The plan for the first time recognizes more than 900 miles of roads and trails in the county as part of the national forest system, the agency said. It keeps open another 1,085 miles of existing authorized roads and closes about 225 miles of road.
The decision means nearly 2,000 miles of roads and motorized trails will be open for public use on Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest land in Elko County, said Wendy Fuell, Mountain City District ranger.
“This includes over 90 percent of all the miles and roads and trails” on the national forest’s Mountain City, Ruby Mountains and Jarbidge ranger districts, she said. “Forest visitors will be able to get to most of the places they could before.”
While cross-country travel by motorized vehicles would be prohibited, the plan also allows hunters’ limited use of ATVs to retrieve elk up to a half-mile from a designated road or trail.
Roads and trails designated for motorized use now will feature signs showing the road open and restrictions for the route. All motorized use inconsistent with the designation of the routes will be prohibited after maps are published later this year.
The public has a 45-day period to comment on the Forest Service’s record of decision.
Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl told the Elko Daily Free Press that he expects commissioners will continue to oppose the travel plan at a meeting Wednesday.
Dahl thinks the plan closes too many roads that the public has driven for years. He also fears it will impose restrictions on hunting and recreation that could adversely affect the county’s economy.
Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, said he’s upset the plan calls for only marking roads that are open instead of marking roads that are no longer open to travel.
“It’s not going to work. It will be a disaster,” he told the Free-Press.
Erik Holland, chair of the Sierra Club’s Toiyabe chapter, said his organization supports the Forest Service’s efforts to restrict backcountry travel, which were launched during the administration of former President George W. Bush amid an explosion of new roads spurred by the growing popularity of off-highway vehicle travel.
“In general, we believe roadless areas are important to the ecosystem and support the Forest Service’s work to create travel management plans,” he said.
Of the 225 miles of road targeted for closure, about one-fourth are being closed at the request of landowners, Fuell told The Associated Press.
“One of our main goals is we’ll try to increase access with private landowners to open up some of those roads,” she said.
Forest Service officials said the plan is a work in progress and they went out of their way to accommodate the concerns of Elko County.
“We anticipate working on the travel management issues for years to come,” said Gar Abbas, ranger of the Ruby Mountains and Jarbidge districts. “There may be areas that haven’t been designated, like dispersed campsites.”
The Humboldt-Toiyabe, which covers much of Nevada and a portion of California, has already approved travel management plans for other counties under its jurisdiction. Elko County was the last holdout.