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Mica Peak timber lands closed to motorized vehicles

Sun., March 27, 2011

A small but steady parade of vandals has prompted the Inland Empire Paper Company to ban motorize vehicle use on about 3,600 acres of timberland around Mica Peak south of Liberty Lake.

Paul Buckland, the company’s forest resource manager, said area landowners have sought the closure for years, especially agencies that have suffered vandalism around the mountain-top communications facilities.

The closure includes the company’s lands in Idaho and Washington

“This will reduce the problems property owners are having with damage while providing a higher quality recreational experience for people who hike, bike or ride horses into the area,” Buckland said. “Wildlife populations also will benefit from reduced disturbance and pressure.”

The biggest jolt will be felt by hunters, who usually have been allowed to drive the area’s 50-70 miles of forest roads during fall seasons.

For some hunters, the closure will take a little luster off the 34 moose permits the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department offers for the portion of the area in the Mica Peak Game Management Unit.

“You’re going to want some strong buddies to help haul out meat if you get a tag,” said Kevin Robinette, regional wildlife manager, who just learned about the closure this week when contacted by The Spokesman-Review.

“The area also has been popular with deer hunters, a few elk hunters, and there are a few turkeys in there, too.”

Fish and Wildlife police will continue to have access to patrol the area, Buckland said.

In addition to IEP land, the motorized vehicle closure will include about 50 acres of land managed by communications companies and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“If they’d treat the place like it was their own, it would be fine, but enough’s enough,” said Rod Zinda, who maintains the road to the summit and radar facilities for the FAA.

He listed numerous problems in recent years, ranging from break-ins and tool theft to the vulgar graffiti he had to clean off doors this month.

“Taxpayers pick up the bill for all of that,” he said.

“I’ll just finish grading the road and they’ll come up in four-wheel drives and spin doughnuts and tear it up,” he said.

“I caught some four-wheelers climbing the banks and really chewed their butts good. But it didn’t mater. They were right back at it again a couple days later.”

The mountain top includes radar used by Geiger Field for monitoring aircraft in a 250-mile radius, plus local radio station towers and communication towers for State Patrol, Air Force and Bonneville Power Administration.

“There’s a lot of stuff up there,” Zinda said.

Neighboring farmers regularly have problems with vehicles crossing seeded fields and tearing up land going around gates, Zinda said.

“IEP is coordinating with those entities to ensure quality forest recreation opportunities are not lost to the public,” said Buckland, noting that walking, hunting, horse riding and mountain biking continue to be welcome on the timber company’s land.

However, the company requires visitors to buy a pass for accessing any of the 116,000 acres of land it manages in this region.

The closure is just latest of a trend as private timber companies continue to install gates and charge fees largely in reaction to the disturbance off-highway vehicle users inflict on their lands and resources.

In November, IEP announced a ban on snowmobiling on its lands on Mount Spokane after years of trying to keep the sledders on trails.

Persistent problems with snowmobilers playing off-trail in clearcuts forced the closure to keep them from breaking off the tops of young trees and ruining their commercial value, Buckland said.

The timber company’s lands on Mica Peak are accessible from numerous points.

Starr Road is the main access point and arterial for that whole block of IEP land, Buckland said. The branch of the road beyond a gate leads to the top of the peak and is maintained by the FAA.

“Most of the minor access points – to the north and east in particular – will be blocked in some manner with tank traps, cement blocks, rocks or gates.”

However, he said it would be impractical for the company to try to block all of the small tributary roads.

“Signs will be posted at all access points, that we know of, in the next couple of weeks,” Buckland said, noting that unauthorized trails have been created.

Inland Empire Paper is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

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