Regional Forester Harv Forsgren said in testimony prepared for a congressional field hearing in Elko that motor vehicle use has damaged natural and cultural resources.
Forsgren said he is aware the restrictions “may change the way people experience their national forests.” But he said he wants such plans is “an ongoing process” and suggested that officials are willing to modify the plan if circumstances change.
Forsgren oversees 34 million acres of national forest land in Nevada, Utah, western Wyoming, western Colorado and eastern California. He spoke before the House Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.
Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah and chairman of the subcommittee, agreed to hold the hearing in rural northeast Nevada at the request of freshman GOP Rep. Mark Amodei and Elko County activists critical of the road plans and other policies they view as excessive regulation of federal lands across the West.
County commissioners representing several Western states lined up to testify against the Forest Service’s evolving roads’ policy.
Bishop, a critic of the plan, said “the last four to five decades have witnessed a paradigm shift toward a hands-off policy or preservation.” He added, “we need our land managers working with us to keep the public’s lands open for the use and enjoyment of all.”
Amodei said access to public lands in Nevada is “critical to job creation and our economic viability.”
The travel rule and its subsequent implementation “are only serving to advance an anti-human and anti-use agenda that is contrary to the multiple-use mandate for these lands,” said Howard Hutchinson, executive director of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties.
The Forest Service is at various stages of updating road designations in dozens of national forests across the West, including the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest that covers more than 6 million acres of Nevada and eastern California, including a good chunk of Elko County.
Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, who traveled to Washington, D.C., late last year to testify before the same House subcommittee, said the agency’s plans would limit off-road game retrieval and make criminals out of recreationists who’ve been traveling uncharted roads for years.
Gerald Temoke, chairman of the Elko Band Council for the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone in northeast Nevada, said his ancestors have been hunting in the area for centuries, cutting wood and gathering roots and medicinal plants.
“We have been walking, then riding and now driving around these mountains for hundreds, more likely thousands of years,” Temoke said, adding that “existing roads that are not on the Forest Service map are considered not to exist.”
Forsgren said the federal rule that initiated review of the national forest road system was adopted under the administration of President George W. Bush in 2005, and was “prompted by the explosion in use of off-highway vehicles for recreation and other outdoor activities on national forest system land over the past several decades and the need to manage that use...”
In Utah alone, he said, the number of registered OHVs more than tripled from almost 52,000 in 1998 to more than 172,000 in 2006.
Elko County Commissioner Charlie Myers said the road closures will have a negative impact on hunters in the county that’s the “hunting mecca for the state of Nevada.”
“It will severely and negatively impact our economy forever,” he said.