17 March 2013

Forest Service Proposes More Roadways Through Sandhill Grasslands

A notice just issued for the Bessey and McKelvie divisions of the Nebraska National Forest, proposes that additional vehicular travel be allowed on trail roads at both grassland places.

"The project would address access needs and potentially reduce effects of concentrated travel by allowing motorized use of certain user-created routes ...," according to a agency notice.

Four-pages of information were the only details provided via a mailing, and as presented online. Any facts to support the need for more trails through the grassland tracts of both forest area was not indicated, other than this statement:

... "numerous comments from other agencies and the public indicating a need for additional motorized access to other areas of the forest for hunting, fishing, general recreation and other uses."

This statement is indicative. More vehicular access would make it easier for hunters to drive somewhere to hunt and kill deer and prairie grouse. Apparently some of them do not want to walk so much... It appears that the trails were created by users, which were probably ranchers with grazing rights and are routes used to check cattle and to visit windmills, although the federal agency has not made public how these trails originated.

The proposal is especially problematic at McKelvie National Forest, where tracts of the McKelvie Forest, especially, will be altered to conform with people focused upon changing a situation which has obviously worked for decades. Here are nine routes "proposed for additional motorized access." According to the maps provided by the agency, any access for increased fishing opportunities would occur only on the north side of Merritt Reservoir.

A reclassification of these routes is not warranted. The proposal as conveyed to the public does not present any details associated with several key concerns:

  • what is the current status of these trails and the present extent of their use; this is a key item, because details should be provided on the need for the proposed change
  • if the proposed trails are not part of the current authorized travel routes designated by the Forest Service, have they been previously abandoned, or used in any manner?
  • how would trail reclassification have any influence on the value of an unbroken prairie expanse
  • would "improved" access have any impact on wildlife resources?
  • would there be any potential increase in erosion or other ground disturbance due to a possible increase in traffic
  • and, last, but not least, would this change increase the need for trail maintenance that would become a new financial burden on the agency?

Perhaps there should be fewer roads, not more? This effort by the Forest Service is just the latest example of an improvement, which in reality will degrade the natural quality of the landscape.

Any comments conveyed to the agency will be used to help in preparing an "environmental assessment of the proposed action."

There are so few details given by the action proposal, it is difficult to suitably evaluate impacts and alternatives.

Public comments on this proposal will be accepted through early April, with public meetings held at Thedford, Grand Island, Valentine and Alliance during March 19-28, 2013.

Map of proposed new vehicle routes at McKelvie National Forest. Image from Forest Service notice of proposed action.