Lassen National Forest officials got an earful from local off-highway vehicle users at a public meeting held Monday, May 22 at the Lassen National Forest Headquarters on Riverside Drive in Susanville. The local users want the forest to keep the roads open and the forest, following a national directive, wants to close some of them.
The presenters — Lassen National Forest Supervisor Dave Hays, facilitator Cindy White, Chris O’Brien and project manager Chuck Gondeiro met with the local offhighway vehicle users and listened to their concerns for two hours at the public meeting and wrote down their comments.
According to the Forest Service
presenters, the Lassen National Forest Land Management Plan was updated in 2004, the Lassen National Forest Travel Management Plan was revised in 2005 and a Motorized Vehicle Use Map was published in 2011.
Now the Forest Service wants to complete engineering studies and safety analysis on 577 miles of ML 3 roads (open to passenger cars) within the Lassen National Forest and recommend safe and responsible motorized mixed use with an end product that will “mesh” with the federal government’s plans, recreation enthusiasts and stakeholders. The roads under consideration by the Forest Service make up about 16 percent of Lassen National Forest system roads.
The OHV users question the Forest Service’s designation of dirt and gravel roads as “highways” in their analysis. They said the California Highway Patrol, the city, the county and the state do not agree with the definition of Forest Service roads as highways.
The OHV users also allege engineering studies have already been completed on many of these roads — many built on public land by logging companies back in the day when the Forest Service awarded timber contracts. Back then, the logging companies were responsible for maintaining the roads, and the OHV users allege one of the Forest Service’s motivations in closing the roads is to avoid the cost of maintaining them, probably much more of an issue after the wet winter we’ve just experienced. The OHV users also allege the accident statistics do not bear out the need for safety studies.
They cite 16 accidents that have occurred on Forest Service roads in recent years — six involving Forest Service vehicles and only one involving misuse by an OHV user. Most of these accidents were single vehicle accidents probably caused by excessive speed.
The OHV users also wonder why this process has taken so long to complete. Gondeiro said the analysis and subsequent recommendations should be completed by January 2018, but the users claim they’ve been commenting on the issue for more than five years and now there is suddenly an urgency to complete the process. They also cite statistics that suggest a dramatic decrease in the number of OHV users since 2003.
Lassen County resident Greg Sanders said the Forest Service has created a problem and now the agency is looking to impose a solution.
“We want the roads opened up,” an unidentified woman said at the meeting. “It’s the right thing to do.”
We agree with the OHV users, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and Congressman Doug LaMalfa — let’s keep the roads open.