La Grande Observer, 4/17/2012
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden has called on the U.S. Forest Service to “start over” on its Travel Management Plan for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Walden said the plan is the product of a flawed public process that failed to protect the public’s ability to enjoy their natural resources.
Walden on Monday spoke on the phone with Kent Connaughton, the Regional Forester for the USFS Pacific Northwest Region. He followed up the conversation with a letter.
“Despite their efforts to participate, many groups and communities feel they were largely, if not entirely, ignored by the U.S. Forest Service,” Walden wrote in the letter. “This amounts to an assault on good process and the public’s ability to enjoy their natural resources. That is unacceptable.”
“Start over,” Walden wrote. “Put people in charge who will value the suggestions of eastern Oregon’s citizens. And then go meet with the local residents and make sure that rural Oregon’s voice is reflected in the final plan.”
Walden said that at recent town halls in Union, Wallowa, and Baker counties, he heard from many residents who felt that their concerns and the views of their communities were ignored during the planning process.
“Throughout the process, I encouraged communities and user groups to tell their side of the story,” Walden wrote in the letter.
Walden said in the letter that the plan for the Wallowa-Whitman proposes major changes that will impact eastern Oregonians’ ability to recreate, hunt, cut wood, pick berries and perform other activities that are important to the region’s rural economy and lifestyle.
He said volunteers and user groups from Union, Baker and Wallowa counties donated their time to provide an accurate inventory of roads to the Forest Service.
The inventories formed the basis of the counties’ submitted comments and recommendations that un-used and overgrown roads be closed, while popular and economically valuable roads remain open.
“Unfortunately, I am told by individuals and the counties that most, if not all, of these key areas of concern were not included in the final plan. Failure to include local input results in poorly crafted plans and rules that significantly impact our rural communities,” Walden said.