SHOW LOW — Staff from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests hosted a public open house on September 19 to share information about a revised draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Travel Management Plan for the forest.
The Travel Management Plan determines which forest roads will be open to the public and which roads will be accessible for legal use by off-road vehicles such as ATVs, UTVs and dirt bikes, among other things.
Planning and the environmental impact statement was started back in 2005, and included “extensive public involvement and over 20,000 comments,” according to a brief on the plan available at the meeting.
When the draft EIS for the 2005 plan reached the public comment stage in October 2010, it was followed by the Wallow Fire in 2011, which drastically changed the forest and created a need for a revised plan — the plan that was put before the public at last week’s open house.
Three alternatives are offered in the current revised draft EIS — No Action, Alternative 2 and Alternative 3. Alternative 2 which the Forest Service calls the “Preferred Alternative” — removes some roads from public access, but creates 68 percent more roads for motorized access, according to the Forest Service.
A total of 532 miles of roads that are currently accessible are closed to the public in the Preferred Alternative. Alternative 3, which was not selected, is more restrictive, closing an additional 688 miles of roads.
Motorized access to dispersed camping will be mostly maintained in the Preferred Alternative, according to the Forest Service. “Alternative 2 was designed to provide access to as many dispersed camping sites as possible,” the brief states.
The Preferred Alternative also maintains motorized game retrieval within 1 mile of any road or trail in the forest open to motorized use. Approximately 40 percent of the forest is proposed to be excluded from motorized big game retrieval.
According to Lorna McNeil-Cox of the US Forest Service’s Lakeside Ranger District office, additional spurs and loops of forest roads that are currently not open to ATVs/UTVs will be added to the Maverick Motorized trail, offering more opportunities for motorized recreation. The Independent attempted to contact her on Monday morning, but she was out of the office.
Maurice Colwell, president of the White Mountain Open Trails Association (WMOTA) a recreational off-roads enthusiasts group, said he does not know about any additions to the Maverick Trail, but he said he and WMOTA have a number of concerns with the Travel Management Plan as it stands now.
“There are several things they should be concerned with,” Colwell said of off-road users.
One item Colwell said he is not pleased with are plans to close some user-created access roads to dispersed campsites. He mentions specifically a number of traditional campsites off of Forest Road 117 on Green’s Peak. He said the new rule would limit motorized vehicle access to dispersed campsites to sites within 300 feet of a road open to motorized vehicles. Some of the Green’s Peak campsites are about 1,000 feet off the road.
Colwall said that the Forest Service noted that people could still use those campsites, but would have to leave their camper trailers or RVs by the road and walk into the campsites.
“How ridiculous is that?” he said.
Of course, motorized travel off of designated roads and dispersed camping often creates damage to the resources of the forest, which is what the plan is intended to mitigate. In fact, the selected alternative is expected to create a 96 percent decrease in the potential area of soil disturbance, from disperesed camping according to the revised draft environmental impact statement.
The public can review the Travel Management Plan and comment on the proposed changes. Comments can be submitted online the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests website, just follow the link on the homepage. Comments will be accepted through October 29.