Friday, March 13, 2009

Forest Service sacrificing AZ area to 'wreck'reation

Forest Service too permissive on off-road 'wreck'reation.

TUCSON -- The Coronado National Forest is seeking public input on a plan to manage off-road vehicles and protect the fragile southwestern desert near Tucson. This plan is a first step toward better protecting the “sky islands” of southern Arizona from damage caused by decades of unrestricted off-road vehicle use.

The Santa Catalina Ranger District is the first of the five ranger districts to release its plan to the public, and the District Ranger's plan is weak.

According to the Forest Service, there are more than 260 miles of open roads in the Santa Catalinas and more than 30 miles of “non-system” roads and trails. Non-system roads and trails are often the result of illegal off-road travel.

Despite big and growing problems with off-road vehicle damage and crime, especially in the fragile and scenic Reddington Pass wildlife corridor, only a single mile of road would be closed under this plan.

The sky islands of southern Arizona are incredibly diverse, ranging from Sonoran desert to alpine forest. Taking a trip up Mt. Lemmon from Tucson is like taking a trip from Mexico to Canada. The sky islands are also surrounded by rapidly growing communities in southern Arizona, with increasing numbers of people crowding into ever disappearing wild places.

The Forest Service is conducting Travel Management on all forests in the country, following a 2005 federal rule that ends decades of unregulated cross-country, off-road driving on public lands. The rule stems from a 1972 presidential order that recognized the significant damage caused by off-road vehicle use and the need to protect public lands for future generations of quiet recreational users, wildlife, and watersheds.

The plan, known as a “Proposed Action,” was posted on the Coronado National Forest Web site on Wednesday, March 11. The plan does not include information about the Coronado’s wildlife, waters, or non-motorized recreation opportunities. The Forest will host an open-house meeting on March 26, 2009, from 5:00 p.m. through 7:30 p.m., at the Udall Regional Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road, in Tucson. Comments are due by April 15, 2009.

The Santa Catalina Ranger District includes Mt. Lemmon, Sabino Canyon, and the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson.

- adapted from CBD

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