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Forest supervisor signs Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan decision

— Determinations on what types of travel will be permitted within recommended wilderness areas have been made in an approved Clearwater National Forest (CNF) Travel Plan.

A record of decision on the plan was signed Oct. 31 by Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Supervisor Cheryl Probert.

Effective immediately, the decision addresses portions of a comprehensive CNF Travel Plan related to motorized and/or mechanized travel in Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWAs), specifying what uses will be permitted under the plan.

According to an agency release, the recent decision states motorized and mechanized travel will be restricted year–round on all trails in the RWAs covered under the plan, with one exception; Fish Lake Trail 419, located in the North Fork Ranger District of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, will be open for motorized and mechanized travel during the summer months. Bicycling, which falls under the definition of motorized and mechanized travel, is covered under these regulations. The decision also states that over–snow motorized vehicle use will be restricted year–round in RWAs and on Fish Lake Trail.

In making this decision, Probert stated she was guided by the CNF plan, the 2005 Travel Management Rule, the USDA Forest Service Manual, and the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Travel Plan.

“In making my decision to eliminate most motorized travel within RWAs, I have given the most weight to the [Forest Plan] goal of retaining wilderness character,” Probert writes in the decision document. The Forest Service Manual states that “any area recommended for wilderness or wilderness study designation is not available for any use or activity that may reduce the wilderness potential of an area.”

However, it was determined that summer motorized and mechanized uses of Fish Lake Trail would not have a significant adverse effect on wilderness character in RWAs covered under the plan. Probert decided to permit some motorized and mechanized use on Fish Lake Trail due to the historical use of the area, past and current resource protection efforts, the limited scale of any impact to natural resources, and the desire to provide unique and increased access for visitors to use and enjoy the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

This decision comes following several years of controversy surrounding the Travel Plan, which was originally signed in January 2012. The plan was litigated a few months later by user groups concerned over motorized access in RWAs. To resolve this litigation, the Forest Service agreed to develop a new plan that addresses these concerns.

“Travel management decisions are often the most difficult because they affect how people use and enjoy their national forests,” Probert said. “I recognize that in affirming the decision to keep the RWAs closed to motorized use, except for Fish Lake Trail in the summer, I am affecting a growing snow machine user group looking for rugged, back–country riding. My decision is rooted in the forest plan direction to protect wilderness character and future designation.”

The recent decision impacts only those portions of the 2012 Travel Plan that pertained to motorized and/or mechanized travel in RWAs; other portions of the plan remain unaltered following this decision. Furthermore, this plan reflects the way land and resources on the forest are already being managed; forest visitors should notice no change on–the–ground as a result of this newly signed decision.

“I am hopeful that we can work with all user groups to implement this decision and continue the dialogue about management of RWAs in Forest Plan Revision,” Probert said.

Questions about the decision can be directed to Zoanne Anderson, NEPA Planner: 208-963-4209.


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