Friday, February 08, 2013

Gila travel plan raises many opinions at County Commission meeting

A special meeting of the Grant County Board of Commissioners brought a standing-room crowd Tuesday night for a report from the Gila National Forest on the controversial Travel Management Plan. The announcement of the Forest's presentation brought a crowd of people almost never seen at an evening special meeting. Folks either supportive or critical of the Forest's plan filled the provided seats, sat and stood along the walls, and even threatened to spill out into the lobby. Forest officials explained that the Plan has been in the works since late 2005 when the Forest Service published a new Travel Management Rule. The Rule required each national forest to designate the roads, areas and trails that are open to motor vehicle use. Following the rule, the Forest held the first of 46 public open houses to introduce the rule and options for the Forest's action going forward. These were followed by further workshops where Forest officials talked to many local parties. More than 900 people attended these open houses and workshops, all providing input. This input later helped shape the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. When released, more than 2,000 comments were received from concerned parties. These comments came from all over the country and even overseas, but most from the state of New Mexico. Of those, most were from Grant County. The plan developed after so much input acts as what the Forest sees as a compromise between those who want no roads closed to motorized traffic, or even more opened, and those who want more roads closed. It restricts the roads in the Forest to about 3,300 miles, but allows some trail systems to expand. Donna Stevens, of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, spoke in favor of the Forest's plan as a compromise. She then showed a map indicating that aside from the actual designated wilderness areas, there was almost nowhere in the Forest that was more than a mile from a road, saying there really wasn't a very big difference. Many supporters mentioned the environmental degradation to the wildlife habitat and the roads themselves. The first speaker against the road closures said he knew of an area currently closed to motorized traffic with a barrier that has been broken for the better part of a year, allowing what it was intended to stop. He had called the Forest Service to let them know months ago, and nothing had been done. He asked how the Forest expected to enforce even more closures when they can't police those in place now. Most of the speakers against closures were outraged by their belief that several hundred miles of roads were not even considered roads in the plan and not included on the map, effectively closing them automatically. Several even questioned the plan's legality based on those roads. Each of the Grant County Commissioners took their turn to speak and invited Hidalgo County Commissioner Darr Shannon and Catron County Commissioner Van Allred to do the same. Each spoke out against the proposed closures...more

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