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Salmon Challis National Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark told the Lemhi County Commissioners Monday, June 8, that work on the Forest Travel Plan is definitely not starting over, as reported, and he apologized for the confusion. He said he will take the responsibility for the message delivered at the last commissioner’s meeting not being clear.

At that meeting the commissioners were told that the Travel Plan developed a few years ago is Sub Part B of a three phase project. Even though that is apparently true, no one involved in the massive amount of work that went into the Travel Plan had ever heard of sub parts A, B or C.

Mark, who was not here at the time, was puzzled by those parts not being mentioned during the process because the Travel Management program as set out in Department of Agriculture 36 CFR 212 Rules and Regulations, published in the Federal Register in 2005, is outlined in three parts. He said Sub Part B, dealt with motorized and non-motorized designated routes and trails and was the first to be developed. He said he has just received the court order lifting the last injunction so that portion of the three phase plan is done.

Mark said now the analysis moves to Sub Part A. “That is, to take a look and determine what our minimum road system is for the future. . .be able to access the forest and be able to provide all the goods and services and products that we need to on the forest, which is a tall order.” He said this is not a decision making process it is an analysis.

Mark said some of the same roads that were evaluated in Part B will be looked at again but not for the purpose of designating how they will be used because that has already been done. This phase will look for any issues such as road conditions that have changed or roads that cross areas prone to landslides. He said they are in the stage of engaging the commissioners and the public to review the issues the agency has identified. He said the agency will not make decisions on any of the transportation system issues until a more site specific analysis is done in the future. Mark said that could be in the form of a recreational analysis or a timber sale.

Commissioner John Jakovac agreed that conditions do constantly change therefore need to be monitored and Commissioner Chairman Rick Snyder said the board was totally caught off guard about the newly announced analysis because no one who worked so hard on the Travel Plan had ever heard of parts A, B or C. Mark said that was unfortunate. Snyder went on to say the first explanation sounded like a supervisor or a district ranger could make a road open or closed decision based on a previous analysis which to the county board was very unacceptable.

Mark assured the commissioners there will be no arbitrary decisions and the public will be engaged in the analysis process.

Snyder stated his understanding is; the agency will be evaluating roads that have changed since the Travel Plan and that there will be a public comment period if the road status needs to be reconsidered. Mark said right now all the agency is doing is making recommendations based on analysis. Commissioner Ken Miner said, “The public perception is no one wants to lose any more roads…or access to our grounds.”

Mark said he knew that after just completing the Travel Plan this analysis, which all forests are doing, was going to be confusing. He said one agency challenge is trying to fit the road system to the budget and still maintain the system. As an additional challenge the Washington office has mandated the initial recommendations of Sub Part A have to be completed by September in order to avoid a budget cut. Mark said the input of people who use the forest is extremely valuable in developing the recommendations.

Sub Part C has to do with snow vehicles and Mark said he had hoped not to go there since in his opinion things are working however; a court case was lost early this year and now all Forest Service supervisors have to analyze Winter use of snowmobiles in the forest. Lemhi County Road Specialist Jay Davis confirmed that during the Travel Plan meetings they were told no one had to deal with snow machines. Mark said that changed in January. He admittedly doesn’t know exactly how that’s going to be handled but whatever course is taken he said it won’t be taken without public input.

Mark said he kept the initial steps low level because he didn’t want to create a lot of excitement over an analysis process which doesn’t make a decision. His plan was to present the analysis project to commissioners and public groups for discussion and feedback. He reemphasized this is a process of recommendations and said because of the Travel Management Rule he absolutely cannot make a final road decision without engaging the public.

Mark said this is an ongoing process even though some final decisions get made. “We’re never going to get out of travel management. Uses change, conditions out there on the ground change and we’ve got to react to them the best way we can. It never ends.”

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