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Know the West

Motorheads lose one

  Environmental groups have put the squeeze on off-road vehicle enthusiasts in eastern Idaho's Targhee National Forest. On Jan. 15, the Forest Service abandoned its policy of allowing snowmobiles, motorbikes or cars access to every part of the forest, on or off road.

The decision is a part of the agency's Targhee Travel Plan, which includes closing 689 miles of roads and trails to preserve grizzly bear and elk habitat and control soil erosion. The plan still leaves over 2,000 miles of roads and 773 miles of trails open to motor vehicles.

The Travel Plan's objective, forest supervisor Jerry Reese says, is to balance the interests of conservation and vehicle users, but closing roads and trails is always controversial. Debate over the plan during last fall's administrative review brought in 1,200 public appeals, 80 percent of which came from angry ORV enthusiasts. "We don't need any more mass closures of roads," says Jim Gerber, spokesman for the Citizens for a User-Friendly Forest.

Still, the agency wants to close 400 more miles of road and 250 miles of trails, according to Reese. But the agency won't make a decision on further closures until the end of the year.

"This is the beginning of a really ugly battle over winter use in Yellowstone and surrounding national forests," says Marv Hoyt of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He says the coalition is not flatly opposed to off-road vehicles on public lands. "We just want some balance. But they want it all."

*Jason Lenderman