Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More Thoughts on the Mixed Use Issue in Region 5

If my memory serves me correctly, there was an emphasis during the Clinton-Gore era to reduce the number of roads on National Forest System lands. One element of that was the infamous Clinton Roadless Rule. Another lesser known tenet was the reclassification of the higher maintenance level 3-5 roads to a lower maintenance level such as a level 2 road.

I know that some Forests during the late 1990s and early 2000s did look at the reclassification of roads. However, there was often push back from the agency’s road engineering departments because the Forest’s road maintenance budget was based on the number of miles of roads. Since level 2 roads – roads managed for high clearance vehicle such as 4x4s and OHVs – have a much lower maintenance cost – any Forest that reduced the number of miles of level 3-5 roads would receive a reduced fiscal allocation.

Another factor was that in many Forests there exists “checkerboard” lands. Often those lands are owned by timber companies such as SPI and those companies do a cost share with the Forest Service of the maintenance of level 3 roads used to extract timber. I think there was some resistance by agency road departments to reduce that cost share by reclassifying roads.

So realizing that paradigm, it is easy to see that in many areas – efforts to lower a level 3 road to a level 2 was often met with limited success. I don’t think Region 5 at that time was really supportive of the reclassification of roads.

In today’s economy and with reduced appropriated funding to the agency, I believe that the significant cost reduction of maintaining a level 2 road vs. a level 3 would be of interest to those same timber inholders. And when that level 2 road is needed to extract timber, the road could be temporarily improved to a level 3 standard and when no longer needed for that timber project could be reduced once again to a level 2.

I could be wrong about this, but I don’t see the local CHP commanders really being interested in “reviewing and approving” public use of level 3 roads particularly in rural areas. I know of at least one state highway in Northern California that very seldom gets patrolled by the CHP let alone any of the level 3-5 roads or Forest ‘highways” in those areas.

This issue of generally requiring insurance and a drivers license when operating an OHV on a level 3 “mixed use” road could be problematic on Forests where mixed use on level 3 roads in an important element of their OHV program. I am not sure that concept or its unintended consequences has been fully vetted by the agency before release of the January 13, 2009 memo.

I think we all will have to continue to be engaged in the mixed use issue and look for opportunities to offer suggestions or improvements.

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  1. How is this re-classification going to affect green sticker vehicles and non street legal Jeeps?

  2. Stacie,

    That is a good question. On some Forests it may not be that big of an issue. However, on other Forests it would have a negative impact on OHV recreation. Those details are still being sorted out.