A national environmental group — the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Ariz. — has taken issue with the plan, which requires a nearly 1-mile designated county trail through two plots of National Forest lands. The trail would connect Riley Ranch with an 80-acre county-owned parcel in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, giving access to the dunes at large.
“It has captured the attention of some interests we hadn’t heard from previously,” said Central Coast District Ranger Pam Gardner.The center’s points of contention are specific and steeped in legalese, put forth in the form of more than 300 letters sent to the Forest Service during a public comment period about the proposal in September.
The comments prompted the Forest Service to take a second look at the project. Meanwhile, Riley Ranch will enter another summer without its most enticing feature — direct ATV access to the dunes.“We’ve had to go back to square one,” said Coos County Parks Director Larry Robison. “We won’t be able to start construction on the trail, I would say, until August.”Best-case scenario is it should be open by 2010. And that’s a long shot. It assumes the Forest Service can shore up the issues raised, and that nothing more will come up when another environmental analysis is published in February. The center contends the Forest Service isn’t following its own rules. It complains the agency failed to designate motorized trails within an allotted three-year period when the dunes NRA management plan was passed in 1994; a section of the land the trail would pass through is designated MA 10C, which is closed to motorized use; and that the trail violates the Forest Service’s 2001 Roadless Rule. But a Biological Diversity attorney bluntly said these points of contention are just a means to an end. The group opposes ATV access into what it considers to a be a fragile and unique habitat, and will do anything it can to throw a wrench in the works. “It’s a way to be heard,” said lawyer Andrew Orahoske, who’s heading up the group’s anti-Riley Ranch campaign. “The primary concern is that the Forest Service has done a poor job in managing offroad vehicles in the dunes since the dunes NRA was created. ...“We feel that the agencies must first address the ongoing damage to the environment and the really rampant trespass and proliferation of illegal trails throughout the dunes.”
Meanwhile, the Riley Ranch project has broad appeal to the ATV community, as it would offer a new point of direct access to the middle of the dunes, roughly halfway in between the southernmost access at Horsfall Campground and Spinreel to the north. Those areas are crowded in the peak ATV season. “A lot of times on a really busy weekend, it’s tough. You have to make your reservation way in advance,” said Gary Potter, motorcycle sales manager at Honda World in Coos Bay. He added that there are economic benefits to the county from ATV use.“The more access, the more people who would come here. There’s so much residual business,” he said.The Forest Service announced the plan early in 2007 and received three comments, all supportive. When it released the preliminary environmental analysis this past fall, though, the center, along with some other interested parties, bombarded the Forest Service with negative input.“They identified some areas we thought we had to take a harder look at,” said Gardner.Now the Forest Service is taking the comments at face value, dealing with the issues specifically, as laid out in a re-scoping plan released in October.
According to that document, the agency will:
- designate a motorized trail from Riley Ranch to the 80-acre county parcel and the dunes at large, doing away with the original three-year stipulation.
- indicate that ATVs only would be allowed on the county trail in the area designated MA 10C.
- clarify that the designated trail would be within an inventoried roadless area and point out that the 2001 Roadless Rule wouldn’t apply because the rule only prohibits the construction of roads, not “motorized trails.”
The document calls for logs and fences to be used to indicate the designated trail and close unofficial trails to ATVs.The re-scoped plan also will clarify the county’s easement through the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad strip.
It’s unlikely all of this will appease the Center for Biological Diversity, however. “We are concerned about all of the dunes, because they are completely unique,” Orahoske said. “The balance has tipped a little bit too far to emphasize motor recreation to the exclusion, to the detriment, of other users and to the vegetation, the things that people go there to see. ...“This is certainly one of those areas where we will be having continual involvement.”
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