This past week has been an interesting one with lessons having the potential to teach me a few things.
I’ll start with the phrase “eating crow” whose origins are somewhat disputed. The idea of eating crow generally means that someone made a comment about something that later turned out to be inaccurate, thus requiring the person to “eat crow” or in other words, swallow their pride.
The explanation that seems to have the most credibility has its origins in the Revolutionary War where a farmer out hunting wandered into enemy territory where he shot a crow. Hearing the shot, British soldiers apprehended the man and after taking his gun away, forced him to literally eat the crow raw. Sounds pretty unsavory to me.
My serving of crow stems from a comment I made in my story about the Forest Service being made up of eastern liberals who don’t share our values and have no desire to make any decisions that are to our liking. As it turns out, there is one eastern liberal at the Burley Forest Service office who is from the east, but only about 70 miles East. Yes, our district ranger is from Fort Hall, barely a stones throw from Cassia County.
This point was made to me during a pleasant and productive meeting I had with Mark Dallon, the District Hydrologist, who helped educate me not only about the birthplaces of many of the professionals working in the Burley Forest Service office, but also about the proposed areas of closure in the South Hills. Mark is a Utah native and the majority of the other staff are from surrounding western states.
To quickly catch up, the Forest Service is proposing the possibility of closing some existing roads in the South Hills and they have asked for the public’s feedback on the four areas being considered. When this story first broke it was difficult to know just how many of the roads in the South Hills would be closed, so the fearmongers, myself included, jumped to some quick assumptions that this meant every road.
With the help of large maps, and the benefit of colored markers, I was able to see which roads were being considered. With a better picture of the scale of the possible closures I now have a better understanding of how I might be impacted by any road closures.
The greatest challenge that exists between the Forest Service and the forest users is a general lack of trust. This surely has a complicated history extending back over the decades the Forest Service has been managing the South Hills, most recently during the 2008 Travel Management Plan that was implemented. That study resulted in changes in the way the public had always used parts of the South Hills for recreation, woodcutting and hunting. The hardest part of the plan for me to understand was the closure of some long-time trails that gave me access to some beautiful areas. People generally hate change, especially when they don’t understand it.
What almost none of us understand about the 2008 Travel Management Plan was the pressure the Forest Service was under from environmentalists that included Western Watersheds and the Idaho Conservation League who sued the Forest Service over the absence of a plan that dealt with the hundreds of miles of roads and trails, many of which were never officially designated as official roads. The haphazard, helter-skelter way many roads and trails were cut into the mountains often lead to erosion from rain and snowmelt.
The current study under consideration is being driven by the District Biologist, Scott Soletti, who is trying to provide big game some relief from wheeled vehicles that put pressure on wildlife. This fact has been beneficial to me in understanding the “why” part of these proposed changes.
The bottom line for me is the underlying absence of trust between forest users and forest managers. When a study says it is a temporary closure most of us think that is a lie. Our nature tells us that once the government takes something away we will never get it back. For me to support any changes that take access away from me I need to be assured that the reason is reasonable, that the decision can be reversed and that my access to beautiful areas won’t be completely locked up.
As an ATV enthusiast I know how to navigate my way around the South Hills in both summer and winter. This doesn’t mean I could stand on the trailhead and necessarily find that spot on a map. With this in mind, one thing the Forest Service could do that would help me understand more is to place a 4x8 sign at the site where a proposed road will be closed. This should be done months ahead of any action and would help everyone that uses the trials understand exactly what is going to happen if the plan is approved. To announce a road closure in September and implement it two months later doesn’t cut it. Likewise, the Forest Service should be going out of its way to promote the plans. Publishing it in the legal newspaper of record, which nobody reads, might fulfill the legal requirement but it doesn’t pass the requirement of actually informing the public.
We can do our part as forest users by attending the open houses that are scheduled and giving feedback on the impacts these changes will have on you. The Cassia County meeting will be held on November 7th at the Cassia County Courthouse located at 1459 Overland Ave. in Burley. The meeting is in room 206 the commissioners meeting room, and goes from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Representatives from the Forest Service will be in attendance with maps and copies of the plans and will gladly accept any helpful feedback. Sending in a letter that disparages the legitimate birth of Forest Service employees might be entertaining to you, but it does nothing to solve the problem. I hope to see you there.