Friday, August 31, 2007

Permanent Forest Access Closures and Restrictions - coming soon to a National forest near you.

This is the biggest policy event to happen in the national forests that I can remember.

There is a huge proposal on the table in the Coconino National Forest that will very likely set a precedent for other national forests. All national forest are required to submit a travel management rule (TMR).

I went to one of the meetings regarding the Coconino proposal and had a pretty lengthy conversation with Jim Beards, the principle force behind this proposal.

Here are the major points of the Coconino National forest plan:

1. No off road vehicular travel except by permit.
2. Most (as defined by FR road numbers) of the roads in this forest will be closed to vehicular traffic of any kind.
3. The mechanism for closure is simply a map. No rocks, barricades and maybe not even any signs. It will be your responsibility to know which roads are closed and stay off them, else you could get a ticket.
4. You can park no farther than 1 car length from the road, except in a limited number of predesignated areas where it could be up to 100 feet. These are existing "dispersed campsites" as determined by the forest service.

My thoughts on the proposed TMR plan:

1. It's hard to find anyone who objects to banning the indiscriminate vehicle travel off roads. Most of us thought that was illegal now. I guess not. Interestingly this is the only real requirement presented to the various national forests by the forces in Washington.
2. I know it looks like there are a lot of roads out there when you just look at a map. However, on their maps, 1" equals two miles. Thus, what looks like a lot on a piece of paper wouldn't seem that way at all to someone out walking it. Also the number presented to the public was 29% closure ( as defined by linear miles). The first question I asked Jim Beards was, "how did you get that number?" to which he responded, "oh that's not correct, it's more like 40%". I would guess 60% just by looking at the maps. And in some areas it has to be 90%. It's a lot of closures.
3. Here is my son's comment on the lack of mechanism for closure. "If this goes in and there aren't any barricades, then I think you'll get a whole bunch of people not obeying/knowing about the new laws, using roads/campsites as they used to while the rest of us law-abiding citizens are bound by our morals to obey the new proposal. So we don't get to travel as we used to, nor will we truly get the benefit of the new 'road closures' because there will always be someone driving down that road that we are expecting to be closed."
4. The worst part of the whole proposal is the one car length limitation. I don't think I have ever camped as close as one car length from a road. Why? Vehicles drive on roads. They are noisy, they kick up dust and sometimes they go real fast and are thus unsafe. This one has lawsuit written all over it, the first time a little kid gets hit by a car or ATV because people are basically forced to camp by the road. Now Jim Beard said, "you can camp anywhere in the forest" you just can't park anywhere. But let's face it, if you have kids, especially little ones, you are not going to be practically able to get real far from your car.

There are two proposals now:

1-do nothing but implement restrictions on off road travel
2-this proposed plan

Given only those choices I would have to go for choice 1.

Here is What I think we should do:

1. Restrict travel to roads. (That's a 'no brainer' with perhaps some permitted exceptions.)
2. Take the roads currently designated for closure and specify them all as primitive but leave them open for 4x4, ATV, dirt bike, mountain bike use. Do not maintain them, thus they will present no strain on the budget yet will still be perfectly suited for the people who want use them.
3. Change the one car length limitation to 100 feet. Logical campsite areas will evolve out over time.
4. Establish an 800 number hot line to forest service enforcement so violators could be reported. Like the Game and Fish anti-poaching system a reward could be offered and actually paid for by the offenders fines. Judges could invoke additional community service 'clean up' sentences to those convicted of illegal off road travel, littering etc..

A mentality that restricts more and more people with more and more recreational vehicles to less and less space is counter intuitive to me. I'm all for using this TMR plan to improve the outdoor experience for all of us and protect our treasured forests. However these massive road closures and, perhaps more importantly, campsite restrictions are not the answer. We need a plan that allows for reasonable access and use and provides a effective method of dealing with those who abuse that access and use. ( I think that's the piece that is currently deficient. The 800 number could help that problem a lot.)

You have only until Sept 10th 2007 to comment on the plan. Here is the link to the full proposal with maps.

http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/projects/tmr/proposed-action.shtml

I urge you to read through this information and send your comments to :

comments-southwestern-coconino@fs.fed.us

The pure backpackers and hikers might like the idea of this plan but be careful. You may find you can no longer get to your trailhead and water cashing points.

If you are a hunter, many of your favorite source roads to get you to those favorite spots will be closed.

If you are a mountain biker or ATVer this is disaster! These closed roads take on the same status as the forest around them thus will be closed to vehicular travel of any kind.

If you are a roadside tent camper, I hope you like the idea of camping virtually 'on' the road.

It effects everybody. Speak now or forever camp on the road (if you can find one).

"Take all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum
then charge the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em
don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got till it's gone......" - Joni Mitchell