.
Initially travel planners expected the proposed rule and maps would be completed this fall, but they were delayed when staff members were diverted to fire duty. Surette said they now expect the draft plan early next year for public review. “Things are moving along,” he said.
After the WATV routes were announced in June, the Alpine Lakes Protection Society, the Kittitas Audubon Society and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit filed against the Forest Service. The suit claimed the Forest Service had 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 ATVs.
While there was no mention of the lawsuit in the announcement closing the ATV routes, Michael Williams, the forest supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, sent a letter to the U.S. attorney on Sept. 22 explaining the decision.
For more information about the ATV decision, contact Maureen Hanson, staff officer for administration, recreation, heritage and lands with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, at (509) 664-9307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.