Public comment time on road closure extendedThe U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday announced it will give the public more time to comment on a controversial plan to close hundreds of miles of roads in the Little Missouri National Grassland in western North Dakota. The official 30-day comment period ends Friday, and under federal law the Forest Service can’t extend the deadline.
By: By Mike Nowatzki , Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
The U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday announced it will give the public more time to comment on a controversial plan to close hundreds of miles of roads in the Little Missouri National Grassland in western North Dakota.
The official 30-day comment period ends Friday, and under federal law the Forest Service can’t extend the deadline.
Instead, the agency will issue a revised environmental assessment early next year, triggering a new 30-day comment period, and will continue to accept comments in the meantime, spokeswoman Sharon Higley said.
“So, this is a way of hearing more people, giving people more time to process and help us determine what the best course of action should be,” she said.
The Forest Service is developing the travel management plan to comply with a 2005 rule that requires each national forest and grassland to create a map of roads for public use.
The plan’s main proposal would close 703 miles of Forest Service roads, plus more than 600 miles of so-called unauthorized roads.
Two alternatives would close either 97 miles or 870 miles of mapped roads and all unauthorized roads. A fourth option is to take no action.
Higley estimated the agency had received about 150 comments on the plan.
“It’s raising some very complex and important issues as to what’s involved with the environmental assessment,” she said. “We feel the alternatives right now do not adequately address those concerns.”
Game and Fish Department officials have criticized the proposed road closures saying they’re too extensive and wouldn’t benefit the public.
In a letter Monday, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., urged Grassland Supervisor Dave Pieper to work more closely with local officials and ranchers to develop an approach to road closures that addresses their interests.
“It’s clear that the new Forest Service plan has caused anxiety for the many people who depend on access to the (grassland) and who felt left out of the planning process,” Dorgan stated in a news release. “I appreciate the Forest Service’s willingness to allow for another comment period on the issue.”
Higley said the Forest Service will work with the state and other interests such as grazing associations to look at possible changes and alternatives.
The Little Missouri is the nation’s largest grassland, covering 1 million acres of rolling hills and Badlands. In addition to providing grazing land, it’s a popular destination for hikers and hunters.
Mike Nowatzki is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-
Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.