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Forest Service plans to close 800 miles of roads in western North Dakota

Posted 8/11/10 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
If you’re accustomed to using U.S. Forest Service Roads for recreation purposes, you’ll want to make sure that you check in with your local Forest Service office for a new map before you travel on any of your favorite Forest Service roads.
The Forest Service plans to close some 800 miles of existing roads in the Little Missouri National Grasslands in western North Dakota. Road closures may not be permanent, but once the roads are closed, the Forest Service plans to enforce the law.
“The roads that will be closed include all roads that are not legally owned by the Forest Service, roads that are redundant, roads that are bordered by private land, unsafe roads and roads where it is undetermined if they are Forest Service or private property,” says Sharon Higley, U.S. Forest Service, Dakota Prairie Grasslands public affairs officer. “These roads are being closed due to a national Forest Service mandate.”
As a result of the national mandate, the U.S. Forest Service, Dakota Prairie Grasslands has to develop a travel management plan for the Little Missouri National Grasslands. The Travel Management Plan is being completed by the U.S. Forest Service to comply with the Travel Management Rule published in November 2005 governing off-highway vehicles and other motor vehicle use on National Forest System lands. This rule requires each national forest and grassland to designate roads, trails, and areas open to motor vehicle use.
“An increase in off-highway vehicle use has affected soil, water, wildlife habitat, and other recreational visitors to Forest Service land,” says Higley. “Today unmanaged recreation, including destructive impacts from off-highway vehicles, represents one of the major threats facing the nation’s forests and grasslands which led to this new rule. The rule was developed to facilitate the management of off-highway vehicle use so that the agency can continue to provide opportunities desired by the public, while sustaining the health of National Forest System lands and resources.”
“This new rule is especially important in this area, because there are many single access roads like the ones used to access oil well locations,” adds Higley. “Single access roads are not legally open to the public and are not maintained for the public, so it is important that we keep people off of these roads.”
The U.S. Forest Service, Dakota Prairie Grasslands has opened the comment period for the Travel Management Plan Environmental Assessment. Public comments on the Environmental Assessment will allow the Forest Service to make an informed decision to determine which routes shall remain open for public use on the Little Missouri National Grasslands.
“It is important that people send us their comments,” urges Higley. “We are looking for positive and negative comments to the proposed closures so that we can make the best possible decision.”
 “Once the public comment period closes on Aug. 27, it will take about one month to go through the comments and another two to three months to make the final decision,” adds Higley. “Once the decision is made, new maps will be available at local Forest Service offices and anyone using Forest Service land will be expected to use only roads on the new map. It is unclear when the roads will be closed, but it will not be until after the 2010 deer hunting season.
A map of the proposed road closures can be seen at http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/dakotaprairie and public comments can be sent to comments-northern-dakota-prairie@fs.fed.us. The final decision on which roads to close will be made by Ronald E. Hecker, McKenzie District ranger and Ronald W. Jablonski, Jr., Medora District ranger.