February 1, 2006
Mike Beagle, Oregon Field Coordinator, Trout Unlimited, (541) 772-7720
Michelle Halle, Oregon Chapter, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, (503) 226-8455
Tony Brauner, Oregon Council, Federation of Fly Fishers, (541) 479-0009
Tom Wolf, Oregon Council, Trout Unlimited (541) 640-2123
Norm Ritchie, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, (503) 745-6388
Bob Webber, 541-772-9850
Bob Gerding 541-929-3951
JOHN DAY—A group of Oregon sportsmen’s organizations is asking the Grant County transportation historian to scrap plans to reopen the old Greenhorn mining track that runs through the designated North Fork John Day Wilderness area.
“This old track has been closed to motorized access for 22 years,” said Mike Beagle, Oregon field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “Because of the reduced motorized traffic in that area, it’s an excellent place to hunt for trophy game and fish for wild and native trout. Opening the road would be detrimental to fish and game habitat in the wilderness, and reduce the quality of the hunting and fishing in this pristine area.”
Trout Unlimited is joined in its opposition by the Oregon chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Oregon Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers and the Association of Northwest Steelheaders. These groups, in a letter to Diane Browning, the transportation historian for Grant County, noted the importance of the North Fork John Day Wilderness as “one of the premier destinations to pursue trophy big-game species while hunting in Oregon.” Hunters come from all over Oregon and the Northwest to pursue trophy elk, mule deer, black bear and cougars within the wilderness boundaries. Additionally, the letter notes, nearby Clear Creek provides excellent habitat for Columbia River steelhead, bull trout, redband trout and chinook salmon.
“Leaving it like it is now is the best option, both for wildlife and for sportsmen,” said Michelle Halle of the Oregon chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Places like the North Fork John Day give hunters and anglers a chance show their children and grandchildren what hunting and fishing can be like in Oregon—people underestimate the importance of that. Without places like this, we’ll start to lose our sporting heritage.”
And sporting heritage is important to Oregonians like Bob Webber, who hunts the very drainage the Greenhorn wagon track bisects every fall during bow season, and Bob Gerding, who has hunted the North Fork John Day virtually every year for decades.
“This is a very special place, and it’s special because foot access is protected, and big game animals aren’t forced to retreat farther into the backcountry every time they hear a truck or an ATV,” Webber said. “Part of the experience is getting away from that, and there are fewer and fewer places left in Oregon to do that.”
Gerding agreed, noting that the lack of motorized access makes hunting better and a more enjoyable experience for him and his family.
“I’ve hunted that area my whole life, and it’s one of the best places to pack into on horseback and have a really good shot at a trophy bull elk,” Gerding said. “If we allow motorized traffic into the backcountry, I’m afraid the quality of hunting will suffer, and I’d hate to see that happen, for the sake of my children and grandchildren who all love to hunt this area.”
Beagle noted that opening the road would also likely violate the rule of the wilderness area, which earned the designation in 1984. Additionally, with only 3.5 percent of state designated as wilderness, it’s important to preserve as much of it as possible.
“We already have 20,000 miles of Forest Service roads in the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests,” he said. “That’s plenty of motorized access, and that helps the Forest Service meet it multiple-use mandate. What some people don’t realize is that accessing the backcountry by foot is one of those multiple uses. Let’s keep that area intact and keep the old Greenhorn track like it is now.”
Norm Ritchie of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders noted the potential impact of increased motorized activity on the Greenhorn track. The possibility of increased sediment entering Clear Creek is enough to convince him that the road should remain closed to motorized traffic.
“Roads are almost never a good thing for a steelhead and salmon stream,” he said. “Sediment from roads enters streams during rainstorms and snow runoff, and can really be destructive to spawning habitat. For the health of that fishery, the road should remain closed, and non-motorized access should be protected.”
Tony Brauner of the Federation of Fly Fishers echoed Ritchie’s comments.
“There’s no reason to put fish habitat in jeopardy over a road that’s been closed for 22 years,” he said. “It’s not broken. Don’t fix it.”