AZ Officials, off-roaders try for policy on use of forests.

spectr17

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Officials, off-roaders try for policy on use of forests.

Foster Klug, Associated Press

Sept. 16, 2001 05:00:00

From the TV commercials it looks harmless, and pretty fun: Drivers race their shiny SUVs across streams, through pristine forests and up red-rock hills in search of adventure.

But as Arizona residents increasingly emulate what they see on TV, their off-highway vehicles are crisscrossing the state's national forests with thousands of miles of new roads and trails.

Officials are now working to create a single off-road vehicle policy that would regulate use at five central and northern Arizona national forests.

It's a slow, painstaking process, partly because of a busy wildfire season and partly because of the care officials are taking with a sensitive issue, said Jim Beard, a recreation planner at the Coconino National Forest.

"National forests are America's playgrounds, and people expect to come out and play without much regulation," Beard said. "We're trying not to impinge on people's freedoms, but that impulse comes up against some very serious resource problems."

There's not yet a final plan nor any road closures, Beard said, "but at some point in the near future we will be trying to make a decision about where roads and tracks should exist and whether they should be open or closed."

Jim Anderson, Land Management Planner on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, said the problem is getting worse in the meantime.

Almost half of all vehicles sold are SUVs or pickups with four-wheel drive and high clearance, he said, and sales of all-terrain vehicles have increased by about 29 percent per year from 1995 to 1998.

As off-roaders take to the forest in increasing numbers, they're often plowing new roads through fragile ecosystems to get away from the crowds, Beard said.

Coconino Forest's policy for manageable roads, for example, is two miles of road for every one square mile of forest. Beard said a recent map of the forest showed 6,500 miles of road, with sometimes six miles of road carving up one square mile.

"The road system in the forests is growing without any planning or consideration for the resources," Beard said, "We're trying to take action before it gets out of hand."

Sandy Bahr, spokeswoman for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said one uniform policy for off-highway vehicle use at all the national forests would help mitigate some of the destruction.

"One policy, one definition for a road, and one set of fines for violators in all the forests is definitely a good idea," she said. "The folks that are responsible will respond positively to knowing what exactly these rules are and on what roads they are and aren't allowed to use."

Some off-roaders, however, are disgusted with the process.

"The Forest Service is not hearing anything we're saying," said Joe Prosser, who owns Big Joe's Cycles in Flagstaff and has been a dirt biker for 40 years. "They're just recording what they want to record. There's a lot of them who'd love to get every off-roader out of the forests if they could."

Open meetings for people on both sides of the issue were held in April, and more are planned.

Prosser said most of the off-roaders he knows don't attend.

"They just shrug their shoulders, accept it and say the heck with it," he said.

Despite some anger among off-roaders, Beard said officials are still trying to get a consensus on what the majority of them think is best for forest off-roading.

The next step, he said, is to finish an environmental impact statement, which would outline all the options being considered. After more public input, a statement recommending what officials see as the best course of action will be issued.
 

grizz

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Wow here's some more. Anyone out there think this won't end up with more regulation on off roading? I know this story is about AZ.  But I see more signs with the circle around a jeep and mortorcycle with a line thru them all the time here in the forest in ca.  Those signs should say bend over, cause we screwed you out of some more freedom.
 

Fubar

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Grizz  I have mixed emotions on this one. On one hand I dont like to see anybody lose any more of the things they can do. They are banning places to hunt and fish faster than they can think of them. On the other hand I see people abuse the off road privilage. I cant remember how many times I was hunting when off road vehicles came roaring by. To top it off they were riding in an area they werent even supposed to be riding in. Not to mention all the riders I see that wont stay on the trail and have fun tearing up the National Forest. If you abuse it you lose it.             Fubar
 

grizz

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Fubar, I agree in the forest we need to tread lightly.  
On the forest service maps no vehical(sp) areas are usually shaded in red boarders (lines or dots) around the area.  If someone rides in those areas they are brakeing the law, but there are many trails  and roads that don't get much use.  I don't think that means you can ride them.  It seems off roading is becomeing pollitically incorect. While the forest service / enviormentalist wants only pollitically corect activaties.
 

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