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Debate over Badlands wilderness packs 'em in
County commissioners hear strong views, pro and con
By Barney Lerten
Tuesday, February 1, 2005 12:15 AM
February 1 - It had all the potential for confrontation: picket signs, polarized views and the biggest crowd – more than 300 – for a Deschutes County Commission hearing in years. But in the end, all with an opinion to share about a proposal to designate 32,000-plus acres of public land in the Badlands area east of Bend did so without rancor,
and the standing-room-only crowd Monday evening was respectful enough to earn grateful kudos from the elected leaders their testimony was targeted at.
In recent years, Bend city councilors twice have unanimously endorsed the Oregon Natural Desert Association’s (www.onda.org) proposal for a 36,505-acre Badlands Wilderness, almost 4,500 acres more than the Prineville District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (www.or.blm.gov/Prineville) has proposed.
But the city elected leaders haven’t drawn the focus that the more reluctant county commissioners have, as ONDA published newspaper inserts and ran radio ads in recent days, urging people to write, fax, phone or e-mail the county leaders, or show up in person to back the wilderness proposal. On the other side were four-wheelers and ATV users with groups like the Central Oregon Motorcycle and ATV Club (www.comacclub.org), which argued against the designation as another effort to keep the law-abiding public from using the lands their taxes help support.
A different tack was taken by the providers of most of those protest signs, the Committee for Handicap and Elder Access to Public Lands (www.handicapandelderaccess.com), which claims that able-bodied hikers want to bar those who are unable to enjoy the scenery, wildlife and solitude of the Badlands without motorized vehicle access. “My Badlands Too!” and “Stop Discrimination!” were two of the signs carried by wilderness-area foes, who brought blue “Keep the Badlands Open” signs (and small U.S. flags stickers) into the standing-room-only hearing room, while wilderness backers wore orange stickers stating their views.
Backers of the proposal to make formal a 25-year-old “wilderness study area) noted that it only eliminates about 9 ½ miles of roads and trails now open to use, while more than 600 miles of OHV (off-highway vehicle) trails remain open to the east and south. But opponents noted that the closure would shut the only through route from Alfalfa to Highway 20 and make it much more difficult for many less-able people to use the area.
Over the three hour-plus hearing, 30 people testified in support of the wilderness designation, while a dozen were opposed. And while all agree it’s a special area, and the
sheriff's officers on hand never needed to step in and keep order, it was clear that compromise and middle ground may be tough to achieve.
“There isn’t two sides,” 15-year resident and wilderness supporter Gary Beaudoin said as the crowd made its way inside. “You can’t have peace and quiet and two-stroke motors. This sense of compromise doesn’t make sense.”
From the start, commissioners, who also face a thick stack of written comments to go through – similarly weighted in favor of designation – didn’t want anyone thinking they had made up their minds.
“We will not be making a decision tonight,” said commission Chairman Tom DeWolf. The written record remains open through Feb. 11, and DeWolf said the material also would be posted on the county Website, at www.deschutes.org. He warned the crowd to respect each other and not cheer or boo – advice that either went heeded or wasn’t needed – and said it would be “mid-March before we make any kind of decisions,” in terms of whether to make a recommendation to Oregon’s congressional delegation.
Seeing a lack of public consensus on the wilderness proposal, and both sides with valid points, county Forester Joe Stutler is recommending that commissioners take a middle ground, and support the BLM’s proposal for limiting motor vehicle use on the 32,030-acre study area, except for permitted There isn’t two sides. You can’t have peace and quiet and two-stroke motors. Gary Beaudoin Supporter of Badlands wilderness area uses and private land owners.
“A vote either for or against wilderness designation will further polarize or result in deeper division between user groups,” Stutler said.
Robert Towne, manager of the BLM’s Deschutes Resources Area, admired commissioners for one thing: “You guys sure know how to draw a crowd,” he said, referring the much smaller turnout for his agency’s public meetings on the overall Upper Deschutes Resource Management Plan.
Mollie Chaudet of the BLM said the agency had worked out a number of compromises to balance the diversity of uses in the area, from horseback riding, bird-watching and solitude to motorcycles, ATVs, bicycles, etc. She said the plan keeps 43 percent of the area totally open to motorized vehicles, while only 23 percent would allow no motorized use whatsoever. She also said the added limits are expected to have much less effect on motorized uses than the limits proposed in the Millican OHV Area to the east.
Fervent views heard, from all sides
Jeannie Lancaster, of the Committee for Handicapped and Elder Access to Public Lands, turned in over 6,000 petition signatures she’s gathered over the past six to eight months, signed by foes of the proposed wilderness area. “I spent my days walking through the Wal-Mart and Costco parking lots,” she said. “Maybe one person out of 20 would not sign my petition.”
“Many years ago, in the south, only white people were allowed in the most desirable areas,” Lancaster said, and compared that to only hikers being able to travel into much of the Badlands: “That is discrimination.”
Pam Falcioni of Bend said the vandalism and defacement of the area with garbage and the like “are caused by vandals and other dregs of society who use the area because of its proximity to Bend, and it’s a lonely area where they feel they won’t get caught.”
“Closure is easier and cheaper” than other means of protection, she said, but “only offers the vandals and thugs a quiet place to do their dirty work. … Please do not jump on the closure bandwagon. … A vote toward wilderness designation of the Badlands is a vote to slam the door and lock out those who have played (there) for generations. … Protect it from harm. Don’t close it.”
Jon Pyland of the Deschutes County Four-Wheelers agreed: “I think wilderness is an extreme, just like clear-cutting is an extreme.”
But others, like Cort Vaughan, said, “Wilderness is good for business,” and will bring more people, like bird-watchers, to visit the region at the slower times of year.
Bill Marlett, executive director of ONDA, took issue with county forester Stutler: “There will never be unanimity, on this or any issue.” He cited polls (later criticized by a wilderness foe as biased) that found 2-to-1 support among county voters for the wilderness area, as well as backing by more than 150 businesses and most adjacent land
Just a few snickers
The closest things came to any serious friction were the laugh and snickers at Marlett’s comment that nothing in the Americans with Disabilities Act or Wilderness Act prohibits use of wheelchairs in those areas. “Come on,” DeWolf told the opponents. “You’ll get your chance.”
Marilyn Miller, conservation chair of the Juniper Group Sierra Club, urged commissioners to back the proposal: “Please, for future generations, do the right thing and help move the process forward for permanent protection of this special area.” A vote toward wilderness designation of the Badlands is a vote to slam the door and lock out those who have played (there) for generations. Pam Falcioni Opponent of Badlands wilderness area
Tim Lillebo of the Oregon Natural Resources Council echoed those comments, asking for protection of “a little High Desert jewel, right in our backyard.”
“Wilderness is not about us. Wilderness is about the future,” said Alice Elshoff, who has led school groups and Girl Scouts on enlightening field trips into the “surprising little area.”
John Sterling of the Outdoor Industry Conservation Alliance also backed the proposal as “good for business,” and said Oregon has 4 percent of its land designated wilderness, less than one-third California’s amount.
Joani Dufour of the motorcycle/ATV club said her members “want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. … Why, we ask, is it so hard to just keep an area open?”
“Everyone in this room – we all want to protect” the area, she said. “We at COMAAC never have seen that happen because of a gate.”
DeWolf asked Dufour to submit testimony answering his question about why the 9.3 or so miles of road closure is important, and for Marlett to explain why the BLM’s 32,000-acre designation isn’t adequate and another 4,000 acres to the south (including portions of the Dry River Canyon) is needed.
Wilderness supporter Bob Speik of www.traditionalmountaineering.org called off-roaders “nice folks with lots of bucks for big toys,” while opponent Randy Drake said the area “is not wilderness,” not with lights of the city in the distance and the squeal of Les Schwab Tires trucks on the new, nearby road to Prineville.
”There are some neat areas out there,” Drake said. “I do agree, some of them might need protection.”
Horse-rider Patty Jo Waters isn’t so sure banning motorized use will ease the conflicts: “The best scare I’ve had in the past year was a guy on a bicycle.”
James Foley of the National Land Rights League was strident in opposition to the proposal: “I spent 32 years in Alaska. I know what wilderness is. This is not wilderness. This is a suburb of Bend, Oregon. The issue is about the erosion of American citizens’ land rights in this country.” Foley, who moved to Bend to retire, said, “I call this the
land of locked gates.”
But that’s not how Matt Skeels sees it. He calls roads “a convenience, and to me, convenience breeds lack of respect.”
Redmond resident Bob Jappert, 80, told the board, “I got no big burr in my saddle” about the wilderness proposal, but said of the BLM, “they haven’t taken care of what they got.” And as for more visitors to the area, Jappert said, “They’re gonna love it to death.”
Self-proclaimed “non-expert” Sue Jackson said, “I’m not a visitor to the Badlands. I live there. Bend is coming too close for my comfort.” The native Vermonter does every sort of outdoor sport and recreation, and said she’s been all over the issue before coming to the conclusion: “Protect it now. I don’t want to hear the noise.”
Tracy Bowerman spoke for other “interest groups,” the species from mule deer and American kestrel to prairie falcon and white-footed deer mouse that call the Badlands home.
But motorcyclist Stan Summers expressed worries about the limits on firefighting in wilderness areas and the greater impact of crowding more off-roaders onto smaller areas. He argued against using “1,000-year-old junipers as an excuse to lock everything else out. … If they (wilderness supporters) need a place to reflect and contemplate their place in life, there’s millions of acres in the Cascades they can go to – we can’t.”
TESTIMONY BEFORE THE DESCHUTES COUNTY COMMISSION ON JANUARY 31, 2005
1. I wish I were at the Dentist. I find it easier
to talk with 30 folks for 30 hours at COCC than to talk to three people for 3
minutes. Therefore, I will read my remarks.
2. As individuals, my wife and I are for the creation of a Badlands Wilderness east of Bend. We ask the Deschutes County Commission to support the ONDA proposal, make a Resolution and support the introduction of a Bill in Congress to create the Badlands Wilderness.
A short time ago, I wrote a well received OpEd piece for the Bulletin, pointing out that there was enough desert for every-one and that the OHV folks should not fear a Badlands wilderness.
In the 1960s, I raced motorcycles across the Mohave Desert. We tore it up for a hundred miles. However, we respected and supported the concept that certain parts of the desert should be protected under Wilderness guidelines. There must be balance in the management of our public lands.
I suggested that most OHV riders would also be supportive of fairness and balance, but I feared that their leadership, in a knee jerk reaction, would vehemently oppose Wilderness and organize their club members.
3. ATV and Motorcycle use is not compatible with hikers, horse folks, birders, scouts, strollers, bow hunters, Geocachers, stargazers and explorers. The official government OHV maps covering 200,000 acres and 640 miles of developed OHV trails adjoining The Badlands picture folks representative of the sport on the cover of the maps. It is clear that OHV use is a single purpose use.
4. OHV folks are nice folks who have lots of
bucks for big toys. However, there are bad apples in the bunch.
Let me read the official OHV Trail Tip of the Month for July 2004. It appeared on the official USDA website:
“The logo for Tread Lightly is a thumb print which stands for leaving a good impression. Unfortunately, too many riders have not been practicing this, and now one of our most popular trails at East Fort Rock, TR 55 to East Butte Lookout, has been closed until September 30 to protect the lookout and lookouts from the vandalism, belligerent behavior, vulgar language, irresponsible riding, drinking, and littering caused by riders who don't think or don't care.
We are all ambassadors for our sport and the future of our sport depends on all of us. If riders want to party and be irresponsible, they are not welcome here. With everyone's help, maybe we can turn this attitude around and keep Central Oregon what it is, or was, a place to ride."
5. I have conducted free map, compass and GPS training for almost 300 people in The Badlands over the past few years. The complex terrain makes these “Navigation Noodles” a quality learning experience.
I represent a “requested email list” of about 500 people interested in Traditional Mountaineering near Bend. Traditional Mountaineering.org is a large non-profit website that sends over a Giga Bite of data around the world each week. Hits are over 90,000 each week, Over 10,000 pages are read each week. The website brings vacationers to Central Oregon.
TraditionalMountaineering.org supports the ONDA plan for the creation of The Badlands Wilderness. We ask the Deschutes County Commission to support the ONDA proposal, make a Resolution and support the introduction of a Bill in Congress to create the Badlands Wilderness.
Quoted from USDA Forest Service, Official Website Recreation Report for July 2004:
"Tread Lightly Tip of the Month:
The logo for Tread Lightly is a thumb print which stands for leaving a good impression. Unfortunately, too many riders have not been practicing this, and now one of our most popular trails at East Fort Rock, TR 55 to East Butte Lookout, has been closed until September 30 to protect the lookout and lookouts from the vandalism, belligerent behavior, vulgar language, irresponsible riding, drinking, and littering caused by riders who don't think or don't care. We are all ambassadors for our sport and the future of our sport depends on all of us. If riders want to party and be irresponsible, they are not welcome here.
With everyone's help, maybe we can turn this attitude around and keep Central Oregon what it is, or was, a place to ride."
For a depiction of the "shared use" attribute of
our dedicated National Forest OHV Trail system go to the
CENTRAL OREGON COMBINED OFF-HIGHWAY VEHICLE OPERATIONS COHVOPS section of the USDA Forest Service website:
Note: Following are several incorrect assumptions by opponents of Wilderness:
1. Disabled people will not have access. False. The Wilderness administrative designation specifically permits wheel chairs. Disabled folks can wheel alone or with assistance, just a short distance down the access trails for a complete Badlands experience. The distance from their car disabled folks can travel into The Badlands is only limited by the caregivers desire and ability.
2. Hunting will be curtailed by Wilderness restrictions. False. Only the fact that the hunter must leave his or her car at the trail head and hunt on foot or by horse, limits hunting. Hunting is permitted by the Wilderness Act, in compliance with normal hunting regulations.
3. The Badlands are not Wilderness because or the size and proximity to highways. False. The Badlands meets the strict legal requirements for protection under the Wilderness Act.
4. You can hear the highway noise from all sides of the Badlands. False. You hear no noise of vehicles or other machines, just a half mile into the Badlands.
5. The Badlands is not suitable as Wilderness because you can see homes all around the west and north perimeters of the area. False. The terrain of The Badlands and the juniper forest block such views.
6. The population of OHV owners is so large they need the Badlands 37,000 acres. False. These recreationists have exclusive use of over 200,000 acres adjoining The Badlands with over 640 miles of developed and marked OHV trails. Indeed, some of this prime land should never have been dedicated to the sole use of this one recreational group. Citizens of Bend should carefully review any further requests for land by OHV enthusiasts and their industry lobbyists.
Read more . . .
Map of huge exclusive OHV areas adjoining the
The Badlands Wilderness
Geocaching should not be banned in The Badlands - OpEd
BLM's UDRMP puts Bend's Badlands off limits to Geocaching
Deschutes County Commissioners hearing on Badlands Wilderness support
OHV use restricted in Upper Deschutes Resource Management Plan
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Tread Lightly OHV USFS tip of the month
OHVs to be held to designated trails by USDA Forest Service!
New pole shows Badlands Wilderness favored by voters
BLM posts Reward for information on Juniper rustlers
BLM weighing public input on management plan
Oregon's Badlands hit by old growth Juniper rustlers Photos
Congressman Greg Walden to visit The Badlands
Badlands Wilderness endorsed by COTA
OpEd - Unregulated OHV use is being reviewed across the western states
OHV use curtailed by new USFS policy decisions
Sierra Club's Juniper Group supports Badlands Wilderness
OHV regulation discussed at BLM meeting in Bend, Oregon
OpEd - Badlands part of BLM's recreation management area
OpEd - We need the Badlands Wilderness
OpEd - Off-roaders have no reason to fear Badlands Wilderness designation
Speak for the Badlands at Town Hall Meeting
Hiking poles are becoming essential gear
Vandals destroy ancient pictographs in the Badlands
Senator Wyden tests support of Badlands Wilderness
Badlands Wilderness endorsed by Bend City Commissioners
The Badlands: proposed for Wilderness status
The Badlands unique geologic forms explained by Chitwood pdf
The Badlands, a brief history
The Badlands pictographs reported 75 year ago
Read more . . .
Map of huge exclusive OHV areas adjoining the Badlands