Forest supervisor apologizes for road confusion, thanks paving opponents

A road marker marks the intersection of forest roads 40S30 and 20 on the way to the Grouse Gap Shelter. John Soares photo
February 11, 2022

Records said Mount Ashland road had previously been paved

By Lee Juillerat for the Ashland News

Rachel Smith, the Klamath National Forest’s supervisor, is offering her “heartfelt thanks” to groups and individuals who questioned Forest Service plans to pave Forest Road 20 near Mount Ashland.

In a letter sent Thursday, Feb. 10, to Luke Ruediger, one of the plaintiffs who filed suit against the Klamath National Forest, Smith said work on the project has halted. She said forest managers incorrectly believed the road, which extends from the Mount Ashland Campground to the Grouse Gap Shelter, was already paved.

Smith wrote, “Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your engagement in this process. Because of your communication, we pored over decades-old aerial photos, sorted through historic Road Logs, and called retirees who last worked on the forest in the ’70s and ’80s. As a result we have been able to correct our records which erroneously stated that the road was previously paved. It is now evident that the road had been traditionally oiled, and not paved. For this reason, I have directed all forest staff to immediately stop work on this project.”

Ruediger is part of a coalition that includes activist Eric Navickas and the Klamath Forest Alliance and Applegate Neighborhood Network. Coalition member said the paving project on a 2-mile portion of Forest Service Road 20 on the south side of Mount Ashland between the Mount Ashland Campground and the Grouse Gap Shelter was done without the required public involvement process and filed a 13-page complaint with the U.S. District Court in Medford on Feb. 3.

In a telephone interview with the Ashland.news Friday, Smith expanded on her letter. In apologizing for the confusion, she said the factor in halt-work decision came after interviewing often retired Forest Service staff and comprehensive reviews of Forest records. She said that because of decades of ongoing road repairs, Road 20 “appears” paved, but is not.

Smith said roads that are mostly used for recreational purposes, such as Road 20, “often fall into significant disrepair” so it was one of about a dozen Forest roads designated for repair using funds from the Great American Outdoors Act, a funding program aimed at maintaining and upgrading infrastructures on federal lands.

Smith said the efforts by the groups questioning the Road 20 project demonstrate the positive benefits of public involvement.

Work on Road 20, which began last September, has halted. Smith said the road has been graded and rocked but not paved.

Ashland.news map

Federal money earmarked for the project will be reallocated. Although no decisions have been made, Smith said one possibility includes using large rocks or other methods of make access to some forest roads more difficult to access by illegal off highway vehicles (OHVs). She said Ruediger and others involved in challenging the paving decision will be invited to participate in deciding possible projects.

In a press release issued Friday, Ruediger and others praised the Forest Service decision.

“We are thankful that the Klamath National Forest conducted this additional analysis and withdrew the project. We also believe it is the best outcome for the Mt. Ashland area, for the Mt. Ashland/Siskiyou Peak Botanical Area, the rare plants that inhabit the region, the threatened Franklin’s bumble bee, and for the residents of southwestern Oregon and northern California who appreciate the area’s wild character, botanical diversity, scenic values and existing recreational experience.

“We are pleased by the decision of the Klamath National Forest to withdraw the Road 20 Paving Project, but we also believe the decision reinforces our position that all federal land management projects of interest to the public, with meaningful environmental effects, and/or proposed on sensitive federal lands should include a full environmental analysis and public comment period. If that process had been adhered to, this litigation could have been avoided, meaningful and relevant analysis would have been conducted and the public’s voice could have been heard,” said Ruediger, Executive Director for Applegate Neighborhood Network and Conservation Director for the Klamath Forest Alliance.

“Our coalition hopes the Klamath National Forest can work with the public to reduce recreational impacts that negatively affect the incredible scenic and botanical values of the Mt. Ashland region, as well as other Botanical Areas on the Siskiyou Crest,” he added.

Navickas, an activist and former Ashland City Council member, added, “This demonstrates the power of citizen activism and the necessity to engage in the protection of our public lands. We must demand that federal agencies uphold their legal obligations. Public ownership and the collective wisdom of our people give our society strength, and I am proud to be part of this process.”

“The Mt. Ashland area contains world-class biological, recreational, and scenic values,” Navickas noted. “Our coalition believes these values are best protected through the withdrawal of the Road 20 Project, increased protection for the Siskiyou Crest, and through robust public involvement for all future federal projects affecting this important area.”

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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