By ROB THORNBERRY
The Post Register via Associated Press
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) -- Caribou-Targhee National Forest officials have escalated their war against people who pioneer illegal roads on the 3 million-acre forest.
This summer and fall, Forest Service officials closed 377 illegally created roads on the seven districts that are spread from Lone Pine and Henry's Lake in the north to Montpelier and Malad in the south. The closures have blocked off roughly 50 miles of illegally created roads.
The Forest Service has spent roughly $285,000 to destroy illegal trailheads, much of the money coming from federal stimulus money.
In two-thirds of the cases, entrances to the illegal roads have been destroyed by an excavator that has built berms, dug trenches, moved rocks or knocked down trees.
"Illegal use of (all-terrain vehicles) is a huge problem," Forest Engineer Wes Stumbo said. "Unmanaged recreation is one of the top four threats to the health of the forests across the country, and 85 to 90 percent of the time, the problem is illegal ATV use. This work is an answer to that threat."
Stumbo said the aggressive tack is necessary to prevent erosion across the forest and to protect the service's multi-use philosophy. It is also important for protecting big game.
"We are trying to provide opportunity for everybody, but not everywhere," Stumbo said.
The Forest Service's stance has numerous critics.
"The Forest Service is just making a power grab," said Kay Carter, a Boise resident who has a summer home in Island Park. "They are condensing us down to nothing, no access."
Others charge that the effort to block roads is ugly, creates dangerous riding conditions and won't stop riders who don't follow the rules.
"It makes the forest look like hell," said Gary Oswald, an Idaho Falls hunter. "Unless you dig a pit around the entire forest, people are going to go in there and break the law."
Stumbo understands there are complaints, but he said the work needs to be done.
"I can't argue that it is not butt ugly, but we can't stand by and ignore the problem."
Use of ATVs in Idaho has exploded in the past two decades.
In 1990, there were 9,000 registered all-terrain vehicles in Idaho. By 2009, there were 137,000 registered ATVs, a 1,422 percent increase, according to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.
With that increase, illegal use has risen dramatically.
"I think 80 percent of our users are good," Stumbo said. "It's the 20 percent that won't play by the rules that ruin it for everybody."
The illegal trails increase erosion, decrease big game security and upset forest users who want to enjoy their passions, whether it's hiking, biking or horseback riding.
"Unregulated motorized activity is generally harmful to big-game hunting," said Steve Schmidt, Fish and Game's supervisor in the Upper Snake Region.
Schmidt said Fish and Game can provide a variety of types of hunting, but illegal ATV use can compromise that effort.
"Our objective is to provide a diversity of hunting, a whole menu of different types of hunting experiences," he said. "Within that objective, we are trying to provide as much general hunting as we can as long as we can. One factor in providing general hunting is making sure that animals have places where they are hard to get to."
To battle those who pioneer illegal trails, the Forest Service in 2001 started a three-pronged attack.
The first was education, working to publicize the forest's travel plan and engaging ATV clubs about the scope of the problem. The Forest Service, Fish and Game, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, the Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho Department of Lands also created the Idaho Interagency Off-Highway Vehicle Education Campaign to teach the proper use of ATVs.
At the same time, the Forest Service stepped up enforcement of the travel plan, which lays out when and where people can travel. The Forest Service and Fish and Game now use an airplane to patrol during hunting season, looking for those using illegal roads.
The Forest Service also erected signs to discourage use of illegal roads.
The signs didn't work, hence the escalation of the war.
"We need to make it difficult to use illegal roads," Stumbo said. "It is too bad that we have to go to this level of closure, but we have to make it work."
Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.