Recently, the East Oregonian published an editorial about the long-overdue plan revisions for the national forests of the Blue Mountains. This editorial included a statement that challenged the need to close any roads on the national forests, suggesting that closing a road meant “closing the forests to logging, firefighting, hikers, hunters, and other users.”
I speak on behalf of closed roads. Closing a road to motorized vehicle traffic does not close the forest. Hikers, hunters, anglers, mushroom and huckleberry pickers, Christmas tree cutters — we all use closed roads. As good local research shows, and hunters know, closed roads provide good habitat for elk. Elk avoid roads that are open to motor vehicles.
Closing a road does not mean the road cannot be used for logging or firefighting. During my Forest Service career, it was not at all unusual to open a closed road to help fight a fire. Sometimes it means simply unlocking a gate, and sometimes it takes a dozer to remove earthen barriers, but closed roads are usually still available for fire fighting.
Just like any asset, a road system must be maintained. The money appropriated to national forests to maintain roads is inadequate for maintaining the road system that was developed when the forests sold more (and more valuable) timber. Closing a road to motor vehicles holds the road in better condition until the day that it is needed again, and this seems to me to be a prudent approach.
We can, and should, have an open and honest public dialogue about what we want from our national forests, including the road system. Provocative misstatements, like suggesting that closing roads means “locking up” or closing the forests to all sorts of uses, does not help this dialogue.
William C. (Bill) Aney