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Sun, Sept. 20

Melting snow may close forest roads
Road closures will be temporary

As warmer daytime temperatures lead to melting snow and muddy conditions, Kaibab National Forest managers may soon decide to implement the forest's wet weather travel policy on the Williams Ranger District.

The goal of the wet weather travel policy, which was developed in 2005 in collaboration with the Coconino National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, is to provide reasonable motor vehicle access during times of extremely wet and muddy conditions while also protecting forest roads and resources and providing for public safety.

"We are carefully monitoring forest and road conditions and may soon decide to implement some temporary travel restrictions due to hazardous conditions and the potential for serious damage to forest roads and resources," said Williams District Ranger Martie Schramm. "If we do implement the motor vehicle restrictions, they will be temporary and will be lifted as soon as conditions dry out a little."

If wet weather travel restrictions are implemented, they will result in the temporary closure of many roads and the prohibition of cross-country motor vehicle travel. A backbone system of roads will remain open to allow forest access. The roads that will remain open are those that are most suitable for travel during wet conditions and are strategically located to provide reasonable access to the forest. Green dots on carsonite signs will indicate open routes.

If the wet weather travel restrictions become necessary, they will be implemented in a similar way to fire restrictions and area closures. Based on conditions on the ground, an official order will be issued that restricts use to those roads that are most suitable for travel. The restrictions will be lifted as soon as conditions allow. Just as with fire area closures, wet weather travel restrictions will only be implemented when conditions create hazards to public safety and forest resources.

When implemented, information on wet weather travel restrictions, including maps showing open routes, will be posted to the Kaibab National Forest Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai. Also, signs reading, "Entering wheeled motorized restriction area. Use only roads and trails shown on official map," along with a second sign displaying a map showing open routes in the area will be posted at strategic access points on the forest. Motorized travelers will be required to stay on those designated routes until the soils dry out and the restrictions have been lifted.

If implemented, this will be the first time the Kaibab National Forest has used its wet weather travel policy. The policy was developed in 2005 following a winter of very wet weather and damage to forest resources.

During fall 2004 and winter 2004/2005, forest roads, soils and vegetation sustained damage from motorized vehicles following periods of very wet weather. Some forest travelers continued to use forest roads despite extremely wet and muddy conditions, which led to deep ruts and, in some areas, the creation of alternate routes around problem spots.

"We had to find a way to provide access to forest users while also limiting damage to the forest and reducing the likelihood of motorized travelers getting stuck," Schramm said. "The wet weather travel policy does all those things. People can continue using the forest, and we can provide protection to forest resources and roads that are most at-risk for damage."

While forest managers have not implemented the wet weather travel policy yet on the Williams Ranger District, they say that it could become necessary at any time due to melting snow and saturated soils.

"We want our local community members to be aware that we may have to implement these temporary travel restrictions in the near future," Schramm said. "They will only be in place while conditions are extremely wet and muddy."

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