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Comments open for off-highway vehicle access in Chippewa Forest

An environmental assessment charting off-highway vehicle access on the Chippewa National Forest is open for public comment. The Chippewa National Forest proposes to designate those roads on national forest lands that are to remain open to OHV use...

An environmental assessment charting off-highway vehicle access on the Chippewa National Forest is open for public comment.

The Chippewa National Forest proposes to designate those roads on national forest lands that are to remain open to OHV use, says a U.S. Forest Service statement.

The environmental assessment presents a public-involvement-based OHV travel management proposal only for the Chippewa, the statement said. State and county proposals will be made by those agencies.

The EA describes four alternatives which will be considered to amend the Chippewa National Forest's forest management plan, including Alternative 1 of taking no action.

The proposed action, Alternative 2, under the EA would provide 1,384 miles of roads proposed to be open to off-road vehicles. Most of the miles, 1,168 miles, are in CNF's second-lowest of five classifications of maintenance intensity.

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There are no routes designated in either the lowest or highest maintenance levels, and the proposal would prohibit OHV use in the other three classifications except where they have been designated as open for use through site-specific analysis.

The Forest Service said it took under consideration a number of public issues in making its suggested route recommendations, including having miles that provide loops and connecting routes, additional access during hunting season, increased access for recreation experiences, protection of natural resources and non-motorized experiences, limiting the number of dead-end routes and miles open in riparian management areas and providing enough miles for OHV use within traditional tribal hunting and gathering areas.

"The roads were discussed with other land management agencies, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Beltrami, Cass and Itasca counties, Leech Lake Division of Resource Management and area townships with roads crossing the forest," the Forest Service said. "In 2006, public meetings held in local communities to discuss off-highway vehicle road travel alternatives were also very well attended."

A 2005 Forest Service rule requires all national forests to designate roads, trails and areas open for OHV use, and regional authorities decided that only roads and trails could be designated for OHV use on the Chippewa, the EA states. Exemptions are allowed for hunting or trapping. Already prohibited is cross-country travel, which is OHV use off system roads and trails.

All of the alternatives proposed use existing roads, it states. However, CNF may develop up to 90 miles of additional trails in the next 10 years "to respond to an ever increasing demand for OHV opportunities in northern Minnesota.

"In the state of Minnesota, registrations of (OHVs) have increased from about 9,204 in 1994 to 222,594 in 2004," states the EA. "Minnesota riders stated that they desire rides that are approximately 20 miles long and that take about four hours. An increase in (OHV) use can bring economic benefits for communities that provide services such as gas, parts, repair service, food and lodging.

"Individuals identified the communities of Big Fork, Remer and the Lake Winnibigoshish area as locations for connector routes and loop riding opportunities," it states. "On the CNF there are currently 58 miles of Forest Service System roads that provide a riding experience greater than 5 miles in length."

The alternatives range from the first option of no action having the least amount of loops and connecting routes for longer riding experiences to Alternative 4, with 279 miles of loops and connectors over 5 miles in length.

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The proposed Alternative 2 would include 244 miles of loops and connectors.

Among the alternatives, the first would allow 1,530 open miles, the second 1,384 miles, the third 880 miles and the fourth 1,777 miles.

Comments for the environmental assessment must be received no later than May 18. The EA is available on the CNF's Web site at:

http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/chippewa/projects/

To request a CD or written copy of the EA, call the Chippewa National Forest at 335-8600.

Written comments can be sent to: Forest Supervisor Robert Harper, Chippewa National Forest, 200 Ash Ave. N.W., Cass Lake, MN 56633.

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