By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will have to analyze the environmental impact of allowing wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to use forest roads before the roads can be opened to the vehicles.
Three conservation groups and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest reached a settlement in the lawsuit over access to 350 miles of forest roads on March 8. The case was filed last year by the Alpine Lakes Protection Society, the Kittitas Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.
Two of the six ATV routes include 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.
The Forest Service had already closed the roads to ATVs last September and removed signs and kiosks publicizing the ATV routes. The settlement requires the Forest Service to resurvey all six ATV routes by May 27 to make sure there are no more signs suggesting the roads are open to ATVs. The agency will also have to provide the environmental groups with photos and other records taken before the roads were initially opened to ATVs.
Wheeled ATVs are a special class of ATVs that must have certain safety features, including lights, mirrors, and a special license.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee was already working on the update of its travel-management plan, which includes a formal environmental review of the proposed ATV routes. The draft plan and environmental analysis, which are expected to be released this spring, will include the same six ATV routes and therefore a chance for the public and other interested parties to provide feedback on them, according to Shannon O’Brien, a spokesperson for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
When done with the travel plan, the Forest Service will issue new maps that show all roads and trails and the types of motor vehicles allowed to use them.
Okanogan-Wenatchee staff have been working on the update for a decade but analyzing every single road one by one proved overwhelming, so the draft plan will implement the existing road system but close the rest of the forest to cross-country travel, as required by federal law. They expect to finalize the maps this fall, said O’Brien.
The court awarded the plaintiffs $32,000 in legal fees.