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Restrictions Affecting Forest Off-Roading

Plans to close more than 3,000 miles of Coconino National forestland to motorized vehicles is raising the ire of many groups. The closure means nearly half of the rural forest roads currently open will close in February.

Groups on both sides of this issue have been meeting for six years to come up with a plan that offers a compromise. The groups have been offering opinions on the plans being set forth by the U.S. Forest Service.

According to Brady Smith with the Coconino National Forest, there is still plenty of forestland to explore, as there will be more than 3,000 miles of roads left open – “more than the distance from Los Angeles to New York,” he said.

The new plans stem from 2005 federal regulations called the Travel Management Rule (TMR). These rules require each forest to establish a designated system of roads, trails and areas identified for motor vehicle use. According to Smith, designated roads, trails, and areas shall be identified on a motor vehicle use map, made available to the public for free.

Among other issues, according to Smith, dispersed camping is allowed within 300 feet along both sides of 581 miles of designated roads and along one side of 32 miles of designated roads.

In the TMR, the area is open to dispersed camping off a designated road. Forest visitors may park up to 30 feet off the road edge to camp or to pursue other activities.

Joe Hengeveld sells all terrain vehicles in Flagstaff, and is not thrilled with the limitations. He has owned Northland Motor Sports for five years. “People are going to keep riding. Many will still go where they’re not allowed to go. It’s definitely going to affect our business, the sales taxes, jobs and other things in Flagstaff,” he said.

“The road closures won’t only affect ATV owners, but also some hunters who have to go off road to find their game.” Smith says the plan reduces areas where hunters can drive vehicles to retrieve big game. It’s going to be more difficult for them,” he said.

Lisa Chester and her family have ridden quads for several years. She takes a more neutral position. “We always stay on the trails. We don’t want to see the closures. But some ATV owners have created a lot of damage. Limiting the roads and trails will also prohibit us from taking out our travel trailer as much as we usually do.”

“It will be up to citizens to be honest and not go into the closed areas,” Smith said. According to the report, resource damage is not allowed as a result of dispersed camping (for example, cutting live vegetation). Crossing streams is prohibited if water is present (except on designated routes) and crossing wetlands is prohibited. Moving, going around, going over or going past barriers (e.g., gates, rock berms, barriers, and signs) is also not allowed.

Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity says while the Forest Service is leaving large areas of land accessible to groups, many visitors will still drive through the forest and disturb vegetation and animals.

Tuell said, “Off-road vehicles in national forests are not only a blight on the landscape, but also degrade the habitat of species already at the brink of extinction. And from the fiscal view, Coconino National Forest can today afford to maintain just 600 miles of roads annually, yet this decision leaves more than 3,100 miles of roads open to public motorized traffic.”

Tuell says the decision is final and no more input will be taken.

While parties on both sides of the forest issue may be unhappy with the TMR, others, like Lisa Chester, understand the motivation behind the restrictions. “It seems like the responsible and enthusiastic pay for the irresponsible ones. But we understand quad owners have to stay on trails and be more careful.” FBN

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