Every weekend in the summer, Dana Sander is out riding the roads and trails near his home in Cody. Two of his kids, who are 6 and 7 years old, have their own motorcycles. His two younger kids, a 4-year-old and 6-month old, ride along with Sander and his wife. The baby goes in a backpack.
Sander, who is a founder and chairman of the Northwest Wyoming Off Highway Vehicle Alliance, wants more trails — not just roads — open for motorized travel on the forest as the Shoshone National Forest drafts its travel management plan.
The forest is looking at motorized travel, for both summer and winter, as it works on its travel management plan. People can comment on a proposed action plan until June 27.
Forest Service staff will use public comments to develop alternative plans and write an environmental impact statement, said Kristie Salzmann, spokeswoman with the forest. A draft should be available next spring. That will then go out for further public comments. They hope to have a final travel management plan by spring of 2018.
The travel management plan is focused entirely on motorized trails and roads. The forest isn’t considering new non-motorized trails, but is looking at how different groups use the land and how motorized trails or roads would impact them.
The Shoshone is known as a backcountry forest, something planners want to keep intact.
“We’re not wanting to change the characteristics of the forest,” Salzmann said.
The proposed action plan — which calls for about 30 miles of new motorized trails and roads — came from input from the public through a workshop and stakeholders group. The goal was to get the public involved early in the process, Salzmann said.
Sander would like to see roads converted to motorized trails, as well as a few new motorized trails added to the system. “I’m encouraged by the progress that’s been made, but I still feel like there’s a major lack of opportunity for youth and families on the Shoshone National Forest,” he said.
That doesn’t mean more roads, it means more motorized trails, a distinction that is important for families. To ride a dirtbike or ATV on a road, a person must be at least 16 years old and have a valid driver’s license. On motorized trails, however, kids can drive their own machines. On the northern end of the forest there is only one motorized trail.
The needs of the forest vary widely depending on the area, said Sarah Walker, Shoshone wildland coordinator with the Wyoming Wilderness Association. In the Wind River Ranger District portion of the forest, near where Walker is based in Dubois, the plan calls for 10 new miles of motorized trails and roads to connect existing infrastructure and create more loops. The addition would create 50 new miles of loop, adding to the existing 150 miles of loop riding on the southern portion of the forest.
Loops have bigger impacts on wildlife habitat cutting out entire sections from animal use. They also draw more people. That can be a problem when roads run near roadless areas or next to proposed wilderness, Walker said.
While there might be a need for more loops near Cody, “we’re not hurting for loops down here,” Walker said. “Our concern is there are too many existing system roads and unauthorized roads than the forest has resources to handle.”
The southern end of the Shoshone National Forest has a long logging history that left roads behind long after the industry diminished. Those roads aren’t maintained or regulated. They aren’t charted on maps. There are no signs saying they are closed.
“We see dozens of closed roads here that see regular travel,” Walker said.
If all these roads were opened, the southern forest would be nothing but roads. She wants the Forest Service to consider officially adding — and assuming management responsibility — for those roads that provide access to other motorized areas, while closing the other remnant tracks and marking them with signs so people know they are illegal to ride.
While there are still steps to go before the forest makes a final plan, this is the time people can have the most impact on guiding the agency.
“This is the really important comment period where people can identify issues,” Walker said.