By Nick Pike
News & Review
Those who ride all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles in the Plumas National
Forest see their opportunities for wilderness fun
disappearing, no thanks to the U.S. Forest Service.
The agency's new Motorized Travel Management Plan for the
forest, they charge, puts miles of forest roads off limits.
The plan has reduced the number of legally useable roads in
the Plumas forest from 1,107 to 873 miles since it was put in place last month.
Doug Teeter, head of the Sierra Access Coalition, says his
group is working to reverse the plan with a lawsuit filed against the Forest
The USFS, Teeter argues, is taking away the rights of
citizens to enjoy the lands they pay taxes to use. What's more, he said, the
service failed to seek the cooperation and approval of local counties,
associations and other government services when it finalized the plan.
"They are using illegitimate reasons for closing hundreds of
miles of our public forest roads," he said.
But the Forest Service says it is responsible for protecting
habitat as well as providing recreation.
"Nationally, we're trying to strike a balance," said
Laurence Crabtree, acting supervisor of the Plumas National Forest.
"We want to provide motorized access while minimizing impacts to non-motorized
recreation, wildlife and watersheds."
A significant number of the closed roads include "non-system
roads," said Leanne Shramel-Taylor, spokeswoman for Plumas National Forest.
Non-system roads, she explained, are those that are not part of the Forest
Service's mapped routes.
Not so, Teeter insisted. The roads being closed are the
graded and designated roads that loggers, miners and others had established
long before recreationists were traveling on them.
Dave Garcia, a former forest ranger and chairman of the
local chapter of the Sierra Club, said that there are concerns about the
recreationists' use of forest roads and the effect on the local watersheds,
"Those roads increase the odds of landslides in the forest
from which the silt flows into the creeks and harms the water quality," Garcia
said. "Approximately 60 percent of our fresh water comes from national forests,
and 75 percent of that water isn't meeting the EPA's health requirements."
Old logging roads that remain open for use and current roads
being used by private logging companies are the biggest detriment to the
fisheries and watersheds, Garcia said.
"The dirt in the water isn't allowing salmon to spawn and is
causing harm to the forest habitat," he said. "We're not trying to kick the
public out of the public land; that is their right to use. We just want to be
able manage it."
In September the Butte County Board of
Supervisors voted to join the lawsuit against the Forest Service plan. At
that meeting Oroville-area Supervisor Bill Connelly voiced his enthusiastic
support of and proud participation in off-road motorcycle riding.
Chico-area Supervisor Maureen Kirk cast the lone nay vote.
"We're already in a financial quagmire as it is," she said
by phone recently. "I don't think we need to be spending money on something
During the board's first meeting in September the Forest
Service seemed willing to compromise, Kirk said, but by the time the next
meeting rolled around, the supervisors had decided to vote on joining the
"Even if they do win the lawsuit, I'm not sure that recreationists
are going to get all of what they want," she said.
Although Kirk didn't back the lawsuit, she said she does
understand the recreationists' concerns.
"I think the trails from Butte Meadows up to the high lakes
area should be kept open because that's a destination area," she said. "There
should be a compromise where some of the popularly enjoyed trails are left open
and those that aren't [popular] are closed."
Teeter lives in Paradise
and is a member of the Paradise Ridge Riders, a group of off-road motorcyclists
who, according to their website, are "dedicated to promoting responsible use of
off-road vehicles in and about our local area.
Made up of business owners, public servants, professionals,
educators, schoolchildren and retirees, the group is united behind a common
bond: "to see that the forest lands in which we ride will remain open for
future generations to enjoy."
The Sierra Access Coalition is a Plumas County-based group
that, according to its website, is similarly working to protect forest access
for riders. Butte County Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, of Paradise,
is one of its members.
Speaking at a recent meeting of the Chico Tea Party
Patriots, Teeter said the Forest Service's mapping information had
discrepancies in trail locations-such as proximity to watersheds and privately
owned land-that determined which roads were closed.
He said a member of the Sierra Access Coalition has advanced
GPS topographic tools and was able show that the Forest Service's route
locations were not accurate.
The Forest Service, Teeter said, was required by law to
coordinate with the five counties that are part of the Plumas Forest, but it
did not do so, which is why Butte County supervisors voting to join the Sierra
Access Coalition's lawsuit. Plumas
County has shown support
for the coalition but has not joined in the lawsuit.