ELKO — County commissioners and some members of the public have questions about the travel management planning process the Bureau of Land Management is starting in the county.
BLM Public Affairs Officer Greg Deimel and Tuscarora Field Office Manager Melanie Peterson were at a recent county commission meeting to talk about the planning that is beginning for the Charleston Travel Management Area north of Elko.
“What’s the point?” Commissioner Jon Karr said at the start of the discussion.
The commissioners and members of the public asked who is directing the Elko District Office to do this study, what is the purpose behind the study, what is accomplished by having an inventory of all the roads and trails in the area, and whether roads will be designated for closure.
“I think it’s a huge mistake,” Commissioner Demar Dahl said of the travel planning process. He said he thinks the travel analysis which the Forest Service did in this area about 10 years ago was also a huge mistake. He said that roads which were not designated open during the Forest Service travel analysis were automatically closed.
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Now, Dahl said, if someone is on a closed Forest Service road, even though it is not marked closed, they could be subject to a $5,000 fine or six months in jail. No one is currently enforcing that, Dahl said, but in the future the road closures might be enforced. And if someone did get a ticket, they would have to go to Reno to contest it.
Dahl suggested that if the BLM took the $60,000 they have spent so far on the travel planning process and spent that amount on advertising telling people to stay on the roads, they would get a lot more results from the money spent. He said that the big “clean up America” advertising campaign years ago was effective in changing people’s minds and getting them to feel that they should not litter.
“It really worked, and I think it would really work on the forest and on the BLM,” Dahl said. “But your travel management plan is just a losing proposition. And if you close a road, you want to remember what you saw here today. Because the spirit of resistance in Elko County is alive and well. And when the Forest Service closed that road in Jarbidge, everybody showed up to open it.”
The discussion of the travel management plan followed discussion of the commissioners’ Second Amendment sanctuary county resolution. About 200 people showed up for the Second Amendment discussion to show their opposition to Nevada’s new background-check law. Most of the people left before the discussion of the travel management plan.
The Jarbidge road closure protest happened on July 4, 2000, when about 300 people calling themselves the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade went to the remote town and moved the four-ton boulder that had been put in place to block the road which had been closed.
After nearly an hour of discussion on the travel plan, Dahl proposed voting on a resolution. Based on Dahl’s comments, Elko County Natural Resources Director Curtis Moore wrote a resolution saying the Elko County commissioners will “address a letter to the local field office and state management offices expressing concerns about the necessity for this Travel Management Plan and encouraging the agency to instead work on specific problems related to whatever is out there and work with the county on finding solutions to those problems.”
“Specific problems that we can agree on between the county and the local office,” Dahl added.
“We’re not saying just throw the whole thing out and don’t do it, because I know you’ve got to,” Dahl said. “But let’s try to back away from a big, broad plan and just concentrate on what we see and agree on as specific areas that need to be addressed.”
The commissioners unanimously approved the resolution.
“I’m not for closing roads,” Melanie Peterson said after some of the public comments. “There may be alternate routes, or loop routes. This is where we get creative.”
“This is not about closing routes,” Peterson continued. “This is a planning tool. Maybe there will be seasonal closures. Maybe we’ll want to close a road in the spring when it’s all muddy. Maybe there are seasonal closures that we want to do for wildlife, or for any other reason. So it’s just trying to get creative on how to keep them open and in what avenue to keep them open.”
Deimel said that Nevada and four other states – Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming – are all currently being directed by the Washington office to do travel management plans. After Wednesday’s meeting, he said that one of the factors leading to this travel management process is the Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plan Amendment of 2015, which directs agencies to look at issues such as landscape management, fire suppression, and preserving and increasing wildlife habitat.
The travel planning process in Elko County is just getting started, with the BLM taking public input on the routes in the Charleston Travel Management Area until March 28. Then there will be a route evaluation process, and for a couple of months specialists from various fields will discuss all the roads and trails throughout the Charleston TMA. They will look at issues such as access for fire suppression, recreation, and mining claims, as well as wildlife habitat in the area.
“The goal is to provide open access and protect the resources,” Deimel said.
Several of the commissioners asked about RS 2477 roads. Revised Statute 2477 was passed in 1866 and said, “The right-of-way for the construction of highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes is hereby granted.”
Peterson said that RS 2477 “will be honored in this plan.”
During the public comments at Wednesday’s meeting, Doyal Kirby said that if some roads do get closed, people will make another road to get to where they are going.
“Instead of spending oodles of money on what I call garbage stuff, closing roads, let’s look at the grazing,” Kirby said.
Jessica Moore said she understands that the BLM office is being directed to do this, but said, “An inventory of roads and where you can and can’t be is like registering your guns,” and it might lead to decisions to close some roads in the future. She also questioned spending years developing a map in an area that is constantly changing.
“We could just, like Demar said, have a great education program,” Moore said, “saying stay on these roads, stay on the roads that are built; if you find a road that needs help, this is who you contact; if we need maintenance, this is who you contact; instead of spending years and thousands and thousands of dollars to inventory a road that in the spring maybe washes out. It just seems like there’s a better way to go about it.”
Sarah Weaver said that many roads have been closed by ranchers, and open access to public roads is not being enforced.
“In my opinion that is why so many other roads are popping up,” Weaver said.
Harry Botsford said he thinks the BLM is going way beyond what it was originally set up to do.
Mary Ann Polish talked about an incident when some people had to escape from a fire in a rural area, and said that any road might be important in such a situation.
“I want some clarification on why this study needs to be done in this area,” Polish said.
Public comments on the Charleston TMA are being accepted until March 28, and there will be more opportunities for public input before any formal National Environmental Policy Act process begins.
“All the work we do on the front end of this process makes the rest go so much smoother,” Deimel said Thursday. “The more involvement we have up front, the better the end product will be.”
Maps of the Charleston TMA which people can mark with road information are available at the Elko District Office. To provide comments or learn more about the process, stop in at the office, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write the Elko District Office, 3900 E Idaho Street, Elko NV 89801.