Faced with federal budget constraints, forest officials have been directed to identify which of the old logging roads are no longer needed and which must be maintained for recreation, natural resource protection and forest management.
At the final public meeting on the subject earlier this week at Everett Community College, Forest Supervisor Jennifer Eberlien said the goal is to make the right decisions about the national forest to benefit "the greatest good in the long run."
People were asked to identify where they like to hike, camp, ride their horses, drive their off-road vehicles, taking scenic drives, bird-watch, forage, cut Christmas trees and gather firewood.
"There's a lot of love out there for these roads, and we know that," Eberlien said. "This is not a pity party over money. The reality is that we have difficult choices to make and we need to do this together."
During the next year, graduate students from Portland State University plan to help the Forest Service compile all of the data collected from forest users, 16 tribes and many other jurisdictions about what roads in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie are most important.
So far, nearly 2,000 individuals have responded to the Forest Service request for information.
By the end of 2015, the Forest Service expects to begin a National Environmental Policy Act review of its plans for roads in the National Forest.
People from throughout Western Washington attended the public meeting in Everett, including members of such groups as the Sierra Club, Pilchuck Audubon Society, Washington Trails Association, the Wilderness Society and others.
"It's absolutely critical to get the public involved in this process before any decisions are made," said Graham Taylor of the Sierra Club in Seattle. "We need to balance water quality and healthy forests with public access."
Some people at the Everett meeting want less vehicle access into the forest. Others want more roads available.
Kindra Ramos, 35, of Everett said she is glad she participated in the survey. One of her favorite places to go is out French Creek Road, south of Highway 530 to the Boulder River area where she enjoys walking through old trees and photographing waterfalls.
"I am cautiously optimistic that the Forest Service will find solutions that satisfy most people," Ramos said.
However, Matt Surdyk, 38, of Stanwood, a father of three, said he is angry about the very idea that any forest road would be closed.
"Older folks, disabled people and young children can't hike into the forest," Surdyk said. "I am opposed to any reduction in access. I am fine with some roads not being maintained, and if a road is closed because of a storm, so be it. I love taking my kidsinto the forest. It's good for families."
People have until Nov. 30 to fill out the online questionnaire at mbssustainableroads.com.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
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