While I was in Oregon, I had the pleasure of meeting with some of the good folks of Save the Riders Dunes, specifically I would like to note Barb and Lance Rowland whom I met with for coffee along the road (see my previous post at http://www.wearebrc.org/content/emerald-trail-riders-association-eugene-or), and C. Jody Phillips (President) who put me up at his house, fed me, and gave me a great deal of his time to tour and discuss the issue of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA). They, along with thousands of others have been involved for years on this issue, as riders of the dunes, as local folks whose livelihoods depend on this, and as citizens concerned with their environment and the management of their public lands. (NOTE: You read about Save the Riders Dunes by following them on Facebook at; http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Riders-Dunes/294886641722)
I've intentionally delayed this blog post about the Oregon Dunes for the specific reason that we have been waiting for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Oregon Dunes NRA 10c Designated Routes Project to be released. I had it on good authority that it was due to be out "any day." It is out now and you can reference our recent BRC Alert for more information on that at: http://www.sharetrails.org/alerts/2012/10/22/oregon--siuslaw-nf-releases....
I share that because you need to get involved with this project, however I don't want to get the beach grass wrapped around the axle for the purposes of this rant. Sticking to the point, I was waiting to post because after all the efforts of enthusiasts leading up to this moment in the planning process, leadership of the Forest Service had told them, "Wait till you see the plan, you will be pleasantly surprised." I was waiting because I, along with every other enthusiast had been given a glimmer of hope--maybe they (the USFS) are listening. I didn't want to jeopardize that small, outside chance by going out on a rant.
Sadly, I knew better. I should have just gone on the rant. The DEIS is a disappointment--check that--not just a disappointment, it is a huge disappointment. Basically, the "bookend alternative" at one end of the alternatives, you know, the one alternative that most closely resembles the recommendations of the formal working group that was assembled early on in this process and most resembles legitimate management in an NRA, is the one that is least likely to be chosen in the final decision. The preferred alternative of the Forest Service just ignores all that. In fact, I almost have to question why they even bothered with the working group and public input at all, but then I remember, there is an Act of Congress that requires they do that. They are just jumping through the hoops. Makes me wonder what they think that Act of Congress was intended for?
I've been there now. I have toured all up and down the dunes (thank you C. Jody Phillips). I have ridden them. I have seen what is happening. More importantly, I have had the privilege of sitting down with the folks who know the stumps and the rocks or, in this case, the sand, the beach grass and the plantations. These folks have poured their heart and soul into trying to get the Forest Service to recognize the need to set aside a failed policy from over half a century ago and set about an alternative course that will save the dunes, not destroy them.
It isn't just the OHV enthusiasts that frequent there who are concerned. It is the local community, the people most affected by the decisions that are being made. It is also the folks who ironically are generally on the polar opposite side of things from the OHV community. In fact, OHV representatives from Save the Riders Dunes and from Wildlands, CPR agree on the bigger picture issue that the Forest Service continuance of their failed policy is destroying the natural dunes. Together, they have pleaded to the Forest Service to stop. You can read about that visit here: http://savetheridersdunes.com/. They were given hope...
Sadly, with the release of the DEIS, like in so many other areas, it is apparent the Agency isn't listening and is seeking to bull ahead with their 1994 plan to protect non-native vegetation that is obviously destroying not just riding areas in this National Recreation Area, but literally destroying the dunes themselves. Moreover, it is non-native vegetation that was introduced by the Forest Service themselves mid-last century--intentionally.
Yes, you heard me right. The foreign beach grass was intentionally introduced by the USFS as a part of their policy in the 50s and 60s to recoup land from the sand. The plantations of pines followed. Now, you have huge dunes (called foredunes) that built up over a relatively short time as a result of the beach grass catching the sand and growing and catching more sand, etc. Ultimately it has created a wall of separation between the ocean beach and the natural sand dunes that had been created over the eons of time. Behind that "sea wall" are now lowlands where a swamp is slowly creeping in as the beach grass, scotch broom and plantations of pines quickly encroach and overrun the rest of the natural dunes.
And why? Because they didn't know then what they know now. And, even knowing now what they didn't know then, they continue to try to stuff this square peg in a round hole, instead of bagging the policy and moving ahead with a new policy as they should. One that reflects what the ODNRA was designated for by Congress and one that will save the natural open dunes themselves.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Whether on the coast of the Atlantic at Cape Hatteras or the coast of the Pacific at ODNRA or points in between, if there is one thing I have heard over and over on this trip, it is that people of the local dependent communities feel that while Federal Agencies may be pretending to listen, they aren't hearing. That is the one of the primary points of this tour... to take those concerns to DC and make certain they get heard.