The U.S. Forest Service is moving closer to restricting access to your favorite, rural playgrounds. The expected decree will result in the closure of thousands of off highway roads and fueled by the greens and a vocal few who believe people harm nature.
Also targeted are camping sites and cross country travel through America's 177 national forests and grasslands. The proposed restrictions, labeled Travel Management Rule (TMR) are just one portion of a bigger master plan.
We most likely can't stop this runaway train, but we should try.
Note: You have until midnight, Dec. 13 to respond or you're shut out of the process forever, including any future court actions.
Use this website to learn more and to register your comments: www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/projects/travel-management.shtml. Pay attention to proposal B, said to be the USFS' favorite. If you need help, contact the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest office in Springerville, Ariz., (928) 333-4301.
For this column, I'll focus on what's going on in the Apache-Sitgreaves, comprised of 2 million acres along Arizona's eastern border. I have generational interest in that region, where my forefathers and mothers homesteaded and tamed rugged spots in divine places. It's all gorgeous, lush; priceless.
Those who know, consider those wilds, hallowed. Only a demented few seek to destroy or harm the land and its creatures. Nature lovers support forest managers in seeking workable solutions, but are alarmed by excessive, proposed restrictions.
Here's my solution: Education, not locks and gates or measuring tapes; no laws so insane they count the inches on how far a sightseer or hunter can drive his vehicle off road. Educate citizens, using informational catch phrases, such as "Use Gently;" then teach how.
Go there. Stop the madness of radical controls. Save both heartache and nature with common sense. We have enough wilderness areas. They will remain untouched. The rest should be enjoyed by everyone.
ASU researchers tell us the economic impact of back country driving, alone, provides Arizona $4 billion annually; more than a billion in household income with 37,000 jobs. Valley businesses reap much of that.
Arizona Fish and Game reports that fishing and hunting is a "powerful part of Arizona's economic fabric," offering thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenues and billions in retail sales.
Those fighting the TMR say more than two-thirds of America's back country roads are registered for closure. Eventually, they see vacationing families funneled into confined camping, manned by toll gates, just like Yosemite. When full, the overflow is sent on their way.
Hank Rogers, an Eagar, Ariz., native, is working with the Forest Service on compromises and securing four-wheeler accessible roads, but was startled to see some of the proposals have eliminated an untold number of camping areas and cross country travel. "The biggest court fights will be there," he told me.
Slowly, national forests are being taken from those who count on them. Several decades back, they were closed to logging, snuffing thousands of Arizona jobs and associated industries; rural economies buckled. And, now this.
Members of one Apache County opposition group, dismissed as radicals by TMR supporters, are committed to keeping the forests open. Check out www.cmlua.com. Scroll down under "research" and read the account by Bobby Unser and others.
Another site to study: www.sharetrails.org/about.
Whether you like them or not, the Tea Parties have proven what citizen voices can do. It'll take that level of intervention to stop the TMR.
Again, the answer is found in education. It's found in keeping the best part of America accessible for our grandchildren.
Linda Turley-Hansen is a syndicated columnist and former veteran Phoenix television news anchorwoman who lives in the East Valley. Her column appears monthly. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.