Bill Would Dilute Federal Control of National Forests

By Tom Bacon

Two Republican members of Congress - one from Oregon, the other from Washington - want to give counties veto power over national forest travel restrictions.

A bill written by Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and cosponsored by Spokane-area Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers would strip the U.S. Forest Service of the power to write and enforce rules for motorized access to national lands. The measure would require the Secretary of Agriculture to consult with counties which contain federal forest land and get their approval before writing travel rules, or decommissioning existing roads.

The congressman claimed that the forest service ignored inputs from motorized recreational advocates when it drew up travel restrictions for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Oregon. This, he said, amounts to assault on good process and the public's ability to enjoy their natural resources.

National forest land makes up roughly a quarter of Oregon's land - about 15-million acres.

An Oregon conservation group, the Central Oregon Landwatch, fears that letting more off-road ATVs into national forests will create havoc. The group pointed to a proposal by the forest service to create more than 100 miles of new ATV and motorcycle trails in the Ochoco National Forest which it said will create noise pollution, disrupt wildlife habitat and cause long-term soil damage.

The bill is due a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by McMorris-Rodgers' colleague and friend Doc Hastings of Washington.
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