Motorized use of SF Forest unveiled

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By Carol A. Clark

Santa Fe National Forest  (SFNF) released a proposal designating a system of roads, trails and areas for motorized use of the forest. This marks the beginning of the National Environmental Policy Act process for the project.

District Ranger Sandy Hurlocker explained to County Council members during a work session Tuesday in White Rock that SFNF has begun a review of its travel management of the entire forest. He detailed the forest’s travel management proposal and said it is undergoing a 45-day comment period.

Thirteen public meetings have been scheduled from late July through early August.

During the meetings, Forest Service staff will review and discuss the proposed action, take comments, and ascertain community issues and concerns, he said.

“We’ll hold a two-hour meeting for the public Aug. 14 at Fuller Lodge with a presentation, maps and time for public comments,” Hurlocker said. The meeting is scheduled for 6-8:30 p.m., according to the SFNF website.

Councilor Jim West expressed concern of a possible misunderstanding by the public.

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that this is not a once and forever kind of thing. There will be other opportunities to have their voices heard,” he said.

Councilor Ken Milder questioned whether the proposal includes access for Native Americans to areas of the forest for religious purposes.

Hurlocker explained that access is open although they may need to walk or travel on horseback to certain areas not open to motorized vehicles.

Anyone found in motorized vehicles on off-limit roads will be cited, Hurlocker said.

Snowmobiles are not included in the motorized proposal, he said, adding that snowmobiles will continue to have “pretty open access.”

The forest service is asking the public to come into local offices and provide input during the next 45 days.

Issues identified during the public meetings will be used to develop alternatives, which will be analyzed for their effects to the environment. This “effects analysis” will be published in the draft EIS.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on that document during a 45-day “notice and comment” period.

Based on this information and public input, the forest supervisor will make a decision, which will be published as a record of decision.

The forest plans to have the decision in 2009, Hurlocker said.

The Forest Service has identified four major threats to national forests and grasslands:

the risk of catastrophic fire;

the loss of open space;

invasive species; and

unmanaged recreation, including the effects of unmanaged off-highway vehicles.

“Travel management will be one of our main focuses for the next year or so,” Hurlocker said. “Our intent is to provide motorized use in a sustainable way.”

The Forest Service published a new Travel Management Rule in 2005, which governs motor vehicle use, including off-highway vehicles (OHV), on national forests and grasslands. The intent of the rule is to provide a wide range of motorized vehicle opportunities while ensuring the best possible care of the land.

The Travel Management Rule gives forest officials the option of designating motorized access to dispersed campsites and to retrieve downed big game.

Once designated and published on a motor vehicle use map motorized travel off the designated system will be prohibited.

The motor vehicle use map will show the designated roads, trails and areas that are legal to drive on – in what kind of vehicle and at what time of year.

It will be published after the environmental analysis process and decision about which roads, trails, and areas should be open, and distributed at Forest Service offices and on the Internet.

For information, access www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe/districts/jemez/index.html.