Two Forest Service timber sales are getting a lot of publicity lately because they have trail construction associated with them. These projects are located in urban interface areas. It’s not sensible to increase public access in these places. They serve as refuges for deer and elk, who have been pushed there by increasing numbers of predators. Trail traffic will trigger more confrontations with bears, especially, as happened a few years ago near West Glacier, when a grizzly attacked a biker who collided with him. Even though the bear was minding his own business, the Forest Service organized a posse to kill him. Trail advocates claim that the trails’ locations and layouts will minimize the risk of this happening again, but it will. And when it does, will they blame the bear or the biker? Have they considered the stress that trail traffic will impose on wintering, calving or fawning ungulates? Do they intend to close trails to ensure wildlife security during critical times of the year?
I don’t think the Forest Service has given questions like these any meaningful consideration. First, because they know that building trails in concert with a timber sale makes it less likely that recreationists will take them to court. Second, because an underlying premise of these proposals is that non-motorized traffic is more benign than ATVs or cars. But that depends on how much traffic there is; a bear in a huckleberry patch will be more disturbed by a steady stream of trail users than he will be by an occasional car driving past.
The environmental impacts of conscientious logging are negligible in comparison to the pernicious impacts of providing easier public access, which is why the Forest Service closes or decommissions some roads. These trails are essentially permanent, open roads, and won’t benefit the animals or their habitat. Instead, they will be an intrusive annoyance, and shouldn’t be built.