Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Supervisor Tom Montoya is encouraging people to minimize impacts to natural resources from travel on roads that are susceptible to rutting due to warm weather and melting snowpack. “With the warmer weather we understand that the public wants to explore their National Forest, however some roads have not firmed up and traveling on them is causing damage to the roadbed.”
Kevin Martin, Forest Supervisor on the Umatilla National Forest reminds forest users that some roads remain seasonally closed for wildlife or resource concerns in spite of early access. “Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) display the open and seasonally open road system on the Umatilla National Forest,” said Martin. MVUMs are free and can be picked up at any Umatilla National Forest office or downloaded from the forest website.
Sean Chambers, Union County coordinator of the Mount Emily Recreation Area (MERA) also encourages users of the MERA to be aware that many non-motorized trails are muddy and to defer or choose more hardened trails until ground conditions change. MERA has recently developed 17 miles of new trails that are especially sensitive as they have not fully set up. Horse, bike, and foot traffic during muddy conditions can cause areas of trail damage including rutting and potholes that will require costly maintenance.
Driving on muddy roads or trails and driving off-road across wetlands, meadows and up steep hills, is a growing concern for resource managers, law enforcement officials, and responsible ATV users. These types of Forest activities destroy vegetation, expose soil to erosion, and leave scars upon the land that may last for many years.
Damaged areas also provide ready seedbeds for noxious weeds and other invasive plants. Seeds from one area are easily trapped in tire treads and transported to other areas, spreading the noxious weed and introducing non-native vegetation. Noxious weeds are difficult to control and continue to be a major concern.
Mud bogging is also harmful to fisheries and wildlife habitat, soils and clean water. Irresponsible vehicle use results in more vehicle restrictions on public and private lands in an attempt to stop resource damage.
Not only is mud bogging extremely damaging to the land, it’s illegal. It is unlawful to operate a vehicle on or off-road in a manner which damages or unreasonably disturbs land and vegetation. This type of activity can result in an arrest and a fine, with assessed restitution if convicted.
Becoming stuck and unprepared for a long hike out or an overnight stay in the mountains is also a concern. Forest roads are not plowed or maintained for winter travel. If you hit snow, turn around. “We’ve already assisted in several search and rescue efforts this winter where vehicles became stuck in the snow or mud and people had to hike for hours to find help,” said Martin. “You should always be prepared to spend the night in the forest with warm clothing, food and plenty of water,” warns Martin, adding “and always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.”
“We encourage Forest users to enjoy their National Forest. Responsible use of forest roads and trails will not only avoid further damage of the resources, but also ensure that there are future riding opportunities across the Forest,” Montoya said. “Please, be a responsible Forest user and stay on designated roads and trails at this time of the year.”