OHV consultations go nowhere; appeals to be forwarded
Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson and Public Works Director Robert Perreault represented the county at a consultation meeting Friday, Jan. 5, with Plumas National Forest (PNF) Supervisor Alice Carlton.
PNF Appeals and Litigation Coordinator Jane Beaulieu began the meeting by explaining the purpose: to see if any of the issues in the county’s appeal of the PNF’s new Travel Management Rule could be resolved before going to formal review by the regional office.
Forest Service staff said after this meeting the appeals would be forwarded to the regional office, along with the written record from the public process and a document by the PNF referencing sections of the record that related to each appeal.
Beaulieu said that document would also be forwarded to each appellant.
Perreault explained the county’s main issue was a failure on the part of PNF staff to coordinate with the county.
He said the county didn’t get a good understanding of where the process was going until it neared completion and would have made more comments if it had a better understanding earlier.
Perreault said in his department placing trails on a map would have been done inclusively, meaning each route would be on the map by default and justification would have to be found to take a trail out of the system.
He contended the forest took an exclusive approach, where trails were off the map and had to be argued into the system individually.
“That approach is not traditionally the way the county does planning, the way California does planning, and we felt there wasn’t a compelling reason to do it for this project,” he concluded.
Carlton countered that the forest had to pick priorities in terms of trails to consider for inclusion because it didn’t “have the resources to do intensive surveys on all of them.”
She said the forest determined those priorities by designating trails that PNF staff used for work and those they knew were used by the public, along with requesting input directly from the public.
The forest supervisor indicated her employees then began a screening process that routed out trails for reasons like resource damage, relative length of trails (eliminating “spurs”) and routes that would “draw people into private lands.”
PNF Interdisciplinary Team Leader Pete Hochrein said “a lot” of the routes that weren’t included had questions about private property.
“Without an easement we felt we didn’t want to encourage people to trespass.”
He also reported some trails weren’t included because they were “paralleling existing routes and were redundant.”
Hochrein told the county representatives most situations came down to balancing the benefit of the route and its resource impact.
In terms of the limiting factor of the workload and funding involved, he remarked, “We surveyed 410 miles, which required four different specialists to actually walk each trail and document the impacts.”
Carlton added that, in terms of coordination, “I would never hold up what we’ve done through this process as being some really great product.”
Despite this, she contended that the forest did try to keep the public and local governments interested by meeting with county staff and holding townhall meetings.
Perreault retorted that the townhall meetings often didn’t allow for real discussion, as a consultant steered the conversation along from one topic to another.
On the county’s perception that the forest didn’t coordinate well enough with local government, Simpson commented, “I’m going to be frank with you, all the counties feel the same way.”
Perreault referenced the county’s adoption of “coordinated agency status” in 2008 and asked the forest supervisor what that action did to alter this process.
Carlton said that was a way for the county to signal it wanted to work closely with the PNF on this type of issue.
Perreault contended the legal definition of coordination between governments meant “you really have to be part of the decision-making process.”
He clarified that the county didn’t expect veto power over Forest Service decisions but wanted to be kept in the loop about changes as they were made so that it could give input during the process, not after.
Carlton told him she didn’t understand in the past how involved the county wanted to be in this type of process but would be aware of it in the future.
She asked the public works director if her comprehension of this problem and pledge to work on it in the future was an adequate remedy to the part of the appeal that addressed a lack of coordination.
Back and forth
Following are a series of quotes meant to capture the flow of conversation between Perreault and Carlton, which occurred at this point of the meeting.
This is not an exact word-for-word re-creation, but does give an accurate representation of the discussion.
Perreault: “In order to consider that request, is there any way to get all of the roads onto the vehicle user map?”
Carlton: “You mean all 1,170 miles open to the public?”
Perreault: “Everything that’s out there.”
Carlton: “No, not based on this decision. That would take a reanalysis.
“At this point it would take withdrawing the decision and reanalyzing the whole last six years’ worth of work, that’s what you’d be asking me to do.”
Perreault: “Not to be facetious, but what’s wrong with that?”
Carlton: “I don’t have the time or resources to do that.”
Perreault: “You didn’t have the state money to do a lot of the work that went into this study?”
Carlton: “We got the state money to do the inventory. We didn’t get the state money to do the analysis.
“We get very little recreation money, even less soil and water money, and the majority of our money is fuels treatment and vegetation management money.
“We get some monitoring money and we have some other things but it’s been kind of like drawing from all of those pockets. There’s been no extra money to do this.”
…and back again
Perreault said his perception was that the majority of trails that weren’t surveyed were free of resource concerns.
Carlton said, of those surveyed, two-thirds were spurs, had resource issues or led onto private lands.
Perreault indicated he didn’t agree with the idea of automatically removing trails that lead onto private lands.
“If there’s a roadway or pathway that’s been open, and notorious use of that pathway, the fact that it’s private land means that you hold a prescriptive easement on that land.”
Carlton argued it meant a case could be made for a prescriptive easement, but there wasn’t one automatically.
She said the forest could work with the county on getting approval for roads that cross private lands, where the owner hasn’t taken a stance either way, on a case-by-case basis.
With no significant resolution reached at the end of the meeting, the appeal will be forwarded to the regional office for approval or denial.
Carlton mentioned that none of the appeals were significantly altered in the meetings that day and all would be moving on to the next step.