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In December of 2015, the Mt. Hood National Forest released the conclusion to its Travel Analysis Process, entitled the Travel Analysis Report (TAR). This report outlines the forest's existing road system and identifes opportunities to achieve what the agency defines as a "more sustainable system of roads". Recent trends show that Mt. Hood National Forest only has enough funding to maintain or make repairs to about 15 percent of its road system annually. To address this issue, the TAR is part of nationwide requirement involving national forests across the country, but it is questionable how strictly the recommendations of this report will be followed.
To clarify, the TAR is not a decision document, and does not make specific plans to close or decommission roads—instead, it provides a non-binding analysis of where the existing road system is today. While the TAR is meant to identify a "minimum road system" to both save the agency money and to minimize ecological impacts, it is clear that to the Forest Service, this means keeping roads needed to maintain access to extractive projects in the future.
Currently there are approximately 3,000 miles of roads in the forest. The majority of these road miles (54%) on the forest consist of high clearance roads that have always been "principally intended for managing forest resources and removing timber for lumber."
The TAR explores two main future scenarios: In the first, the overall road system (open and closed) would be 153 miles smaller than existing. These are the roads that were identified in the Travel Analysis Report as being “not likely needed for future use.” This scenario would result in the maintenance budget being about $400M less annually, falling short of it's economic goal. The second alternate scenario would increase the existing number of roads maintained for passenger car use on the forest, but close additional roads not currently suitable for these vehicles, totalling about 200 miles. This second scenario could meet the agency's economic goal and reduce the annual budget by about $600M at culmination, but according to the Forest Service, would likely "not be in balance with access needs for recreation and the general public, traditional uses, vegetation management, fire suppression, special use permits, cooperators, and special forest products".
To conclude, the Forest Service claims that “(g)iven the current trend in reduced funding for road maintenance work, and the enormous gap between current funding and need, it does not appear possible to identify a future road system where the entire cost of annual maintenance work necessary to fully maintain the roads to standard would be in balance with available funding.” This largely has to do with the agency's reliance on an oversized road system to maintain its extractive and fire suppression programs.
If this conclusion seems stark, one must also consider the fact that the TAR discounts and delays any hard look at the impacts of climate change on the forest along with it's current road system. The report reads, "It should be entered into consideration that, while the qualitative nature of this climate change discussion may lack specificity, the utility of this TAP by the end of the next decade will likely have waned, and another analysis of the road system will be mandated to take its place. By then climate shifts may become more certain relative to access needs and risks of roads to natural resources."
Thankfully, Bark will not be letting decades slip by before we press the Forest Service to fully disclose and respond to the impacts of climate change on forests surrounding Mt. Hood. As we continue to read and understand the TAR, we will be using it's strengths and weaknesses to push the Forest Service to do real restoration in the forest, as we have done in the past through assisting with planning road decommissioning projects which benefit clean water, wildlife and recreation.
Additional documents and information relating to this process are available here.
If you are interested in getting involved with Bark's restoration work, contact Bark's Restoration Coordinator, Russ Plaeger: firstname.lastname@example.org