Speak Up For Trails on the Colville National Forest
The Forest Service is seeking public comments on the Draft Revised Forest Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Colville National Forest released earlier this year.
The Colville National Forest is finishing a multi-year project to revise its forest plan, which provides the forest with a road map for managing everything from trail and road access to making recommendation for new wilderness areas within the 1.1 million acre area in Northeast Washington. The Forest Service is seeking public comments on the Draft Revised Forest Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Colville National Forest released earlier this year.
As demand increases for outdoor recreation, forest must adapt
The Forest Service writes that the Colville, "disproves the widely held notion that Washington state lies flat east of the Cascade Mountains." And they're right. The forest is home to the Okanogan, Kettle River and Selkirk ranges, which are considered the foothills of the Rockies. The region is home to a stunning array of wildlife from lynx and caribou to grizzly bears and many others. Hikers have long enjoyed the iconic Salmo-Priest loop in this region and now have the opportunity to increase access to more trails within the forest.
In the 26 years since the most recent plan was developed, demand for recreation access to the Colville National Forest has steadily increased.
The plan proposes several alternatives that could change how trails and roads within the forest are managed and makes recommendations for additional wilderness areas on the forest. The full plan can be read here.
In general, WTA supports many aspects of the Forest's Preferred Alternative proposal, listed in the plan as Alternative P, because of its goals to protect the area's ecological health while balancing recreation needs. However, we believe it falls short in providing enough recreation resources in some areas. WTA hopes that after the comment period ends, the Forest Service will acknowledge that recreation needs increased support within the plan.
Forest Plan should identify more areas for hiking, increase commitment to maintaining trails
A 2009 recreation report found that "viewing natural features," hiking/walking," and "relaxing" are the top three recreational activities in the forest. However, the plan does not suggest a change in the number of trail miles or acreage available for nonmotorized recreation. Alternative P would increase the number of acres open to summer motorized recreation by 400 percent. Currently only 20 percent of the forest's lands offer an opportunity for trails to exist in a non-motorized setting. Given the popularity of hiking, biking, horseback riding and other nonmotorized activities, WTA hopes to see more equitable acreage for these activities.
WTA appreciates that the draft Forest Plan states a goal of maintaining 20 percent of the forest's trail system, though we would like to see the number increased to 50 percent, given the popularity of trails and recreation within the forest.
Wilderness recommendations fall short
Currently there is only one wilderness area, the Salmo Priest Wilderness, within the Colville National Forest. The Forest Service's own analysis found that the greater Spokane area is underserved for wilderness recreation due to not having any designated wilderness within a drive of under two hours. WTA supports wilderness recommendations for Bald Snow, Abercrombie Hooknose and the Salmo Priest Adjacent Inventoried Roadless Areas. We would also like to see Thirteenmile & Cougar Mountain, Grassy Top, Hall Mountain and Quartzite Inventoried Roadless Areas considered for wilderness protection.
Hiker input needed by July 5 to ensure strong recreation access
Your voice is needed to make sure the final Forest Plan reflects the needs of hikers like you.
It is important that you personalize your comments, otherwise the Forest Service will not count them as an individual comment. Here are some talking points to get you started:
- Hikers would like to see increased nonmotorized trail mileage and trail maintenance efforts to help the forest adapt to increased demand, especially given that Washington expects 2 million more new residents by 2020.
- The forest is in need of additional wilderness areas to meet growing demand to protect wildlife habitats and ecosystems in addition to providing wilderness recreation experiences.
- In order to keep the forest accessible for everyone, we hope to see roads leading to recreation areas maintained for passenger car use.
Our full comments can be read here. (PDF)