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Rare daisy-like flower fanning controversy over road-closure plan for Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

By Lori Tobias
The Oregonian
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The discovery of a tiny white wildflower has botanists cheering yet another addition to southern Oregon's unique botanical treasures, but it's also heating up a battle over an already-controversial U.S. Forest Service plan to open a now-closed road to motorized vehicles.

The daisy-like flower, Erigeron stanselliae or Veva's erigeron, is named for Veva Stansell, a longtime Curry County botanist who originally reported it. Last November, the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas included a description of the flower from Kenton Chambers, a botany professor at Oregon State University.

It has been found in two locations, both in Curry County. One of those areas, near Signal Buttes in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, is near a road that is currently closed, but that the Forest Service is proposing to open to motorized vehicles.

"There are officially closed roads and we can't seem to keep people off of them," said Wayne Rolle, a Forest Service botanist. "This occurs in lots of parts of the forest. This is a case where there is long-standing use and the Forest Service feels like instead of trying to enforce something that is really impossible for us to enforce, we would designate that closed road as a motorized trail."

Opponents say the proposal is guaranteed to do even more damage than is already being done in territory rich with rare plants.

"Even before the flower was discovered, there was very, very significant resource damage happening on that road," said Wendell Wood, wildlands interpreter for Oregon Wild, a Portland-based conservation group. "This is not about closing the road over that flower. This happened to be one more thing. I'm afraid the whole habitat will be damaged and it is being damaged."

Chambers also is concerned about the rare plant. "I would be concerned about any activities that would damage or impact any of the populations," he said. "We don't want them pushed any closer to endangerment or further rarity."

Although the proposed "travel management plan" would open this road, the Forest Service says the plan also eliminates some of the motorized use now permitted in the forest.

Off-road travel is authorized under the current management plan, said Virginia Gibbons, an agency spokeswoman. The new plan would not allow any off-road travel in the entire forest. ATVs would be permitted on designated open roads only.

That's not likely to stop anyone, said George Sexton, conservation director at the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental watchdog group based in Ashland.

"The thing is the Forest Service is either unable or unwilling to enforce their own road closures," Sexton said. He and others want the Forest Service to close access to the road and do a better job of protecting wildflower habitat.

Rolle wants to see the habitat protected as well, but there are other ways short of closing the forest to motorized use, he said. That may include barriers or signs describing the meadows and their importance.

"We don't really know what is going to be the most effective and feasible way to take care of Stansell's erigeron," Rolle said. "We'll know more by the summer. We'll be doing some searches to see how many plants there are, where the plants exist.

"I want to make it clear that the Forest Service is delighted that someone has recognized Veva, one of our former and well-loved botanists, by naming a plant after her. We're just delighted about that."

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