Cyndi Tuell: People concerned about the impact of off-road vehicles in Arizona's national forests can now do something about it. Each national forest in Arizona is developing a "travel management plan" to determine which roads, trails and areas will be open to motorized vehicles and cross-country travel. This public planning process comes at a time when critical values are threatened by off-roaders, and your participation is encouraged.
People concerned about the impact of off-road vehicles in Arizona's national forests can now do something about it. Each national forest in Arizona is developing a "travel management plan" to determine which roads, trails and areas will be open to motorized vehicles and cross-country travel. This public planning process comes at a time when critical values are threatened by off-roaders, and your participation is encouraged.
Off-road vehicles are a well-documented cause of habitat fragmentation and wildlife displacement. They reduce hunt quality and decrease hunter success on public lands. Escalating, unmanaged off-road vehicle use is damaging Arizona's national forests and the ecosystem services they provide. Off-road vehicles pollute the air we breathe; damage rivers, streams, meadows, and wildlife habitat; and their noise spoils quiet recreation like hiking, camping, bird watching and hunting. They also erode soil and damage watersheds that provide clean drinking water.
In 2005, the Forest Service began implementing the Travel Management Rule, which requires federal land managers to designate a system of roads and areas where people can drive motorized vehicles and is based on an executive order signed by a Republican president more than 30 years ago. Arizona's national forests are currently in the midst of making these designations.
Quiet, nonmotorized recreation on Forest Service lands in Arizona contributes approximately $362.6 million to local economies in Arizona while motorized recreation contributes significantly less. Quiet recreationists outnumber off-road vehicle enthusiasts 10 to 1 on most Forest Service lands. In these lean economic times, it makes sense to encourage quiet recreation to draw the largest number of people and dollars to our state. Risking the robust revenues from the largest number of forest users is foolish in today's lean economy.
Some claim that those working to protect our public lands from the damage off-road vehicles cause are elitist ("Federal land closures trample social fabric," Perspective, Nov. 8). However, a pair of hiking boots can be purchased for less than $50 while an off-road vehicle can cost tens of thousands of dollars, most of that money leaving the state. Repairing watersheds destroyed by irresponsible off-road driving can cost our communities countless millions of dollars. Losing an endangered species when habitat is lost is a cost we should not ask our children to bear.
The Tonto National Forest was created in 1905 primarily to protect the Salt and Verde River watersheds, which provide clean water to millions of people in Arizona. Making responsible decisions about where people can drive off-road vehicles and which areas must be protected will protect our way of life in Arizona, allowing all of us access to a quiet forest experience. Families will be able to leave the noise and traffic of the city for a forest that is peaceful, relaxing, and rejuvenates the spirit. Camping will still be allowed throughout the forest, and more funds will be available to maintain roads that are critical to accessing the forest.
We all have a right to access our public land, but nobody has a right to destroy it. Those who enjoy riding off-road vehicles have a right to do so, but only in areas and in ways that don't destroy land, water, wildlife habitat and others' recreational opportunities.
You have an obligation as an American to speak out on behalf of our public lands. You can do so by contacting the U.S. Forest Service and finding out how to get involved in travel management planning for your favorite Arizona national forest. You can get more information on the Center for Biological Diversity's Web site http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/off-road_vehicles/travel-management_planning/index.html.
Cyndi Tuell is a Southwest Conservation Advocate for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. Additional information about the Tonto National Forest proposed travel management plan can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto/travelmgt/index.shtml.