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Millions of people have fallen in love with Mt. Hood's Zigzag Ranger District. This area is known for its excellent hiking, camping, fishing, and sightseeing opportunities. While Bark is hugely supportive of the Forest Service's plans for road decommissioning, we were forced to appeal the Forest Service's decision to decommission 42 miles of roads in this area. Why? Because we needed to help them craft a more ambitious plan, ensure that the voice of hikers and equestrians were incorporated in the final decision, and reduce the influence of timber planners in this decision making process.
People who love the area and use the McIntyre Ridge and Douglas Trails in the Wildcat Mountain area provided the Forest Service with multiple cost-effective ideas on how to improve trail access while decommissioning unnecessary roads and addressing safety concerns. These ideas were not included in the agency’s decision. Also the Forest Service released its environmental assessment and final decision for the Zigzag Ranger District with no public comment period. The voices of the people who use and love this area were not sufficiently incorporated in this plan. And finally, multiple roads that currently facilitate illegal activities like dumping, vandalism, and off-roading were not identified for immediate decommissioning because the roads lead to potential timber sales. Sadly, the timber program staff in the Forest Service asserted their influence and the result is that the Sandy River watershed, including a source of drinking water for the city of Sandy’s, will remain at risk from road-related impacts.
Mt. Hood National Forest contains a crumbling 4,000-mile road system. Since its founding, Bark has advocated for road decommissioning because many of these old timber roads serve no function except to infringe on wildlife habitat and to harm water quality. For the past three years Bark has advocated for the Legacy Roads and Trails Initiative, which provides Forests across the nation with the funding necessary to begin to tackle their overgrown road systems. Mt. Hood National Forest has received ample funding from this initiative and developed an ambitious plan to start decommissioning some of Mt. Hood’s unnecessary roads.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service has fallen back into old patterns and put timber program interests above the health of the Sandy River watershed and Oregonians who recreate in the area. The Zigzag decommissioning plan is important and needs to move ahead. However, it is equally important that future road decommissioning plans in Mt. Hood National Forest are done right. Without a comment period on the EA, the only way Bark could provide feedback was to appeal the project on May 20th. So that is what we did. After many hours in meetings, both on the phone and in person with Forest Service staff, Bark signed off on an appeal resolution document that, while not perfect, is a big step in the right direction. We agreed on a couple of site specific changes to the decision that will improve the health of the Sandy River watershed and benefit hikers.
Significantly, Bark’s appeal also set the stage for an ongoing discussion. Bark is now firmly established as a key stakeholder in the road decommissioning process, and the Forest Service has agreed to participate in good faith negotiations on the key issues such as public participation and “right-sizing” the road system to fit the agency’s limited budget. Stay tuned this summer as the Forest Service continues to roll out road decommissioning plans.