Outdoors blog

THURSDAY, JAN. 5, 2012, 1:54 P.M.

Clearwater Forest plan would limit motorized use of trails

The landscape around an unnamed lake in the proposed Great Burn Wilderness is still evolving from the great forest fire of 1910. The proposed wilderness straddles the Montana-Idaho border southeast of Superior, Mont., in the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests. (Rich Landers)
The landscape around an unnamed lake in the proposed Great Burn Wilderness is still evolving from the great forest fire of 1910. The proposed wilderness straddles the Montana-Idaho border southeast of Superior, Mont., in the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests. (Rich Landers)

PUBLIC LANDS -- About 200 miles of trails and more than 1 million acres of the Clearwater National Forest will close to motorized users under a new travel management plan released Wednesday.

See all the official forest documents on the travel plan here.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests also is revisiting its forest management plan. See today's S-R story.

Read on for the report on the Clearwater forest plan proposal from the Lewiston Tribune.

MCT REGIONAL NEWS

By Eric Barker

Lewiston Tribune, Idaho (MCT)

Jan. 05--About 200 miles of trails and more than 1 million acres of the Clearwater National Forest will close to motorized users under a new travel management plan released Wednesday.

Approved by Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell, the plan forbids cross-country travel by most motorized vehicles and requires all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and full-sized cars and trucks to travel only on roads and trails that are designated for their use.

The Mallard Larkin Pioneer Area and the Great Burn Roadless Area, which were recommended for wilderness protection under the Clearwater’s 1987 Forest Plan, will be closed to all mechanized vehicles including bicycles. Several backcountry trails on the forest’s North Fork Ranger District will be closed to motorized use.

The trail closures, which have been expected for more than two years, mainly affect single-track trails used by motorcycle riders in places like Pot Mountain, Weitas Creek and Cayuse Creek. But the rule adopted by Brazell includes some long, single-track loop trails in the backcountry that will remain open to motorcycles. The ban on off-trail cross-country travel is part of a national rule that does away with the practice on nearly all land managed by the Forest Service.

Brazell characterized his decision as a balancing act between protection of fish and wildlife habitat and the desires of motorized and non-motorized users of the forest.

"We tried to evaluate resources issues and needs and tried to give folks as much opportunity to recreate as we could," he said. "There are always going to be folks on either end of the spectrum who don’t like what they are losing."

In the Weitas Creek area, motorcycles will continue to be able to use the main Weitas Creek Trail, and during the late summer and fall travel a loop up the creek to its headwaters and back down Windy Ridge to Fourth of July Creek on the North Fork Clearwater River. But spur trails off of the main Weitas Trail to places like Cook Mountain and Liz Butte will be closed. At Pot Mountain, motorcycles can still access the Pot Mountain Ridge and Cave Point trails, but spurs like Jackknife Creek Trail will be closed. In the Cayuse Creek drainage, the Lunde Creek Ridge Trail and Windy Bill Trail will remain open to motorcycles, but the rest of the trails will close.

In total about 194 miles of trail that were open to motorcyclists will now be open only to non-motorized users. Some trails that were previously open year-round will only be open in the late summer and fall in order to protect elk herds when calves are young. For example, the Junction Mountain Trail and the Windy Ridge Trail were previously open year-round to motorcycles. Under the new plan they will be open Aug. 1 through Nov. 15.

Many trail users were still digesting the new plan that is hundreds of pages long.

"I don’t know if we got screwed or not," said Jim Willis, an avid motorcycle rider from Orofino and president of the group Public Lands Access Year-round.

Willis didn’t expect to be happy with the rule.

Conservation groups were split in their opinions. Brad Brooks of the Wilderness Society at Boise said he can live with the rule and is pleased the proposed wilderness areas are now off limits to motorized use.

"It’s not perfect but it’s fair in my opinion," he said. "There are a few trails I’m disappointed in but the reality is we live in a world of compromise."

Gary Macfarlane of the Moscow-based Friends of the Clearwater doesn’t share the same view. He said according to the forest plan and national policies, the 200 miles of motorcycle trails should have been closed years ago. He doesn’t like Brazell’s decision to leave some loop trails open.

"I didn’t expect anything different but it’s even a little more disappointing than I thought it would be, especially for Weitas Creek," Macfarlane said. "We think Weitas Creek is perhaps the premier wilderness candidate on the Clearwater."

He said his group will probably appeal Brazell’s decision.

The travel plan can be appealed by groups and individuals who commented on a draft of the plan released in 2009. Brazell said because people are passionate about recreation and resource protection he expects several appeals.

"I expect appeals and I wouldn’t dismiss the idea there will be litigation before it’s all done."




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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