In a recent Mail Tribune editorial, the Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project was described as an “ambitious” restoration project “that everyone should support.” According to the Environmental Assessment for this project the goal is to “provide for landscape conditions resilient to disturbances [including wildfires] and climate change.” After three years of meetings, the BLM and Forest Service, along with members of the Applegate community, identified the restoration of watershed values, water quality, native plant communities, pollinator habitat, forests, woodlands and more natural fire regimes as values to be protected or enhanced through project activities. In order to reach these goals the project focused on the following actions: community fire protection, prescribed fire, habitat restoration and thinning plantation stands that represent the most explosive fire hazards and most unhealthy forests in the area.
Representatives and supporters of the Applegate Neighborhood Network worked with members of the Applegate community and land management agencies to create a broadly supported, ecologically beneficial and holistic restoration project. We invested hundreds of hours in the “collaborative” planning process, attending public meetings, workshops and field trips. Just like the MT, we were encouraging folks in the area to support this project and were dismayed, when after one and half years of collaboration, the agencies inserted highly controversial off-highway vehicle trails into the project. The proposals proved to be extremely controversial in the local community, undermined the project objectives and bogged down the otherwise productive, trust building process of collaboration. Questions must be asked: Are new OHV trails restorative in nature? Do they contribute in any way to our local ecology, fire resilience or to the quality of life in the Upper Applegate Valley? Many believe the answer is no. In fact, new OHV trails may do the opposite, and they have no place in restoration projects.
Due to rampant unauthorized OHV use, a lack of agency enforcement and the illegal development of OHV trails throughout the Applegate Valley, OHV use has become one of the most controversial issues on public land in the Applegate Valley. Hundreds of miles of ecologically damaging OHV trails riddle our mountainsides, degrade our streams and impact the quality of life for residents in the Applegate Valley. These OHV trails, although largely unauthorized and unofficial, dramatically outnumber non-motorized trails in the area, covering vast portions of our watershed. At the same time, according to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, non-motorized users outnumber OHV enthusiasts at a rate of 62 to 1.
The Applegate Neighborhood Network agrees with the MT that the debate surrounding OHV trails in the Upper Applegate Watershed Project is a distraction from the greater goals of the project. While the agencies and the community had achieved a general consensus surrounding the project’s ecological and fuel reduction goals, that consensus has dissolved into controversy and conflict. The proposed OHV trails should be canceled and the project should move forward as the widely supported and ecologically beneficial project that it could be. Let’s work towards more fire safe communities, not more conflict on federal land.
Luke Ruediger is part of the Applegate Neighborhood Network.