Off-road questions dominate 'State of the Ninemile'
Wednesday, March 26 2008 @ 11:26 AM MDT
Contributed by: Admin
by Richard Werst
Where is it acceptable, and where can they do it?
Whether you call the vehicles off-highway (OHV), off-road (ORV) or all-terrain (ATV), their use--and misuse--was an unexpected component of the “State of the District” meeting at the Ninemile Ranger Station.
Though not on the agenda Thursday, the topic was the first question from the audience following the introductions given by Ranger Garry Edson.
“Are we going to talk about ATVs?” was the question.
“Well, not really,” Edson replied. “What do you want to know?”
“When are you going to deal with them?” was the question, a sentiment echoed by more than one chuckle from local residents sitting in the audience.
The Ninemile district wants to develop a comprehensive program that will designate areas for off-highway use, post signs informing people of permitted uses, hire an OHV ranger during the summer, and promote education, Edson said.
Unmanaged recreation, which includes ATV use, is one of the four threats identified by Former Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. The other three are invasive weeds, fragmentation of the landscape, and fire fuels.
The Lolo National Forest currently requires ATVs to stay on designated roads and trails, according to Edson. He said the forest is in the process of producing a free motor vehicle use map showing which roads are open to travel. That use map will be similar to the newsprint hunting and fishing regulations map.
The district is also trying to pull together enough money to hire an OHV ranger for the summer, Edson said. The ranger would inventory problem areas, including areas where restoration efforts are needed due to damage from unauthorized use.
Regarding public education about off-road use, the district hopes to organize a meeting this fall to address problems in the Roman Creek drainage.
“We have a problem, and we are going to go to the community and ask what they want to do,” Edson said. “The district can't put up enough barricades to keep them out of the restricted areas.”
Off-road use requires such a comprehensive approach because other forest activities can affect it, Edson suggested.
For example, he said, thinning projects to reduce wildfire risks could entice off-road enthusiasts to make their own trails and travel through the cleared area.
OHV use has also become one of the most controversial elements in the restoration project under discussion in the South Fork of Fish Creek. Local residents are strongly opposed to any off-road use, he pointed out.
Many off-road groups are working to protect the resource, Edson said, but it only takes a small number of unethical users to destroy it for the good users.
Four enforcement officers patrol the district and can levy fines for illegal off road use, the group was told. Parents can now be cited and fined for rule violations by their children, he noted. It remains to be seen whether this rule and designated areas will reduce
pressure on restricted areas.
The regular agenda for the meeting included a discussion of the Forest Service Budget, and how it impacts what they can accomplish on a district level.
It's not very promising, according to Edson. Our budget has been trending downward for years, he said, and it is continuing in that direction.
“All we are trying to do is stay above water, he said, “that's all were trying to do.”
With an eight to 10 percent reduction in their budget, they're not even keeping up with the rising cost of fuel.
For example, when gas prices went up 50 cents a few years ago, it cost the Northern Rockies region another $2 million, he said.
“We're having a hard tine just keeping up with inflation – with our fixed costs,” Edson said. “It affects our capacity to do a lot. I'm not here to whine, I'm just telling you what the outlook is – and it's not very promising.”
The target for the spring burning program is only about 700 acres, due to funding for this fiscal year, according to Fire Management Officer Laura Ward. She added that she anticipated being able to treat 1,500 to 2,000 acres with prescribed fire, if conditions allow.
Crews will be working behind recent timber sales around Sawmill Gulch and Petty Rock.
The spring burning should be going full-bore by early May, the audience was told, even with the current snow pack.
The district will have 27 persons stationed at the Nine Mile Ranger Station, Ward said, with the first ones coming on in April and the rest coming on in June.
They will be here till September, she said, when the students go back to school and the crew will drop to about 15.
“I can't tell you what kind of a fire season we are going to have – so don't ask,” she said. “We'll have a fire season, because we always do.”
“We'll tell you in October,” Edson said.