Citizens group speaks out on forest roads
Local group disappointed over proposed action plan
Members of the Williams-based Citizen's for Forest Roads Input (CFRI) voiced their dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Travel Management Rule (TMR) at the regular meeting of Williams City Council May 22. Charlie Bassett, speaking for CFRI, mentioned a number of unresolved issues when it came to the travel policy during the regular meeting. The TMR, currently in the proposed action phase, will seek to close roughly 350 roads on the Kaibab National Forest, while adding 37 miles to the system. Issues related to the TMR include ATV use, dispersed camping and other matters.
"As you are probably all aware, we did have a joint venture work session with the Forest Service," Bassett said. "That was actually a little bit disappointing. We had very little participation - low turnout."
Bassett said he was disappointed with Forest Service officials following the May 17 meeting, held at the Williams Recreation Center.
"They've got this proposed action out there on the table and, when you try to pin them down on basic questions, they have no answers. They're pretty good at dancing around it," he said, adding that he believed part of the problem lay with new Forest Service staff on the Williams Ranger District.
"Everybody that we had been working with for over a year and a half has moved on to other things. We feel that's bad. It has not been beneficial to us. The people that we're dealing with now, they're all nice people and they're fellow citizens and they're doing their jobs, but quite honestly they don't know this forest from the man on the moon. They really don't. Most of them do understand how the management is applied nationally across the entire United States, but they don't know what this forest needs. They don't know what these citizens, that live here and try to make a living here off of tourism and recreate on the forest, they don't understand what we want. When you've got someone that is in charge of the comments section that has been here since March 8 and has no idea what any road from one to the other is out there in the forest; it's frustrating trying to talk to them."
Bassett updated council members on the current CFRI activities during the May 22 regular meeting. Besides participating in a work session held May 24, a number of CFRI members traveled throughout the forest to hand out pamphlets on the road closures to travelers in the forest over the Memorial Weekend holiday.
"We are trying to reach people outside of our local area," he said. "The committee doesn't feel the Forest Service has gone the extra mile to make this proposed
action public. I think they probably did, a year and a half ago, publish it in enough newspapers around the state to fulfill their obligations to let the citizens know what was going on, but the proposed action that is on the table right now is not out there."
CFRI will be on the agenda for the June 11 regular meeting of Williams City Council, according to Bassett. He suggested that members of the city council, as well as city staff members, become more involved in the process, possibly even to the inclusion of legal advice.
"I honestly think it needs to go to a lawsuit. I think the Forest Service needs to be sued and put on notice that we're not going to sit back and take them shutting down our livelihood on this forest. The other thing I really feel is that I don't believe the business community has given this enough attention. The feeling I got out of that work session was that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once the whole public portion of this thing is done and gone and the first phase of it is accepted, from then on out it becomes the prerogative of the each individual ranger that comes here. He doesn't have to have public comment anymore. It won't have to go to the public anymore."
Mayor Ken Edes said the TMR, originally, seemed to concern road closures on the Kaibab National Forest and nothing else.
"They responded to some of the issues about closure and some of the issues like camping, off the roads," Edes said. "I think some of the people aren't aware that they've thrown in several issues that were never, ever discussed in this year and a half. When I addressed our Forest Service on it and asked them why these things were put in when they were never discussed, they didn't have an answer on it, because these people are coming in on the end of our efforts. I think the only way we can do something is to move it up to the next level."
Jackie Banks, public information officer for the Kaibab National Forest, said the idea behind the implementation of the TMR has always been to limit cross-country travel in the forest, though a majority of the focus settled on road closures.
"We feel that we tried to emphasize that once the Travel Management Rule is implemented cross country travel will no longer be allowed, however, because of the local interest in roads, we did end up focusing a lot of time and attention at meetings discussing roads," Banks said. "We have tried to make it clear from the beginning that the whole purpose of the Travel Management Rule was to stop cross country travel. A lot of roads that are out there are roads that people are creating. Do we want every person that is going into the forest to be able to create roads and trails wherever they want? That is what's happening right now,"
There have been numerous work sessions since the TMR was introduced. Most recently, the comment period was extended to June 20 in order for forest users to provide additional input on the matter. Around 12 people attended the most recent work session, held at the Williams Ranger District May 24.
"This is the time to be involved and provide input. The input needs to be coming in now. We'll have another comment period once we have formulated alternatives or modifications to the proposal," Banks said. "After Travel Management is implemented on the Kaibab we would still need to involve the public and talk to people about any future proposed road closure. We put everything into that proposed action that we are interested in seeing closed. We're not holding onto any potential closure to put out there later."
Banks said that public input would be sought should revisions to the forthcoming motor vehicle use map be needed. She said the public would be notified via newspaper, television and radio, though she couldn't say for sure whether news agencies would opt to use the information she provides to them. The TMR, after all, is a national policy and many of the media agencies may be busy covering forests closer to their immediate area, Banks said.
"I think we have a good balance of people that have been on the forest for a long time. Martie Schramm has a lot of people working for her, many of whom have been on the National Forest for years. (The TMR) has come from the collective knowledge of the Forest Service employees over time," Banks said.