Dragoons, Chiricahuas, Huachuca mountain ranges could be affected
BISBEE – The U.S. Forest Service has been working on upgrading its Forest Plan Revision for the Coronado National Forest and some roads may become off limits to the public.
Part of the problem is off-highway vehicles whose drivers make new pathways and do not stick to the roads as required by USFS, said Rangers Kevin Warner, Sierra Vista district, and Mark Ruggio, Douglas district. They were updating the members of the Cochise County Public Lands Advisory Committee on Aug. 5.
The plan revision has been on-going for the last three years, and another comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement and roads is coming up in January, 2015, said Ruggio.
Comments on the road usage were received back in March and some of those statements are being considered for possible inclusion in the plan.
“Quiet areas” was a land use term questioned by Mary Darling, of Darling Environmental Consultants. She explained that these lands were similar to what the USFS designates as “wilderness areas.”
“It appears that only 1 percent of the forest land in parks is open to public use,” she added. “Roads within those quiet areas are to be closed to the public and ranchers are not supposed to use their OHVs.”
Ruggio responded saying ranchers have to have an OHV permit to use those vehicles in such designated areas.
“So, I don’t think that’s changing,” Ruggio said. “There are administrative routes that a rancher can use on land that is under a grazing permit. There are a lot of lands that we permit ranchers to use that we do not allow the public to use for OHV traffic.”
Darling said it appeared to her that ranchers with permits could access these roads, but hunters with OHVs would be excluded. The plan, as she read it, would prevent people with OHVs from using roads within “quiet” designations.
Ruggio noted that since 1986 there has been a law disallowing the use of OHVs in the Coronado National Forests. He also was not sure that Darling was correct in her one percent public designation. He told the committee that he would research that and report to them at the next meeting.
Committee member Chris Kemmerly pointed out that hunters were going “all over hell’s half acre” and tearing up the land and the roads.
In general, hunters are allowed to drive at the most 300 feet in the most direct route from the road for camping or to recover game that has been shot, said Ruggio.
Despite that restriction, past and continuing motor vehicle use off of designated roads in some areas of the Coronado has resulted in significant resource damage and created many unauthorized roads, stated Ruggio. The travel management plan prohibits continued use of unauthorized roads unless they are proposed to be added to the Forest Service roads database.
“We are looking at specific areas in the Douglas Ranger District, where it may not be appropriate to continue the 300-foot rule. Most of those areas are higher recreational use areas, like Cave Creek and South Fork, Rucker and even into the Dragoons,” stated Ruggio.
In some areas, vehicle traffic for camping may be limited to just the width of the vehicle off the road or limited to 50 feet, continued Ruggio.
Warner explained that in the Huachuca Mountains, the same limitations may apply, however, the Bureau of Land Management does have different rules and may allow OHVs on lands it controls.
Ruggio also suggested that Darling may be misinterpreting the land use plan when it comes to the one percent for public use. That small percentage may be just the road system land within the thousands of acres of forest land.
When PLAC convenes again, Warner and Ruggio will be prepared to resolve the confusion and provide specific details on the travel management plan, which is a separate issue from the land management plan.
A plan to protect wildlife
During the past 23 years, habitat has been adversely affected by human encroachment and unmanaged recreation. The Travel Analysis Plan being proposed by the U.S. Forest Service is a start in protecting habitat for wildlife, grazing and recreational activities, but is not as simple as closing roads to minimize the cost of maintenance, and reducing environmental damage. Over the past 15 years or so, the drastic increase in off highway vehicle use has caused severe environmental damage in specific areas, and has resulted in a general increase in roads. Additionally, over the same period, a significant increase in illegal immigration and drug enforcement has added to the increase in roads and overall deterioration of Forest Service system roads and trails. The issue of simply closing miles of existing roads on public lands will not rectify long-term problems. Increases in regulations require added funding for public education, signage, resource enforcement, etc. Unfortunately, it is up to Congress to appropriate more funds, which has not been available for recreation in most budgets. Resource law enforcement can act as a deterrent, but, it appears that Federal law enforcement has moved away from resource patrol and more toward drug interdiction, due to funding sources.
John Millican, comment on USFS land and road use policies
Issues from vehicle access
Access to U.S. Forest Service lands is becoming increasingly restricted as development occurs on adjacent lands and as users cause increasing damage on neighboring private land. The USFS transportation system has deteriorated over the past 10 years while use has dramatically increased. Several access-related issues are apparent:
1. Need for adequate legal rights-of-way to allow public access to the National Forest for all legal users.
2. Commitment of resources to construction and maintenance of an adequate system of roads and trails (including signing) for Forest users.
3. Resolution of conflicts between trail users (hikers, horses, motorized vehicles).
4. Degree of public access to special use areas
5. Protect valuable improvements versus the public’s right to public land.
U.S. Forest Service
For more information, visit the website: http://www.fs.fed.us/sopa/forest-level.php?110305Source... http://www.svherald.com/content/shar-porier/2014/08/11/386450