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Wallowa-Whitman Travel Plan Yanked
This past week has been quite the ride for the folks who work on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The forest supervisor, in a surprise move, pulled her decision to implement a travel plan that wasn't perfect, by any stretch, but that had gone through seven years of public involvement. This included multiple open meetings, several opportunities to submit written comments, and countless hours of Forest Service staff time and money. The Forest Service seems to have pulled the decision in response to heavy pressure from local residents, county commissioners, and some members of Oregon's congressional delegation largely based on rampant misinformation about the effects of the plan.
Example of illegal motorized trail prolifieration on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Just before the decision was withdrawn, our friends at Hells Canyon Preservation Council had a great editorial published in the Oregonian that attempted to diffuse some of the misinformation that was madly swirling around about the plan, to no avail. Another editorial, published Wednesday in the Wallowa County Chieftain, provides another view of the benefits of the travel plan.
While pulling the decision was a radical step, the Forest Supervisor accomplished two key things. First, the rhetoric had become so heated in town hall meetings and media stories that withdrawaing the decision allows concerned parties on all sides to calm down a bit. Second, the amount of misinformation at these meetings and in these media stories is alarming, and the agency needs some space to correct that misinformation so people can truly understand what the plan does and does not do. Those people include not only the communities immediately adjacent to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, but also our decision-makers. Congressman Walden has already introduced a rider that would affect not only Forest Service travel plans in Oregon, but those across the country. It would be a profound disservice to the Forest Service and the American public if such a rider were to be pushed through Congress on the basis of misunderstandings and misinformation.
The agency shouldn't have been in a position where they ended up withdrawing a decision, but now that they have, we can only speculate on what will happen next. First, we hope they take more time to educate the concerned parties about what the plan actually does and does not do. For a good example, see the attached fact sheet from Hells Canyon Preservation Council. More significantly, we hope the Forest Service will take this opportunity to address some of the problems that all sides saw with the final plan, while not stepping back from sound, scientifically- based resource management of the forest for both present and future generations. Hopefully Congress will do the same.