County, Grazing Assoc. oppose plan to close roads on grasslands
By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
The Forest Service kicked off a national ‘Get Outdoors’ campaign in February, to encourage children and their parents to take advantage of recreational opportunities in national forests to develop a healthier lifestyle and learn about conserving natural resources. Unfortunately, as a result of a national mandate, the U.S. Forest Service Dakota Prairie Grasslands has also developed a Travel Management Plan for the Little Missouri National Grasslands that will greatly decrease access opportunities for parents and their children to enjoy the area’s Forest Service land.
The Travel Management Plan is being completed by the U.S. Forest Service to comply with the Travel Management Rule published in November 2005 governing off-highway vehicles and other motor vehicle use on National Forest System lands. This rule requires each national forest and grassland to designate roads, trails, and areas currently open to motor vehicle use.
While there are ways other than by motor vehicle to enjoy U.S. Forest Service land, such as by horseback, hiking, or canoe, not all families have access to canoes and horseback. And for some families like those with small or disabled children or family members, the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed map shows that these opportunities will be vastly decreased for those families because there will be very few roads for them to travel on.
“The actual impacted parties will be the casual users,” says Dale Patten, McKenzie County commissioner. “People with permits for oil activity or ranching use will still be able to use these roads. It’s the hunters, bird watchers and travelers who will lose their access.”
In addition to a decrease in access, some members of McKenzie County are concerned about the Forest Service’s map of proposed road closures, because they believe that many of the roads that will be closed are owned by the county, giving the Forest Service no right to close them.
“The U.S. Forest Service hasn’t identified the landowner of many of these roads,” says Patten, “We believe that the county is the owner of some of these roads, which means that the Forest Service doesn’t have the right to close these roads. This is something the commission has brought to the attention of the Forest Service several times, to no avail.”
Patten and other members of the county understand that the U.S. Forest Service is following a national ruling on forest use. But they don’t feel that the Little Missouri National Grasslands should be a part of this ruling because they are different than the Forest Service land in other areas.
“Nationwide, people are wrecking the roads and land,” says Keith Winter, McKenzie County Grazing Association president. “But in North Dakota, things are different. The grasslands here are different and should be treated differently. The Forest Service and the county have been able to keep things under control here.”
Winter feels that this ruling will affect everyone who uses the Little Missouri National Grasslands.
“This will affect anyone who enjoys the outdoors, especially if you hunt on public land,” adds Winter. “Anyone who hunts on public land should send in a comment to the U.S. Forest Service because this is really going to affect them. When they take away the public roads, they will take the public away from land that is owned by the public.”
The U.S. Forest Service Dakota Prairie Grasslands has opened the comment period for the Travel Management Plan Environmental Assessment. According to the U.S. Forest Service, public comments on the Environmental Assessment will allow the Forest Service to make an informed decision to determine which routes shall remain open for public use on the Little Missouri National Grasslands. The McKenzie County Commissioners urge anyone with concerns to contact the U.S. Forest Service on this issue, because they don’t feel that the Forest Service has done the research necessary.
According to Roger Chinn, McKenzie County commissioner, by closing many of the proposed roads, the U.S. Forest Service is violating a settlement agreement it made with McKenzie County in 2000.
“By closing these roads, the Forest Service is violating the North Dakota Section Line law and the settlement agreement that it made with McKenzie County, which states that the roads on U.S. Forest Service land that were acquired from the county will remain the property of McKenzie County. We fought long and hard to get this agreement with the Forest Service and we held up our end of the deal. Now it appears that the U.S. Forest Service has no intention of upholding their end of the agreement.”
In addition to losing access to hundreds of miles in McKenzie County’s most beautiful and rugged areas, the commissioners are also concerned that by closing the roads the county will lose out on a possible six and a quarter percent royalty on 5,000 acres of land near the county’s border with Dunn County.
“This is a hot area in Dunn County, and due to non-motorized access only, I don’t think it will ever be developed,” adds Chinn. “If there aren’t roads in the area, it’s just too much work for oil companies to get the permits they need to develop the area.”
For more information on the U.S. Forest Service’s Travel Management Plan, a map of the proposed road closures can be seen at http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/dakotaprairie and public comments will be accepted until Aug. 27 at firstname.lastname@example.org. The final decision on which roads to close will be made by Ronald E. Hecker, McKenzie District ranger and Ronald W. Jablonski, Jr., Medora District ranger.