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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sustainable Roads workshop rescheduled to 11/13

The Sustainable Roads Project has restarted since the shutdown of the Federal Government has ended.

The Everett public workshop meeting which was canceled on October 9th has been rescheduled for Wednesday, November 13th from 5:30 to 8:00 PM at Everett Community College, Jackson Conference Center.

NCCC encourages everyone to advocate for the responsible decommissioning of the unnecessary and environmentally damaging, crumbling roads on our national forest, as well as the responsible maintenance of roads whose important uses include connecting people with nature. 

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In the current issue of The Wild Cascades, Ed Henderson describes the Sustainable Roads Project:

Following up on the fall 2012 meeting at REI (see TWCWinter 2013), the Forest Service staff of the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS) is conducting a series of workshops to gather public input on the maintenance of the road system on that national forest. Faced with budget cuts that will dramatically reduce the number and miles of roads it can afford to maintain, the MBS staff is calling on the public to help determine which roads should be maintained and which should no longer be kept up.

The Forest Service is responsible for more than 400,000 miles of roads on the national forests throughout the nation. There are over 20,000 miles of road on national forest land in Washington State, 2,500 miles of which are located in MBS. Almost all of them are decades old and in poor condition. Nationally there is a multi-billion dollar backlog of deferred maintenance on national forest roads. Crumbling roads are responsible for washouts, erosion and landslides. The recent washout on the Cascades River Road in the North Cascades National Park and mudslides that closed state Highway 20 twice this summer forcibly remind us that roads are but temporary fixtures in a dynamic mountain landscape.

MBS candidly admits that these roads were build for the short-term goal of “getting the cut out.” That is, to provide access for cutting down trees and hauling the logs away. The roads were never intended to afford access for recreation and other uses for many years into the future. With the decline of logging, the trees having been cut down, subsidies for maintenance have been severely reduced. MBS estimates that it will only have funds to maintain about 25% or 628 of its 2,500 miles of roads.

The Sustainable Roads Project is part of the response to the federal 2005 Travel Management Rule. The Rule mandated that all national forests develop a Motor Vehicle Use Map and create a sustainable roads strategy. Based on its Minimum Roads Analysis, MBS produced its map in 2009. The final strategy, due to be completed by 2015, will inform future decisions as to which roads to maintain and at what level. Decisions on the closure of individual roads will require the normal NEPA evaluation.

To involve the public in developing the strategy, MBS has been holding a series of eight public workshops. Through September 24, seven workshops have been attended by over 240 people. Each workshop begins with introductory remarks, followed by background explanations and instructions. Participants, seated in groups of six, are asked to identify as many as eight destinations each in the forest that are important to them. Then they are instructed to mark with color-coded hi-lighters the roads on the national forest they use for access to these areas. The roads and areas are both marked on a large map for the group and individually reported on separate worksheets.

Each group of participants then discusses and responds to three major topics.
1. What are the consequences of a reduced road system?
Not surprisingly, the loss of motor vehicle access heads the list, followed by a wide range of both positive and negative effects. These range from negative economic impacts on rural communities as a result of reduced visitation, crowding on the remaining accessible sites, and loss of fire protection to the reduced introduction of invasive species, improved wildlife habitat and increased opportunities for non-motorized recreation.
2. What criteria should be used when analyzing the road system?
The participant groups have responded with a strong element of realism. The first criterion mentioned is a cost-benefit analysis, followed by consideration of the local economic impact, the importance of the area accessed, and the on-going maintenance cost. Environmental effects, both positive and negative, must be considered, many participants say.
3. What are some strategies and opportunities for maintaining the road system?
While many schemes for raising money have been proposed, more pragmatic ideas include “Adopt-a-Road” partnerships between local groups and the Forest Service for particular roads and lowering maintenance criteria on some roads to allow more miles to be kept open.
The workshops also provide an opportunity for the participants to identify problem roads and roads they believe should be closed.
Not part of the workshop discussions is the fate of the remaining 75% or 1,972 miles of MBS roads that will not be maintained. There appear to be three options:

The roads may be closed to motor vehicle traffic and blocked with gates, with the option of being reopened at some future date.

The roads may be decommissioned with culverts removed, natural drainage restored, the driving surface removed and native vegetation planted. These roads would be removed from the inventory and never restored. Decommissioning will require a NEPA process.

After the workshops close, you can express your views on the Sustainable Roads blogs on the MBS website. As of September 26, more than 627 people had posted comments on the future of forest roads.

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