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Old 04-17-2010, 09:34 PM
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Default Mt. Emily Damage

4-wheelers tearing up Mt. Emily land
by Associated Press

Posted on April 16, 2010 at 4:23 PM


LA GRANDE, Ore. -- At about a dozen spots along roads in the Robbs Hill-Three Cabin Ridge area of Mount Emily, it looks like bulldozers and log trucks have turned the turf into a muddy bog.

Open meadows are all torn up. In some places ruts are almost 2 feet deep.

But loggers haven't been anywhere near the place. That's what has Kurt Wiedenmann so upset.

"If this was a logging show, we'd shut it down," says Wiedenmann, La Grande district ranger for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. "They would have had to leave until it dried out, and then they would have had to come back and repair it."

As Wiedenmann knows, all this damage was done basically for kicks, by people out for a good time in their four-wheel-drive vehicles. Mostly, it's been done by local high school and college students who don't consider the consequences, such as the damage to vegetation and wildlife habitat.

Wiedenmann said he is within an inch of making a decision he'd rather not.

"One of my options is to have a seasonal closure," he said. "I have the authority to close an area if we have ongoing damage. We could close it after the last hunting season in the fall and not open it again till it dries out in May or June."

People spinning cookies and digging ruts with their four-wheel-drive vehicles has been a problem in the area for a long time. Mount Emily is close to town, and accessible. People go there to party and tear up the land with their rigs.

"It tends to be a night time activity and there tends to be drinking associated with it," Wiedenmann said.

In spring time, when the ground is wet, it makes a real mess. Wiedenmann said that a concerned citizen called him a couple of weeks ago to report widespread damage. Once the ranger got a look at it, he realized it was worse than usual.

"I was taken aback by the extent of it," he said.

Since then, the Forest Service and the Union County Sheriff's Office have begun "emphasis patrols" in the problem area, which lies northwest of the county-owned Mount Emily Recreation Area.

Long term, forest officials hope to reduce the vandalism through education. But for now, they want to put a quick stop to heavy damage being done.

Mudders are warned: those caught damaging Forest Service land can be taken before a federal magistrate, fined up to $5,000, spend six months in jail, pay restitution and help with restoration.

In order to prosecute, authorities have to catch the person in the act.

"If we can catch them in the next few weeks we can send a message. If not it really leaves me no choice but to close the area until it dries out," Wiedenmann said.

If Wiedenmann does decide to close the area to vehicles, a gate will be put up at the junction of Forest Service Roads 8405 and 035.

The price for everybody is reduced access to Mount Emily's beautiful pine forests. Wiedenmann noted that vandalism over the years has led to the fencing off of private lands in the area. Some meadows and open spaces repaired by the Forest Service have been fenced as well.

Many thousands of dollars have been spent to repair unnecessary damage. Closing off land becomes a cost-saving move.

"Some people get their rig stuck in the mud and winch themselves out and do a little damage. If we catch them, we counsel them and they're apologetic," Wiedenmann said.

"But there's another contingent who do it maliciously. In their own mind they think it's fun and don't think about the resource damage."
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