The Superior National Forest is implementing a new Off-Highway Vehicle use plan that authorizes hundreds of miles of new trails for motorized vehicles, and makes others off-limits.
The plan just approved is very similar to one floated a year ago; a plan to create new loop and long distance routes for off-highway vehicles in Northeast Minnesota's Superior National Forest.
That plan was delayed on appeal over a couple of concerns, including a potential safety problem on one segment of trail called the Lima Grade. Under the revised plan, a portion of the Lima Grade will now be closed to the vehicles.
Forest Service Spokeswoman Chris Reichenbach said the off-highway plan will add 285 miles in loop rides and more than 300 miles on long distance routes through the forest. Many of the designated rides will be on Forest Service roads. In addition, 154 miles of what are called unclassified roads - mostly old roads and unofficial trails - will be closed to the machines.
Reichenbach said the appeal did force another consideration of effects the machines could have on the nearby Boundary Waters Canoes Area Wilderness.
"One of the points in the appeals that we received that was a year ago when we put out the original decision, was concern about potential air quality impacts; and specifically in the wilderness," Reichenbach said. "So we were directed to complete an analysis of those potential air quality impacts."
However, Reichenbach said Forest Supervisor Jim Sanders found no reason to change the plan, based on air quality concerns.
"He just didn't see the rationale for adjusting the alternative that we were implementing, based on the air quality analysis," Reichenbach said. "It was so, so minimal."
The appeal came from the group, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, which objected to the original plan over a number of factors including air quality. Friends Executive Director Paul Danicic said there is still concern how off-highway vehicles will affect the wilderness experience nearby in the BWCA. But he said it would take time to study the decision.
"We'll take a close look at the supplemental assessment, and we'd like to see a comprehensive plan that takes into account potential increased motorized use," Danicic said.
Danicic said the travel management plan could make the forest a more popular destination for OHVs, leading to a significant increase in environmental impacts.
The plan takes effect in the spring with the publication of a new OHV map.