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Colville National Forest reports alarming budget decline, especially in recreation

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal resource acengies are suffering big budget hits, as I pointed out on my Sunday Outdoors story.

Here's a spotlight on the issues, using an example close to home:


The 1.1 million-acre Colville National Forest spans 3 counties in Washington. This year its overall operating budget is about $16 million, employing about 150 permanent staff and 100 temporary workers. Forest officials round out the figures with these trends:

62 percent decrease in employees since the early 1990s.

5 percent reduction in overall budget in each

of past four years.

46 percent decrease in road maintenance contracting

budget in the past two years.

64 percent reduction in the already meager recreation budget expected in the next year.

Off-roaders busted for mucking up trails

OFF-ROADING — While turkey hunting on private timber company land last week I was appalled, again, at how many illigal ATV trails were pioneered by goons who think they have a right to have their way with someone else's property.

Washington Fish and Wildlife police say the practice is all to common, and law-abiding off-roaders are losing access to public and private lands because of these law breakers who go off roads without permisson.

Here's a sad report posted Monday by the WDFW enforcementd division regarding officers patroling Department of Natural Resources land in Western Washington near Amboy.

…Illegal ATV trails that eventually become wide enough for a full-size truck are popping up all over DNR and PacifiCorp lands. Due to the increase in this illegal and destructive activity, Officers Chamberlin and Moats planned an emphasis patrol recently to address the problem. So when they drove past five jacked-up trucks parked at the Chelatchie Prairie store, the Officers made deliberate eye contact with the group, hoping to dissuade them from using any nearby land as their own personal 4x4 playground…. so much for that tactic.

Officers Moats and Chamberlin retrieved their own ATVs and headed into the area shortly after. And who did they find? You guessed it – the same five vehicles deep in DNR land, and deep in the mud, as two of the trucks were nearly stuck in one area of the unauthorized ‘trail.’

Seven subjects were cited for trespass and ORV violations in this one incident.

Judge says backcountry skiers have right to relief from snowmobiles

WINTER SPORTS — Backcountry skiers who have been negotiating against the near-total encroachment of snowmobiles into national forest playgrounds near Lookout Pass and Stevens Peak may find some support in a ruling handed down by a court in Boise.

A federal judge in Idaho says the U.S. Forest Service broke the law when it didn’t craft rules to govern snowmobile travel, handing powder-loving backcountry skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts a victory that could extend to national forests nationwide.

  • The skiers emphasized they didn't want a ban on snowmobiling, just a balance of their use in the winter backcountry.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush ruled Friday that the Forest Service must go back to work on its 2005 Travel Management Rule and draw up regulations designating areas of use and non-use by all off-road vehicles, including snowmobiles, on national forest lands.

See the story: Judge sides with backcountry skiers

Hunter earns reward for turning in gate-busting ATVers

HUNTING — A national sportsman's conservation group has paid a $500 reward to an Idaho bear hunter who provided the information game wardens needed to cite hunters using all-terrain vehicles in habitat protected from motorized traffic.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a national group of outdoorsmen and women who value hunting and fishing in the peace and quiet of natural conditions, said Holly Endersby, BHA acting director who lives in Pollock, Idaho, in announcing the reward.

The case dates back to spring of 2011, when Ted Koch and two friends were hunting for black bears on the Nez Perce National Forest. They planned to hike into an area where roads had been closed to vehicles, but hike-in hunters were allowed.

As they hiked in, they observed hunters on ATVs driving around the locked gate. They also found bait stations the hunters had left behind.

“We planned to enjoy a quiet evening looking for bears,” Koch said. “Instead, the evening was shattered by noise and exhaust where it did not belong.”

Koch lived in Boise at the time of the hunt, but has since moved to Reno, Nev. He pointed out that he and his hunting partners own dirt bikes or all-terrain vehicles, but stay within the bounds of the law.

“Hunters and wildlife alike need some places entirely apart from the noise and disturbance of motor traffic,” Koch said. “Owning an ATV does not mean you can re-write the rule book.”

Koch noted the license plate numbers of the hunters’ vehicles, took GPS readings, recorded the date and time and wrote detailed descriptions of the riders. He reported the incident to Roy Kinner, a senior conservation officer from Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Grangeville.

“Mr. Koch gave us exactly the kind of information we needed to launch a successful investigation,” Kinner said. “I don’t usually get that kind of high quality information.  It was just priceless.”

In the end, three hunters pleaded guilty to the road closure violations and were fined $500 each. Other charges of leaving bear bait too close to a stream were dismissed.

BHA has a dedicated reward fund for aiding the conviction of law-breakers who abuse public hunting and fishing areas with motorized vehicles.

Motorized users sue to drive through Great Burn wilderness study area

PUBLIC LANDS — The Blue Ribbon Coalition and the Idaho Snowmobile Association filed a lawsuit against the Clearwater National Forest for its travel plan that bans motorcycles, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles and mountain bikes in the Great Burn wilderness study area on the Idaho-Montana border, according to a story by the Idaho Statesman.

“Only Congress can designate wilderness. We cannot stand idly by and watch them change the long-established system for managing these treasured lands.”

Sandra Mitchell, public lands director of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association.

“I see this as full frontal assault on wilderness. They are making essentially the argument that the Forest Service doesn’t have the power to protect wilderness character as a multiple use of public lands”

Brad Brooks, deputy regional director of the Wilderness Society in Boise.

Motorized use issue changes guard at Oregon forest

PUBLIC LANDS — The new supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Oregon is touring Wallowa, Union and Baker counties this week to meet the public he will be serving in the wake of a flap over restricting motorized use on the forest.

Kevin Martin succeeds Monica Schwalbach, who has taken a new assignment with the Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland.

She left less than 18 months after assuming responsibility for the Baker City-based forest.

The Wallowa-Whitman has been embroiled in controversy regarding its proposed travel management plan, which would have closed almost 4,000 miles of roads and trails to motor vehicle use.

Schwalbach withdrew the plan in April amid public protests, and it is being revised.

Colville Forest releases revised South End motorized use plan

FORESTS – The Colville National Forest is seeking comments on a revised proposal to regulate dispersed camping and designate and expand roads and trails open to motorized recreation.

Comments are due by the end of August on the South End Project scoping notice and plans for the Tacoma, Chewelah and Calispell drainages).

  • See the revised proposals in the document attached to this post.

The original plan was appealed last winter by conservation groups.

The project goals include designating an expanded system of routes for motor vehicle use.


Patrol issues tickets to ORVers in Colville area

PUBLIC LANDS — They had no trouble finding violations.
A group of state and federal officers who conducted an ORV emphasis patrol recently on public lands east of Colville filed the following stats:
  • 207 ORV/User Contacts
  • 21 Citations (i.e. no helmets, road closure, fishing w/o a license)
  • 22 Verbal Warnings
The patrol was designed to address heavy ORV use on forest roads and trails in sections of Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties, especially in areas where soil and vegetation degradation has been an issue.
It's pretty clear from the results that emphasis is warranted.


Clearwater’s Fish Lake Trail temporarily closed to motorized vehicles

OFF-ROADING — The popular Fish Lake Trail #419, located 15 miles south of Hoodoo Pass, near the Idaho-Montana state line, has closed temporarily to motorized traffic, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest officials announced today.

Wet conditions forced the closure to prevent motor vehicles from causing damage to the trail and fragile high alpine meadows on the lake’s western edge.

Forest officials will reopen Trail #419 as soon as the waterlogged trail has dried out, firmed up and is once again suitable for recreational use.

For updates: Clearwater National Forest Information Desk, (208) 476-8267.

4,000 miles of roads closed on Wallowa-Whitman forest

PUBLIC LANDS — Passenger cars, ATVs, dirt bikes and four-wheel-drive rigs will be prohibited on on nearly 4,000 miles of roads in northeastern Oregon's Wallowa-Whitman National Forest starting in June.

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest management plan, entered last week into the Federal Register — prohibits motorized vehicles on 3,835 miles of roads and ATV trails in a 1.3 million-acre area of the forest in Union, Baker and Wallowa counties.

Opponents based in Enterprise already are organizing. They have 45 days to appeal. However, some groups and fisheries officials support the closure.

Earlier versions of the policy triggered one of the most vocal resistance efforts in the state, with more than 6,000 people signing petitions urging the U.S. Forest Service to leave all the forest's roads open, according to a story by the Oregonian.

The changes don't affect motorized travel in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, but they will affect some areas used by groups such asberry pickers and hunters.

 There's still plenty of places to go by motor power. The 2.3 million-acre Wallowa-Whitman has a total of 9,111 miles of road.

Compromise bill would require license plates on OHVs

OFF-ROADING — It's no secret that off-road vehicle riders run rampant in some areas of national forests and other public lands that are closed to motorized traffic.  But even if you catch them in the act, little can be done to report the offenses because ATVs and off-road dirt bikes don't need licence plates necessary for ID.

A compromise bill is in the works in the Washington Legislature that would help open more roads for OHV riding  while getting a licensing requirement promoted by environmentalists. Many OHVers support the licensing portion of the bill to help deal with the bad apples in their ranks.

See Olympia reporter Jim Camden's Spin Control column for the details.

Colville Forest OKs South End motor vehicle plan

PUBLIC LANDS — Off-road vehicle riders have more routes for legally riding their ATVs and motorcycles on the Colville National Forest, according to a plan approved this month.

Forest Supervisor Laura Jo West signed the South End Motor Vehicle Management Plan, which designates roads and trails that create quality loops, connect communities and provide access, camping and parking.

The plan, two years in the making, designates motorized routes between U.S. Highway 395 and State Highway 20, including the Tacoma, Chewelah and Calispell drainages.

Read on for more details.

Judge orders 6 Idaho forest trails closed to OHVs

TRAILS — A federal judge has decided to temporarily close down trail access to off-road vehicles in sections of the Salmon-Challis National Forest pending a review of the forest's travel plan, the Idaho Statesman reports.

The order issued Tuesday follows a February ruling that the U.S. Forest Service had ignored evidence showing significant damage to trails and the landscape from off-road vehicles when it crafted its 2009 plan.

Brad Brooks of The Wilderness Society says the closure will ensure trails are protected until the forest managers can craft rules better protecting soil, water and vegetation from ATV's and other vehicles.

Hunters on OHVs urged to stay on designated trails

HUNTING — The Idaho Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Public Outreach Campaign is urging people who use ATVs or motorbikes during hunting season to stay on designated trails and do their homework to ensure that the trails they plan to ride are open.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Managementand Idaho Department of Fish and Game say hunters riding off-trail on ATVs or motorbikes continues to be a problem on public lands during hunting season.

"We are most concerned with instances where a hunter drives off-trail to scout for game or retrieve game," said Andy Brunelle, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. "One set of tracks through the brush or in a meadow can invite others to do the same, and the impacts add up, damaging vegetation and causing soil erosion into streams."

According to several surveys, more than half of the approximately 240,000 people who hunt in Idaho (residents and non-residents) during the fall months are using motorbikes or ATVs to access their hunting areas.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service encourage hunters to obtain copies of Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM's) from the national forest where they plan to hunt. Hard-copy maps are available from national forest ranger district offices, and in some cases, they are online.

The Panhandle National Forests have published new MVUMs for the Coeur d'Alene River Ranger District and the Kaniksu Zone. These are available from Panhandle National Forest offices, and they are online on the forest's web site.

Panhandle National Forest officials are still working on the map for the St. Joe National Forest. The Idaho OHV Public Outreach Project's web site, www.stayontrails.com, has a link to online Forest Service MVUM's on its where to ride page

BLM officials encourage hunters to check BLM district office web sites for info. Hard-copies are available at district offices.

Under the Forest Service's National Travel Rule, "it's incumbent on the user to know if the trail is open or closed" regardless if the trail is signed appropriately, forest officials said. That's because people have been known to shoot signs full of bullet holes, remove signs or vandalize them.

Hunters also should check Idaho Fish and Game regulations to check on trail or road restrictions in their hunting areas. The Idaho OHV Public Outreach Project produced a YouTube video that helps explain how to sort through MVUM maps and Fish and Game regulations to see if trails are open or closed.  

 A new Idaho law requires youths who do not have a driver's license to take a free safety course before they ride OHVs on forest roads, and that youths under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet when riding on an OHV or driving one.  

  • Check out 10 hunting tips for OHVers.
  • Idaho Fish and Game also has a brochure that reviews motor vehicle and ATV regulations pertinent to hunting. 

Wash vehicles to reduce spread of weeds

CONSERVATION — Vehicles can pick up large numbers of seeds from weeds and other plants and spread them for miles, especially when the vehicles are driven off-trail and under wet conditions.

This factor in the spread of noxious weeks is documented in a story in a new Montana State University Extension publication describing field studies that measure the extent to which vehicles pick up and disperse weed seeds.

Some of the findings include:

  • Wet conditions promote weed attachment to vehicles.
  • ATVs picked up large numbers of seeds. In the fall, up to 5,500 seeds per mile were picked up off-trail compared to about 400 seeds per mile on-trail. The number of seeds picked up in spring was much lower.
  • Tracked vehicles picked up more seeds than wheeled vehicles.
  • Up to 99 percent of seeds stayed attached to a truck after traveling 160 miles under dry conditions, but seed retention was much lower after traveling long distances under wet conditions.
  • However, if seeds are picked up in mud, which then dries on the vehicle, they can travel almost indefinitely until it rains or the road surface is wet, allowing for extremely long distance transport of seeds.

The researchrs say preventing the spread of weeds into non-infested areas is the most effective and efficient way to manage weeds over the long term.

To help prevent the spread of weeds, washing vehicles frequently is beneficial with particular concentration on wheel wells. Washing vehicles is especially important before and after driving on roads with high densities of weeds along the edges or after driving off-road or trail.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers set work party in Colville Forest

CONSERVATION — The Backcountry Hunters & Anglers of Washington group is meeting in the Colville National Forest Friday through Sunday for its annual summer meeting and work party.

This year's habitat projects will focus on Middle Fork of Calispell Creek, where the group plans to build split-rail fencing and repair ATV abuses in an area called Delaney Meadows. 

"This area is notorious for abuse, but enforcement has been cracking down here, bettering the chances our efforts will not be dashed nights later by more outlaw riders," said Jeff Holmes, BHA member, adding that there also will be plenty of campfire discussion about fishing and big-game hunting in the area.

Sportsmen who want to engage with the group can contact Jeff Holmes washingtonstatebha@yahoo.com or Joe Mirasole outlawoutfitters@hotmail.com


Hunter makes case for visible license plates on ORVs

 OFF ROAD VEHICLES — After ATVers who ignored signs and violated rules spoiled an opening day hunt with his 11-year-old son, an Idaho sportsman calls for making off-road vehicle riders accountable.

Derrick Reeves of the Idaho Backcountry Hunters & Anglers makes his case in a commentary in New West online magazine.
A national ID standard should be established, and it would be most effective if the license or registration sticker was truly visible.
Read on for the main points of Reeve's proposal.

Idaho’s Fish Lake Trail temporarily closed to motor vehicles

TRAILS — A popular Bitterroot Mountains destination for ATVers up from the North Fork of the Clearwater River has been closed to motorized traffic temporarily because of lingering snow and wet conditions, the Clearwater National Forest says.

Fish Lake Trail 419, located 15 miles south of Hoodoo Pass near the Idaho-Montana state line, is closed to motor vehicles to prevent damage to the trail and fragile high alpine meadows on the lake’s western edge, where ATVers like to congregate.

The trail is still snow-covered in many places, said Adam McClory, the Clearwater's North Zone recreation staff officer.  The dispersed campsites located near the lake are also under snow.

McClory said that Forest officials hope to reopen the trail in mid-August.

  • For updates on road and trail conditions, contact the Clearwater National Forest Information Desk, (208) 476-8267.

Should trophy hunters ride OHVs where other hunters can’t?

BIG-GAME HUNTING — Idaho Fish and Game officials are asking hunters whether trophy-species tag holders should be required to abide by the same motorized vehicle restrictions other hunters must obey. 

After getting feedback from hunters for years, the agency is proposing to apply motorized restrictions to trophy hunts in game management units where restrictions already apply to big game hunts in the southern half of Idaho (see map).

Motorized vehicle restrictions were adopted years ago to resolve many hunters’ concerns about off-road travel conflicting with other hunters in the field.

Typically, these rules restrict the use of any vehicle while hunting, including ATVs, ORV and motorcycles, to established road open to a full-sized automobile. Hunters may use any motorized vehicle to retrieve downed game or to set up camp, if travel in the area is allowed by the land owner or manager.

Motorized vehicle restrictions can be applied to any big game hunt, including trophy species (moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat). But the restrictions have not been applied to trophy species hunts. This has lead to situations in which other big game hunters, such as elk, deer and bear hunters, were restricted in an area while trophy hunters, at the same time, could use motorized vehicles.

Click here to register your comment by July 25 in Fish and Game's online survey.

Riverside State Park plans forest thinning

STATE PARKS — Preliminary plans to thin some forest areas in Riverside State Park to reduce fire danger and the spread of bark beetle infestations will be presented at a public meeting tonight, 6 p.m., at the Shadle Park Public Library. 

Park officials say the plans will be formalized before work would begin this fall and winter.

Motorized Vehicle Use Maps out for Panhandle forests

PUBLIC LANDS — Motorized Vehicle Use Maps are available for the Bonners Ferry, Priest Lake and Sandpoint Ranger Districts. The maps can be found at Idaho Panhandle National Forests offices along with the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District’s map, which was introduced in 2010.

Free to the public, the maps display the roads and trails currently designated for motor vehicle use on the districts.

The MVUM for the forest’s northern districts is based on the current road and trail systems in place. The MVUM does not add or subtract from current legal routes, but is intended to provide a clear depiction of legal motorized vehicle routes available to the public.

Read on for more details and the importance of having this map aboard any motor vehicle heading onto the forests.

Experience Riverside State Park event set for Sunday

STATE PARKS - Although Riverside State Park is a stunning gem of recreational opportunity along the Spokane River on the west side of Spokane, most people don't know half of what if offers.

That's why the Riverside State Park Foundation  and park staff are inviting the public to sample more than a dozen organized activities at seven park venues during an ambitious free Experience Riverside State Park event Sunday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

The list of activities includes horse and pony rides, orienteering, fun run, guided bike rides and hikes, kayak and canoe rides, ATV rides, kids activities and fur-trader encampment tours.

Venues are the equestrian area, Bowl & Pitcher, military runway, ORV park, Spokane House, park headquarters and the Nine Mile Recreation Site.

Check out a map and complete list of activities.

If you're game for it all, you can get a punch card stamped at each site and be eligible for prizes.

The sites also will have educational opportunities, such as water safety tips, Centennial Tail information, and a look at proposed park renovation plans.