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Group questions forest road closures


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The renamed Chetco Bar Fire-Curry Prevention and Recovery (CPR) group plans to create a detailed transportation map of U.S. Forest Service roads in Curry County and incorporate it into the county’s comprehensive plan as a county access rights-of-way document to override how federal agencies manage roads in the backcountry.

Citizens created the Curry County Public Lands Access group three years ago after hearing the forest service planned to decommission, or permanently close, many roads into the backcountry. After the Chetco Bar Fire this summer scorched 191,125 acres of land and the forest service began mitigation work that necessitated road closures, the public’s ire grew again.

Bill Buchanan, a land-use expert and Brookings resident, said the state encourages counties to have such maps in place to address the needs of law enforcement, search and rescue, firefighting and fire prevention work, recreation, tourism and salvage logging.

If the maps can justify their existence for any of those needs, the county can usually override the federal agency’s wishes to temporarily — or permanently — close roads.

“They give a huge deference to adopted local plans,” Buchanan told a crowd of more than 50 people at the Elks Lodge in Brookings Monday night. “Often smaller jurisdictions don’t realize (this). If a local community says, ‘This is our plan,’ that has a lot of weight.”

Timing critical

There is a bit of a time crunch, as well.

Any salvage logging to be done — and it can only be conducted in about half of the 191,125-acre burn scar — must be done in the next two years or the trees will begin to rot.

“Time is of the essence,” said Christopher Paasch, a Gold Beach-area resident. “It is imperative we make our voices heard now, to get things started. We’ve only got one (county) commissioner who cares enough to attend these meetings. We need to force the people you elected to do their jobs.”

Shelia Megson, legislative administrator for state Rep. David Brock Smith, encouraged everyone to write their legislators about the issue to keep it at the forefront of legislative agendas.

“It is so easy to forget, to say, ‘OK, we had a fire,’” she said. “Or Mercy Flights could not take off 49 times because of the smoke. Think of the medical costs because they couldn’t take off. You can’t tell me that wasn’t millions and millions and millions of dollars.”

She urged people to write not just their legislators but those in other districts and neighboring states that also suffered through cataclysmic wildfires this year.

“Write to all of them to support the recovery and prevention of wildfires,” she said. “You are a resident of the state of Oregon. You are a resident of the country of the United States. They need to hear this.”

Bills are also gaining momentum in the state legislature regarding forest health, policy and management.

Public lands

The group is immediately concerned about the U.S. Forest Service’s installation of 17 gates blocking public access to the backcountry, work that began earlier this month. The Forest Service has repeatedly said the gates are temporary and will be removed or locked open after hazardous tree-removal work in the Chetco Bar Fire burn scar is done.

But few believe the federal agency, questioning why a fiscally strapped agency would spend so much money on temporary infrastructure and saying once a gate is up it never comes down. They also don’t understand why the Forest Service can’t close just portions of the area as they work on them instead of closing the entire area for the duration.

“That’s what makes people a little bit rebellious,” said County Commissioner Court Boice, who spearheaded the creation of the recovery group. “Sometimes, a little rebellious.”

Curry County Sheriff John Ward said he, too, doesn’t believe the gates will be temporary.

“I’ve stuck to my guns,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think we need to close all those roads. Close ’em down (as needed), get ’er done (the mitigation) and reopen them.”

Nobody from the Forest Service was at the meeting — and Boice said he was even calling for the dismissal of District Ranger Tina Lanier for her alleged lack of cooperation with the county regarding the road closures and other forest management issues after the fire.

Most of those in attendance said they think people should be able to access the backcountry at will — but at their own risk, knowing burned snags could fall or mudslides could block egress from the area. Two men admitted they’d driven as far east as Steel Bridge last week, were caught in a rainstorm and witnessed the potentially dangerous flow of mud from the hillsides around them.

But they still don’t want those gates built and they’re adamant in their refusal to believe they’re temporary.

Discussion came down to the definition of “road closure,” which most agreed is defined by a closed gate.

“A gate means ‘do not enter,’” said citizen Tom Beene. “No driving, no walking, no skateboarding, no rollerskating. If I have a lock on my gate, don’t come in.”

“One you put up a gate, you’re gated. You’re out,” Megson said.

The Chetco Bar Fire Curry Prevention and Recovery group will meet again 6 p.m. Dec. 4 upstairs at the Elks Lodge in Brookings.

Roads closed

•All of FSR 1376 and all the roads to Nook and Redwood bars;

•All of Forest Service Road 1983, south and east of Mount Emily;

•FSR 1107, used to access the Snaketooth shooting range

•All of FRS 1407/Hazel Camp Road, which also leads to homes in the backcountry;

•All of 1909 and 1917 near Quail Prairie Mountain lookout and Pollywog Butte north of the South Fork of the Chetco River,

And numerous roads in the Wheeler Creek area, including FSR 1205, 1107 and all its tributary roads to the north.