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700 miles of road closures limit more access

posted Oct 28, 2011, 8:42 AM by Tony Burgess   [ updated Oct 28, 2011, 8:50 AM ]
MammothMC subscribes and reads the Inyo Register published in Bishop, CA.  This informative piece, written by Kathy Davis, came out last Tuesday, October 25, 2011.  We too feel the loss of our special camping spots and routes and will work daily to recover them.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Top of the Morning of Oct. 15 titled “Allowing multiple uses on public lands is a Congress-mandated law.” In it, the author questions Inyo and Mono counties’ failures to leave adequate vehicle access for use on National Forest and BLM lands. I, too, am concerned about the vanishing number of open roads and campsites that have been used traditionally for decades.


Besides over 30 years of backpacking, I have used existing Inyo forest and BLM roads to access remote areas to camp, hike, climb, botanize and to enjoy solitude, wildflowers and wildlife, the moon and stars. I call this “traditional camping,” and there were many sites, off many dirt roads, where people have been doing this in Inyo and Mono for decades. The Forest Service calls this “dispersed camping” to separate it from camping in a campground, which is not the same remote experience. I have traditionally camped with my husband, with friends, with our children and with our grandchildren, many places and many years, in both Inyo and Mono. Over the years, the areas that are open to do this have been steadily shrinking. Why?


Recently, on a trip home from botanizing in Colorado, we stopped on top of Westgard Pass to access a favorite campsite. We were shocked to find a barricade and a “Road Closed” sign. A week later, on another trip, we went up to camp at another favorite site, out of Lee Vining. Our beloved spot was covered up with rocks, tree limbs, brush and shrubs that had been pulled from the ground somewhere else and made to look like they were planted. It made you sick. It was like coming home to find your house broken into, ransacked and violated. We felt it must be some crazy, fanatical purist. So we went up the road to check our other spot only to find the same thing and worse. The road had been barricaded, trees had been felled in the roadway and again the branches and debris trying to cover up the road entirely. Just then a Forest Service fire patrol drove up and we confronted the woman with the mess. She told us it was the Travel Management Plan being implemented. We were stunned. We could not believe that the Forest Service, who we pay to protect our public mandated lands, could do such damage to the land that we love. They did more damage to these sites in one day than all the users over all the years had ever done. And why?


I recently found out that this was not an isolated incident and that others had seen the same kind of carnage in the Badger Flats area of Inyo Forest done in implementing these closures. I called and talked to Marty Hornick, the head of the Travel Management implementation. I voiced my concerns about uprooting plants that take years in this arid land to mature, about breaking limbs from live trees and about the possibility of damaging habitats in this reckless approach to these closures and cautioned about rare species. I also questioned the validity of the closures themselves. Were these closures even necessary? Were these roads and campsites really causing resource damage? He listened and said he would look into it. He assured me he would talk to his crews and make sure they would be more careful about environmental damage in the future. He mentioned bringing in materials from other areas such as when Caltrans does clearing. I told him I would be very concerned this might bring in invasive species that frequent roadsides, which would cause more damage.


We talked about the 700 miles of roads they would be closing out of the 2,000 miles of non-system roads they had assessed, with 1,300 miles being incorporated into their present road system. That’s almost the length of California! The big question is: Do we really need these closures to protect the forest or is Inyo being overzealous like their crews in trying to close everything in their path? We can all understand and support legitimate closures that do in fact protect resources but it is hard for many of us to believe that Inyo needs 700 miles of closures to accomplish this.


Would some of these roads leave less of an impact by remaining open? How many campsites will be lost? Can closing low impact campsites, like the ones I saw damaged, cause more of an impact by putting pressure on the remaining sites or encouraging people to create new sites that are higher impact? These are public lands and people are going to use them; it’s the job of the Forest Service to provide access and help people use them with the least amount of impact.


Can Inyo Forest really spare 1,000 or even 700 miles of road and still provide access? What will our forest look like with 700 miles of scar? BLM will also be doing their own road management here shortly; will all our public lands look like war zones? This high desert area does not regenerate like some of the other, wetter forest areas. We will be living with the devastation and scars for years, not just one season, and in some areas, lifetimes.


I have recently talked with other National Forests about ways they are dealing with Travel Management. Many of them are taking a more conservative approach. In person, this summer, I have witnessed Travel Management implemented in a sensitive way, to protect and yet meet the needs and desires of forest users. It can be done. Attitude is everything. I have been in many of the National Forests throughout the West and observed there is a direct correlation between the health of the forest and the health of the relationship between the forest users and their forest officials. When officials act like they own the forest and have to control and shut out the forest users, treating them like the enemy, it builds hostility and resentment that gets taken out on the forest itself. When officials act like they are there to serve the needs of the forest users and help them protect their forest, people take more responsibility in taking care of the forest. It’s a three-way win. Go see for yourself.


What can we do? Go out for yourselves and see what’s happening right now on the forest. Be diligent and report damage or abuse occurring with these closures and speak up when you feel they are unreasonable closures. If you don’t feel your concerns are being heard and addressed at a local level voice them to the next higher level. Call Marty Hornick, (760) 873-2461, head of Travel Management on Inyo Forest; the Regional office in Vallejo for the Pacific Southwest, (707) 562-8737; or the Washington, D.C. office, (800) 832-1355. As always, practice low-impact recreation; if you are unsure about what this means, your local Forest Service should have handouts to help you.


As for the Forest Service, they can be more sensitive to the needs and desires of the forest users, especially the local people who have the Inyo forest in their backyards. We have a history with these special areas where we have shared memories with our loved ones. We need them to use common sense. They shouldn’t just close something because it is easier or because they can. We need them to respect low-impact traditional campsites and, by looking closely at other sites, see if they could be modified to keep them open and still protect the resources, as is being done in other forests. We need them to provide low-impact campsites and parking, especially at the ends of the roads. We need the distances from the road ends to popular destinations to be reasonable for normal individuals and not just marathoners. When they need to close a road or site to protect resources, they need to do so in the most environmentally sound manner, with the least amount of damage to the forest. We need them to set aside any biases they might have toward the many multiple uses. We need to have an open communication with our Inyo Forest and BLM officials, forming equal partnerships. We are not the enemy.


We love our public lands and have been caring for them and using them respectfully for years. Let’s work together to ensure our public lands will be open for multiple uses for generations to come. I quote from the Travel Management Plan: “Motor Vehicles are a legitimate and appropriate way for people to enjoy their National Forests – in the right places and with proper management.”


I believe with a healthy attitude, there can be proper management, with a reasonable balance between user needs and resource protection. I have seen it happen on other forests and I believe with a change in attitude, it will happen here in Inyo and Mono as well.


(Today’s Top of the Morning is written by Kathy Davis, a 34-year resident of Inyo and Mono counties. She attended U of Oregon, and finished 3 years in Special Education before discovering and falling in love with the Eastern Sierra. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and serious amateur botanist. She is a former National Park Volunteer who helped do rare plant surveys in Death Valley. She hopes to continue enjoying our beautiful public lands for many years to come. If you would like to submit a topical opinion piece for “Top of the Morning,” query Editor Darcy Ellis, 760-873-3535 or These pieces deadline up to a week prior to publication.)