POMEROY, Wash. – The Umatilla National Forest has closed some main roads in the Blue Mountains to all-terrain vehicle traffic for safety reasons.
The change has riled ATV riders, who plan to form a group to protest the closures and to have a stronger voice in future decisions.
Monte Fujishin, Pomeroy District ranger, said a national travel planning rule enacted in 2005 compelled him to study all forest roads where state motor vehicle rules apply and determine if having full-sized vehicles and smaller off-road ATVs and off-road motorcycles was safe.
The forest decided about 76 miles of the forest’s main access routes, including 50 miles on the Pomeroy district, were not safe for off-road vehicles.
For comparison, most main routes on the Colville national forest are closed to ATVs while Idaho’s state laws enable the Forest Service to open many routes on the Panhandle.
“What we are trying to do is make decisions to keep people as safe as we can on our road system,” Fujishin said. “I realize some people don’t agree that is our job.”
Most of the roads on the Pomeroy district remain open to ATV use. But in some places the closure will make it impossible for ATVers to ride from one area to another, and will also eliminate some popular loop rides.
“I think it’s insane,” said Jim Storey of Pomeroy. “That road up there is plenty wide for two cars. Why isn’t it wide enough for a car and a four-wheeler?”
Ben Keller, Garfield County undersheriff, also is part of the move to form a local ATV group. Keller worked last year to pass an ordinance allowing ATVs to ride on Pomeroy and Garfield County roads so riders could go from their homes to the mountains.
“We did push for an (ATV) ordinance; we got it last year and we’ve had zero problems with it,” he said.
Keller also rides on forest roads in Idaho and said he doesn’t understand the difference.
“Where I ride in Idaho, it is big business,” he said. “Little towns make a lot of money off of four-wheelers. It is going to benefit everybody if they allow more access.”
Fujishin said it is possible some of the recently closed roads can be reopened. With safety issues identified on specific road sections, forest officials will see if there is anything that can be done to fix the problems.
Discussions continue on completing a long-planned ATV trail known as the North/South Route to parallel the 40 Road that leads from Pomeroy across the mountains to Troy, Ore. Fujishin said the agency has completed environmental analysis needed for the trail, but has to find money to build it.
Keller said the proposed ATV group could help build the route.
“I think we are going to have enough people in this club or group, if we wanted to do a project, that is something we can do, if they just allowed us,” he said.