Local official claims national forest road plan is a “takings”
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — About 25,000 miles of roads in Arizona’s Coconino County apparently aren’t enough for some people, including the local sheriff, who recently accused the U.S. Forest Service of a “takings” by implementing a new travel management plan.
His letter to state and federal legislators stretches the concept of takings beyond any known meaning; it’s hard to imagine how the Forest Service — which manages lands on behalf of the public — could possibly “take” land from that very same public.
Nevertheless, Sheriff Bill Pribil said the new travel plan restricts public access and could affect the state’s tourism industry.
As on other national forests, the Coconino and Kaibab forests recently went through an extensive public process and environmental review to determine which routes are appropriate for travel and which should be closed to protect natural resources. The review found extensive damage from un-managed off-road vehicle use — identified by top Forest Service leaders as one of the primary threats to the ecological integrity of national forest lands.
As in most parts of the country, national forests in Arizona have a huge backlog of road maintenance. The agency can’t afford to maintain the existing 51,000 miles of existing roads in Arizona and New Mexico forests; most forests only have the resources to maintain 10 percent of their roads each year.
For the region, the road maintenance backlog totals more than $430 million, with nearly $7 million just to tackle critical health and safety needs. When roads are not properly maintained, they deteriorate, cutting off access to hiking and camping. Poorly maintained roads also result in increased risks for public safety because fire and other emergency personnel have difficulty accessing people who need help.
Still, Sheriff Pribil called the plan “wilderness by fiat” and claimed it will make “criminals out of families.”
“Anyone who’s spent any time in the woods around Flagstaff knows these rules are badly needed. Off-road vehicles are trashing our forests and causing long-term damage,” said Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sheriff Pribil should be advocating for the enforcement of rules that protect our publicly owned forests, not lobbing criticism long after the rules have been put in place.”
“In Arizona, the Forest Service can only afford a couple hundred miles of roads on each forest,” Tuell said. “In this economy it’s flat-out irresponsible for the Forest Service to keep thousands of miles of unneeded, environmentally harmful roads.”
Under the new plans in Arizona and New Mexico forests, the public will still be allowed to camp anywhere they like; they may just have to walk a few hundred feet to their favorite spots, leaving nearly 21 million acres of land available for camping. There are also more than 25,000 miles of roads open to cars and high-clearance vehicles.
“Law-enforcement officers in Arizona can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce based on their personal opinions,” Tuell said. “Sheriff Pribil should know about the toll that unrestricted driving has on the forests that provide water for millions of people in Arizona. These are publicly owned assets that need protection, not destruction.”
Filed under: Environment, forests, public lands, US Forest Service Tagged: | Bill Pribil, Center for Biological Diversity, Coconino County Arizona, Coconino County sheriff, Coconino National Forest, Kaibab National Forest, travel plan