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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Southern Idaho Off-Highway Restrictions- Again

The Times News in Twin Falls Idaho has an editorial today entitled "Changing the rules for ATVs in South Hills demands open dialogue" on the Forrest Service's new travel plan. It seems the Forrest Service neglected to follow federal guidelines when making the changes, and off-highway vehicle users (ATV/Motocross/Etc) are on it. The "South Hills" area has long been a popular recreational area in southern Idaho. According to federal guidelines put into place in 2005, off-highway vehicles in this area and the entire Sawtooth National Forrest are restricted to designated roads and trails.

A big kicker is that trails created by vehicles over decades (existing, established pathways) weren't included in the plan. The changes to the previous rules snuck in on a number of off-roaders. And these aren't likely to be the only folks affected by this:

"...There's a widespread feeling among trail users that the Forest Service didn't go out of its way to involve them, or alert them that drastic restrictions were in the offing.

There's no question that the Forest Service faces major challenges in protecting the lands it administers. In the Magic Valley, ATV registrations climbed 71 percent between 2001 and 2005, to 11,953, according the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. The back country boom is taking a toll on wildlife and habitat, forest officials say.

Sediment loads in Rock Creek, which runs through the South Hills, are increasing and threatening fish, partly because off-highway vehicles are speeding erosion. Hunters complain that noise and commotion from off-highway vehicles scare away game.

But motorized user groups say they're being pigeonholed, and that crowding more riders onto fewer trails will stir up more dust, escalate conflicts with campers and make roads less safe.

It's also likely to increase ATV use of less-restricted, fragile desert habitats controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.

Horse riders, hunters and ranchers may also be in for a rude awakening because some closed routes may limit their access...

...There's a perception, dating back from the agency's badly received efforts to collect fees from visitors to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, of a campaign to drive ordinary Idahoans off Forest Service lands. That sentiment has only been reinforced by the new travel plan."

From my point of view as someone who spends time in this area in the summer fall and spring, there are many many deer and a successfully growing introduced elk herd as well as many other species. The problem with wildlife in the South Hills as I see it is this: The deer herds are nearly all female (does) with very few bucks in comparison to other Idaho areas we recreate in. There are many many buck tags issued and this has been unchanged for a while- yet ATVs are the reason for wildlife issues in the south hills???? Granted, certain uses can have detrimental affects on land and animal- Yet I don't see personally that his is the issue in this particular case. In America, we're granted certain rights and freedoms, and those weren't originally intended to be whittled down or taken away as I see it.

Spending a few days in part of the area a few weeks ago- it seems deer tend to trot off a few steps then stop and stare at ATVs and vehicles, yet don't blast across the hills away from the noise stressing themselves.

Read the entire article...

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