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OpEd to
The Bulletin
by Bill Marlett
Published March 29, 2005

Last week, the Deschutes County Commissioners came one step closer to deciding whether or not to endorse designation of the Badlands wilderness, an action that ultimately requires Congressional approval.

Unfortunately, the commissioners' support might come with a hitch: only if a dirt road, known as Route 8, is reopened to motor vehicles. For those who have not driven Route 8, it's a high-clearance, undeveloped route that runs through the heart of the Badlands. While it gets occasional use, most people prefer to park at the trailheads and walk or ride their horse into the Badlands.

While the commissioners' desire to resolve the competing needs between motorized and nonmotorized users in the Badlands is well-intentioned, let me explain why Route 8 should remain closed to motor vehicles:

1. First, the BLM closed Route 8 after a multiyear planning process, looking at all the issues and competing uses on all public lands in Central Oregon. BLM's decision to close the Badlands, including Route 8, to motorized vehicles was balanced by keeping other public lands and routes open to trucks and ATVs. Their decision was based on the "big picture," weighing the needs of motorized and nonmotorized users alike. Reopening Route 8 would undermine a careful and deliberate public planning effort by asking Congress to undo BLM's decision.

2. Second, reopening Route 8 to off road vehicle use through the middle of the Badlands wilderness would open up a management can of worms for the BLM. Many of the past illicit activities in the Badlands, including cutting of ancient junipers and dumping of trash, have occurred near Route 8. Moreover, Route 8 leads directly to Little Dry Canyon, where vandals recently defaced ancient pictographs (that were later painstakingly restored by the Central Oregon Archaeological Society). BLM is already limited in their ability to manage our public lands, and the commissioners should not further strain BLM's ability to conserve our public lands.

3. Last, but not least, making the Badlands Oregon's first "drive-through" wilderness is simply a bad idea. Roads and highways commonly divide wilderness areas or form wilderness boundaries. The McKenzie Highway west of Sisters is a good example, with the Three Sisters wilderness to the south of the highway and Mount Washington wilderness to the north. More recently, the Steens Mountain wilderness includes wilderness on both sides of the Steens Mountain Road. But those are very different situations than exist in the Badlands, a much smaller area that should not be chopped in two by reopening Route 8.

A recent Bulletin article notes that some off-road vehicle enthusiasts have pressed commissioners to decide against a wilderness designation.

Maybe so, but according to a Feb. 7 survey by GOP pollster American Viewpoint, support for Badlands wilderness is robust among all cross-sections of Deschutes County voters (69 percent), including a majority of "frequent" and "occasional" off-road vehicle users.

Moreover, support is uniform throughout Deschutes County, with support as high in Redmond as it is in Bend.

Consistent with the polling results, the commissioners' Jan. 31 public hearing on the Badlands wilderness generated over 1,500 faxes, letters, e-mails and phone calls, with an impressive 75 percent in support.

After the public hearing, and in the spirit of compromise, ONDA dropped 5,000 acres from the proposed wilderness area (from 36,000 to 31,000 acres) in order to allow continued motorized use on nearly 10 miles of existing A TV trails. With this gesture, the revised Badlands wilderness area would not close one i9ch of ATV trail that BLM wasn't already going to close in its management plan. We presented the compromise proposal to both Joani Dufourd, the off-road vehicle person leading the charge against Badlands wilderness (who rejected the offer) and the county.

In an Oct. 21, 2003, editorial regarding the possible closing of the Badlands to motorized use, The Bulletin noted that, "the loss is not the end of ATV riding as we know it. There are hundreds of miles of other trails in Central Oregon open to riding." To be precise, there are 200,000 acres designated for ATV use in the adjacent Millican Valley. But we are running out of places we can designate as wilderness in Central Oregon's high desert.

The Bulletin concluded that, "Preserving one part of the high desert is a worthwhile investment." I agree, but we can’t preserve the Badlands by staking a road through its heart.

Bill Marlett is executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association.





Read more . . .

  The Badlands Wilderness
OpEd - Dirt road through The Badlands must close
Photos of Road 8 damage sent to Commissioners
Badlands Wilderness with a road?
BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
Geocaching on Federal Forest Lands
OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Fee Demo groundwork may save Geocaching on our public lands
Protest of exclusion of Geocaching in Badlands WSA in BLM's UDRMP
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

Map of huge exclusive OHV areas adjoining the Badlands