EPIC, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and other conservation allies submitted comments regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) Restoration and Motorized Travel Management on June 9th, supporting a travel management decision that protects the outstanding natural values found in the Smith River NRA by reducing road maintenance costs, protecting and restoring aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and reducing the spread of Port Orford cedar root disease through road and route decommissioning.
The Forest Service needs to refrain from adding routes and motorized trails to the road system that occur within occupied sensitive plant habitat as well as fully analyze and disclose the impacts of foreseeable illegal off-road use. In addition, the Forest Service must disclose the actual efficacy of agency road gating, blocking, and closure mechanisms. Furthermore, the final travel management decision must contain meaningful and substantive protections for Port Orford cedar populations across the planning area.
The DEIS for the Smith River NRA Restoration and Motorized Travel Management was released to the public on April 11, 2014. The aim of the project is to make changes to the National Forest Transportation System (NFTS) and Motorized Vehicle Use Maps , including adding, upgrading, downgrading, and decommissioning roads to provide for recreation opportunities, administrative needs, and to reduce risk.
In the Smith River NRA DEIS, six alternatives were identified. The Forest Service prefers Alternative 6. Unfortunately, Alternative 6 is primarily based upon the preferences of a collaborative group whose stated purpose was to determine how to add “high risk” controversial user-created routes to the Smith River NRA NFTS. These “high risk” routes provide no administrative or recreational purpose other than to fulfill the desire to engage in extreme off-road travel. In addition, the preferred alternative would add routes and motorized trails to the NFTS that occur within occupied sensitive plant habitat. It is undeniable that the existing network of roads and routes within the NRA are major causes of chronic sedimentation problems in streams, cause damage to rare and endemic plant populations, contribute to the loss of roadless wildland recreational opportunities, and increase the spread of Phytophthora lateralis (plant pathogen that causes Port Orford cedar root disease). Although the Forest Service acknowledges these problems, it plans to monitor less than 1 in 5 of these “high risk” routes over the next 10 years if funding is even available.
Under the Smith River National Recreation Act, the Forest Service has a responsibility to preserve, protect, and enhance the unique biological diversity of the NRA. EPIC and its supporters feel that the Forest Service’s preferred alternative, which favors the interests of 1.1% of the Six Rivers Forest visitors, does not adequately protect the significant ecological, recreational, and hydrological values the Smith River NRA is charged with protecting. EPIC and its allies hope that the preferred action is not pre-ordained and that its substantive, technical, and site-specific comments are adequately acknowledged and addressed.
This article was written by Jason Landers, an intern with EPIC for the 2014 summer.