We need to act if we want to reclaim forests - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

We need to act if we want to reclaim forests

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Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 3:00 am

It’s your land, and mine, and our neighbor’s. But, within months, we could all be restricted from its beckoning call. The U.S. Forest Service is racheting limitations into citizens’ free movement within our national forests; all six of Arizona’s forests included.

The expected decree, fueled by the greens and the proverbial vocal few who believe people harm nature, will result in the closure of thousands of off-highway roads in our state (many gates are in place). An estimated two-thirds of America’s back country roads are registered for closure.

Also targeted are camping sites and cross country travel through all of America’s 177 national forests and grasslands. The proposed restrictions, labeled Travel Management Rule (TMR), are one portion of a national master plan.

My family has specific interests in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. My forefathers and mothers homesteaded and tamed its rugged spots in divine places. We, who know, consider those wilds, hallowed. Only a demented few seek to harm the land and its creatures.

Nature lovers support forest managers in seeking workable solutions, but are alarmed by excessive restrictions.

We most likely can’t stop this runaway train, but we should try. You have until midnight, Dec. 13 to get involved in the public discussion process, including any future court actions. Use this website to learn more and to register your comments: www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/projects/travel

-management.shtml. Pay attention to Alternative B, said to be the USFS’s favorite. For assistance, contact the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest office in Springerville at (928) 333-4301.

Be detailed in your comments. Indicate which fishing places, which camping grounds, where you love to hunt or park your RV, or which road numbers you’re concerned about. Planners want to know which areas are important to keep open.

Education, not locks and gates or measuring tapes, is the best solution. We don’t need laws so insane they count inches on how far sightseers or hunters can drive vehicles off-road. “Smoky the Bear” campaigns prove education works.

Stop the madness of radical controls. We have enough wilderness areas; they will remain untouched. The rest should be enjoyed by everyone.

Businesses, rural and Valley, will feel the squeeze of the closures first. Remember several decades back when our forests were closed to logging? Rural economies buckled. And, now this.

Arizona State University research shows back-country driving, alone, provides Arizona $4 billion annually and more than $1 billion in household income with 37,000 jobs.

Arizona Fish and Game reports that fishing and hunting is a “powerful part of Arizona’s economic fabric,” offering thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenues and billions in retail sales.

There’s something else: City dwellers are unaware that rural citizens count on the forests to gather wood for warmth in the hostile winters. Many use hunting seasons to stock their freezers. The land is not all about recreation, it’s about survival — always has been.

Guaranteed to be on the front row is one White Mountains opposition group, dismissed as “radical” by TMR supporters. Check out its website: www.cmlua.com. Scroll down under “research” and read the account by Bobby Unser and others. One member, Gary Finch of Eagar, says members won’t settle until every citizen, from the bird watcher to the motorized hunter/fisherman, is guaranteed access to the forests.

Another site to study: www.sharetrails.org/about/.

Whether you like them or not, the political tea parties have proven what citizen voices can do. It’ll take that level of intervention to reclaim our forests.

Again, the answer to forest management is found in education. The answer is keeping the best part of America accessible for our grandchildren.

East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen (turleyhansen@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix veteran TV anchor.

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