By ROGER H. AYLWORTH - Staff Writer
Posted: 07/01/2012 12:52:19 AM PDT
BUTTE MEADOWS -- There is a fine line between protecting nature's glory and closing down a long-established form of recreation, and many off-highway vehicle enthusiasts claim the Lassen National Forest has crossed that line.
The point of contention is access.
In 2010, the Lassen Forest, under the direction of then-Forest Supervisor Kathleen Morse, adopted a "motorized travel management plan" that establishes where motorized vehicles can go.
Off-highway drivers complain officials in the Lassen asked them to map all of the routes they use as part of developing the plan, but then ignored the list.
When the document was released, "Roads that have been opened for 100 years have been closed," according to Daryl Bender, a Chico educator and advocate for OHV riders.
Speaking of the trail maps the riders had prepared, Tim Adkins, president of Butte Meadows Hillsliders Snowmobile Club, said, "They did what they wanted to do. They just literally walked right on past us."
Jerry Bird, the current forest supervisor for the Lassen Forest, said, "There is some validity to that concern."
He explained a route identified by the public that "was not an authorized route on our defined system" was not opened to any level of motorized use.
Bird said 78 percent of all roads in the forest are open to motorized uses, but he qualified that, saying that percentage was among the previously authorized roads only.
Beyond the roads that allegedly were just dropped from the map, there
are concerns about what kinds of vehicles can be used on which roads.
Forest roads are ranked on "maintenance levels," and for the OHV drivers the key difference is between Level 2 and Level 3.
In a telephone interview from his office in Susanville, Bird said a Level 2 road is usually a route that had been a logging road in the past. It has not been maintained, doesn't have significant drainage, and is fit really for "high clearance" vehicles. These routes are designated for off-highway vehicle use.
Bird said Level 3 roads are graveled, regularly maintained and are designed to be easily passable by a standard passenger car at speeds up to 35 mph. OHVs are excluded from Level 3 roads.
The mix of off-highway vehicles and passenger vehicles would not be safe on the Level 3 roads because of the speeds, according to Bird.
That is not a universally accepted position.
Bender said all of the roads in the Modoc National Forest are open to OHVs, even Level 3 routes. The Shasta-Trinity National Forest reports it has at least 12 roads in Shasta, Siskiyou and Tehama counties that are open to "mixed use."
Just over a year ago, Mike Crump, Butte County director of public works, sent a letter to Bird explaining there are three county-maintained roads that connect to forest roads, where the county allows OHVs. The letter asks the Forest Service to allow OHV use on the connecting roads. To date, nothing has happened on that request.
The fact that OHVs are banned from Level 3 roads in the Lassen Forest is a point that hits Gray Glende hard. Glende, who owns an OHV dealership Chico, said he has been told by forest officials perhaps people should skip OHVs and buy SUVs.
In his interview with the newspaper, Bird said, "A Jeep CJ, or something like that, is perfectly legal" on the forest roads.
One place everybody seems to agree is that it is almost impossible to identify an OHV-acceptable road by looking at it.
Bird said he can't be positive all the forest roads are properly marked with signs. The OHV people say flatly they are not.
He also said the existing maps are "somewhat troublesome."
Bender said the current maps are not dependable. He said when Bird conducted a public discussion in Butte Meadows on the topic of OHV usage about a month ago, the maps that were distributed then were of a wilderness area in the Lassen and had nothing to do with OHV travel.
The lack of dependable signs and maps is reportedly hurting OHV tourism.
Stacy Kelso, owner of the Butte Meadows Mercantile & Resort, said, "People come up and want to know where they can ride. I don't know what to tell them."
Butte County Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, whose district covers Butte Meadows, Jonesville and the rest of the county that overlaps the Lassen, said the loss of tourist dollars hits both the local government and the businesses.
"Does it affect our local county government? Yes. Does it affect our economy? The answer is yes," said the supervisor.
Bird, who is in the uncomfortable position of defending and implementing regulations he had no part in creating, said there is nothing about the transportation plan that is etched in stone.
He said one issue he already knows must be revisited is the historic "dispersed campsites." Bird said these long-established informal camping areas were just left off the map. The forest supervisor said these sites are going to be examined and where there are not other problems, they will eventually be put back into the list of accessible locations.
Bird said one thing everybody has to understand is changes won't happen suddenly.
Reasonably site specific changes can be accomplished in six to nine months, but the cost and staffing necessary to make the change work into the question of when something can be accomplished.
Staff writer Roger H. Aylworth can be reached at 896-7762, firstname.lastname@example.org
, or on Twitter @RogerAylworth. For the original article go to ww.chicoer.com/news/ci_20983994/lassen-national-forests-plan-has-off-highway-drivers