Public comments accepted on grasslands roads planBISMARCK, N.D. — The U.S. Forest Service expects to complete a map by the end of the year that will detail which roads in western North Dakota’s Little Missouri National Grassland the public can legally drive on.
By: Blake Nicholson, Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. — The U.S. Forest Service expects to complete a map by the end of the year that will detail which roads in western North Dakota’s Little Missouri National Grassland the public can legally drive on.
The agency is taking comments this month on four options. One would leave things as they are, and each of the other three would dramatically reduce the miles of roads open to motorized travel by the public.
Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, said that is not necessarily a bad thing.
“We feel there are too many roads to sustain a quality recreation experience, and it’s to the point where we feel there are impacts to wildlife,” he said.
Forest Service staff spent about two years mapping all of the roads on the grassland’s 1 million acres, with the help of satellite technology. It was part of a nationwide mapping project for national forests and grasslands.
There are about 1,600 miles of Forest Service-documented roads, known as system roads, open to public motor vehicle travel on the Little Missouri grasslands. The Forest Service estimates there are more than 600 miles of unauthorized roads, such as trails created by hunters that are not officially maintained. The project does not include 265 miles of oil and gas roads, which officials say are private even though members of the public often use them.
The agency’s proposed action is to close just under half of the system roads to the public, along with all of the unauthorized roads, for an estimated total reduction of about 40 per-cent. The roads are targeted for a variety of reasons, from not being maintained or needed to coming too close to sensitive wilderness areas or wildlife.
Some people worry less roads open to the public will make access more difficult, while others believe fewer roads will mean more wilderness and fewer people causing problems.
Schafer said the conservation group supports the option that would close the most miles of roads, including some near what the group says is a prime wilderness area.
“Restricting travel in certain areas is important,” he said. “There are so many roads now, it’s to the point where some closures are necessary.”
People who violate road rules on Forest Service land can face a fine up to $5,000 and a six-month jail term, according to the Forest Service.
The agency will make a final decision on the road plan early this fall, spokeswoman Sharon Higley said.
“Modifications are possible based on the comments received,” she said. “If one alternative does not suit the majority’s needs, or if something is identified in the comment period that had not been considered before, changes can be made.”