More than half of 42 forest roads were reopened for public motorized use by the U.S. Forest Service effective Sept. 12. An announcement from the Eldorado National Forest described the reversal of a 2012 closure that allows the public to begin using 24 of the original 42. The order continues in effect for the remaining 18 roads pending varying degrees of maintenance and reconstruction, especially on roads that cross certain sensitive meadows or otherwise impede the flow of water throughout the higher elevations of the federal land.
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Newly appointed Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree elaborated on the announcement:
“I am implementing the decision that was made in June following the completion of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and a record of decision,” Crabtree was quoted. “Eleven appeals were filed on that decision and I am happy to say all 11 were withdrawn, which paved the way for me to open the 24 routes now and to get on with repairing the other 18.”
Earlier in the week, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to rescind its formal appeal of the earlier court action, which was part of the negotiations for the agreement with the forest service. Under the terms of the agreement, all appellants had to agree to withdraw their appeals in order for the forest service to move forward with the new decision. The board’s action removed the potential for any future litigation relative to the closure and was considered as something of a risk as supervisors discussed the pros and cons of withdrawing the county’s appeal.
“I believe it is in the best interest of the public we serve to move forward in a collaborative fashion,” Crabtree continued. “I am committed to providing public motor vehicle access in the Eldorado National Forest while protecting and restoring sensitive resources,” the announcement continued.
The forest service further announced that an updated map of the routes reopened and of those awaiting corrective action is available at all of its Eldorado National Forest offices along with the record of decision and the agreement. Additional information is available online at fs.usda.gov/eldorado.
El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties along with off-road vehicle groups and environmental protection organizations were part of the agreement. The Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity and PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility were part of a larger contingent of nine environmental groups that had been included in the appeals.
Off-road groups such as the Rubicon Trail Foundation and the California Off-Road Vehicle Association and individuals including Monte Hendricks and Richard Platt also were among the appellants who withdrew their appeals.
El Dorado County resident Karen Schambach, California director of PEER was quoted in a prepared statement from her organization calling the agreement mostly a “win-win.”
“This settlement is not only a win for sensitive habitat and water quality, but it represents a social milestone,” Schambach wrote. “The 19 parties, who represent the diversity of a public that is passionate about our public lands, have chosen collaboration over litigation. Nobody got all they wanted, but we have agreed to work together on this going forward, to protect our public lands and provide high quality recreation opportunities.”
The statement further noted that, “Schambach was also optimistic that the agreement would continue to pay broad dividends as it is fully implemented: Repairing or rerouting these routes will not only benefit water quality and aquatic wildlife, but will provide access to many people whose vehicles simply are not able to navigate some of these roads in their current condition.”
During the Sept. 10 supervisors meeting, Board Chairman Ron Briggs described events leading to his recommendation to withdraw the county’s appeal.
“Mr. Crabtree came over to my office saying, ‘Give me a chance; I’d rather use the money to solve (problems) instead of for litigation.’ It’s better to collaborate than to be in opposition,” Briggs continued. “If they don’t perform, we’re right back here. It seems the goal is to keep as many roads as we can, and the environmentalists asked how we can make things better instead of beating the hell out of each other all the time.”
Crabtree then assured supervisors that his intention is “to get these roads open. I really want to put our resources into fixing these roads, and I’m for an aggressive approach to move as quickly as we can. I’m really vested in an agreement.”
Former Eldorado National Forest District Ranger Bob Smart, supporting greater local control, addressed the board and expressed frustration with “decisions made in Washington, D.C. or San Francisco by people who don’t know anything about what’s going on on the ground.”
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo