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Grumpy 04-17-2010 08:34 PM

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."

high desert 4x4 04-19-2010 05:15 PM

April 19 2010 There is a meeting at the Lagrande Middle Sckool for the OHV trails system that is being built at Mt Emily. I had hope to attend but will not be able to. The meeting will start at 6:30 and yes Class II trails will be created here.

Ian Caldwell from park and rec and the forest service is suspose to be present as there is hope that trails will be accessable from the county land to public lands. if anyone can go please attend.

warrpath4x4 04-19-2010 06:52 PM

I have brought this upto the other members at NEO (north east oregon) 4Wheelers and they are planning on talking to Mr. Wiedenmann (or other rep from forest service) at the meeting tonight. about what we might be able to do to fix the damage.

Art Waugh 04-20-2010 08:13 AM

Please keep us posted. We are thin over there, but I'm sure we might be able to get a few to help out on restoration efforts if needed.

warrpath4x4 04-20-2010 09:24 PM

A couple of our folks talked to Mr. Wiedenmann and offered the help of our club to help fix the damaged area. Right now i think they are waiting for it to dry up some but he said our help is welcome and that he will let us know when/what we can do. He is also planning on attending one of our club meetings and speak with us.

Art Waugh 04-21-2010 08:02 AM

Cool. I'll put a bug in the Forest Sup's ear next week that help is available as well, if you think it will be of some benefit.

Once things get ready, if we can help, let us know. Might get some folks out of region 4, and maybe a couple of SRKK folks ovr. Would be a good oportunity for a meet and greet as well as getting some good press.

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