Questions remain for Forest Travel Management Plan
Fuelwood and game retrieval top citizen concerns
WILLIAMS - Implementation of the Travel Management Rule (TMR) on the Williams Ranger District of the Kaibab Forest is one step closer to reality with the recent release of a Travel Management Project Environmental Assessment for public review and comment.
A handful of Williams residents attended the first of two community meetings Feb. 24. According to a Kaibab National Forest press release, the meetings are designed to provide an opportunity for the public to review information contained in the document, view large-scale maps of the proposed project, and submit comments. A second meeting will be held Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at the Williams Recreation Center, 301 W. Railroad Ave.
The Williams Ranger District originally issued a Proposed Action for off road travel in March 2008 followed by a first round of public comment.
The recently issued Environmental Assessment includes the initial proposed action along with two alternatives that, according to Kaibab National Forest Public Affairs Officer Jackie Banks, were largely based on the first round of public comment.
"What we did is, after that proposed action, we took all of the public input along with all the information from our resource specialists and came up with a very detailed environmental assessment document and that is what we've just recently released," Banks said. "The environmental assessment provides an in depth look at the environmental consequences of the different actions. It's very much more detailed than that document that people originally saw."
Banks went on to say after the current public review process is completed, all information including the environmental assessment, public comments collected through Tuesday and proposed possible actions will be forwarded to Forest Supervisor Mike Williams who will decide how the TMR is implemented.
"What the review process is is an opportunity to bring up any issues that we might not be aware of or other things that we need to look into," Banks said. "During that last public comment period in 2008, the public's comments really did make a big difference in some of the things that are now being presented in the environmental assessment. So, we're really interested in seeing how our local public feels about how we did. Now we need feedback on how we did."
Williams resident Gene Owens, who attended the Feb. 24 meeting, said, overall, he thinks the Forest Service has done a good job of deciding which roads to close and which to keep open.
"I wasn't too upset with the roads," Owens said. "I think they could have left some of them open but, all in all, I think they were fair on the roads."
Where Owens has issues with the Travel Management Plan is in possible game retrieval and fuelwood collection regulations. Mike Benham, also in attendance at last week's meeting, agreed with Owens and said he thinks the regulations are not in the best interest of residents in the area.
"There are minor things that I think they really need to change," Benham said. "The hunting and the fuelwood collection. There are a lot of people that they live with firewood. That's their only heat and if they can't drive to it, that's a problem."
In November 2005, the Forest Service implemented the Travel Management Rule (TMR). The TMR was enacted to regulate the use of off road vehicles in an effort to limit damage to forest resources.
According to Banks, currently 96 percent of the Williams District is open to cross country travel.
"That wasn't a big deal 20 years ago because there weren't many OHVs and there wasn't a lot of damage occurring," Banks said. "But with the number of them going up and their capabilities increasing and just the number of people using them, they said something has to be done. We want to still continue to allow this but we've got to find a way to protect resources at the same time."
Banks said the Forest Service hopes to have a decision out by the end of May. After the decision is published there is a 45-day mandatory appeal period. Only those placing comments before Tuesday are eligible to make an appeal. If no appeals are filed, the Forest Service can begin implementing the plan immediately.
"We are almost there," Banks said.
All public comments must be received by Tuesday. Comment forms are available at the Williams Recreation Center, Williams Public Library and Williams city offices. Written comments must be submitted to Martie Schramm, Williams District Ranger, 742 S. Clover Rd., Williams, AZ 86046 or by fax (928) 635-5680. Comments can also be sent via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.