Kaibab National Forest officials to close some roads
by Felicia Fonseca - May. 3, 2009 12:00 AM
FLAGSTAFF - Kaibab National Forest officials plan to close about one-fifth of the roads in the Tusayan Ranger District in an effort to reduce damage to natural resources.
Officials point to scarred hillsides and meadows, roads marked with ruts and destruction of archaeological sites as reason to remove 143 miles of road from the district's 709-mile system.
"It's a delicate balancing act, and I think for the most part people think we're trying to look at all concerns and all uses of the forest and be as fair as possible," said Jackie Banks, a spokeswoman for the Kaibab, which is in northern Arizona.
The move is part of the federal government's Travel Management Rule in which forest officials designate roads, trails and areas that are open to motor-vehicle use and minimize cross-country travel.
In the past, motorized users could pull off forest roads and travel through the forest as they pleased. That now will be prohibited, with exceptions for permitted users.
"We're trying to provide plenty of access for the forest and plenty of opportunity for off-highway vehicle use," Banks said, "but at the same time protect natural resources and stop that cross-country travel."
Harrison Schmitt, executive director of Virginia-based Responsible Trails America, said a designated route system for off-road vehicle use is the right approach. But he said he's concerned the U.S. Forest Service won't have the resources to effectively implement and enforce plans once they're completed.
"Congress must make ORV management a priority as they consider agency budgets in the coming months," he said.
Banks said the forest solicited public input before coming up with a decision on which roads to close. Six miles of currently unauthorized routes will be added to the forest.
The end result of the plan will be a free motor-vehicle use map that designates where travel is allowed and at what times during the year.
"For quite a while, we expect there's going to be a lot of education, information," she said. "But at some point, they could receive a citation for being off designated routes."
About 517 square miles of forest were evaluated in the Tusayan district, just south of Grand Canyon National Park. The decision doesn't affect the Williams and North Kaibab districts. Travel-management plans for those districts are expected in late 2009 or early 2010 and mid- to late 2010, respectively.
Anyone wishing to appeal the decision for the Tusayan district has about 45 days to do so.
Brian Hawthorne, public lands policy director for the Idaho-based Blue Ribbon Coalition, said implementation of the federal policy has been spotty, with some forests doing a good job and others not so good.
The group has a strong membership in southern Utah that travels on the Kaibab. Forest officials there seem to be taking a middle-of-the-road approach that protects the needs of recreational users, he said.
"If I could criticize anything it's the need to provide more trail-based recreation," he said.
Instead of closing roads, he suggested the forest reclassify them as trails that wouldn't need as much maintenance or allow all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes on the forest instead of full-size vehicles.
But he said not every road that exists on the forest is needed for recreation, "so we're willing to accept that some of those really should be closed."