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Off-road vehicles
Albuquerque Journal, February 9, 2009

Carson Forest Releases ATV Plan
By Raam Wong

Carson National Forest has released its proposal for regulating travel by ATVs and other off-road vehicles through forest lands.

The Forest Service is seeking public comments on the plan, which would reduce the roads and trails designated for motorized travel from 2,700 miles to 2,100 within the nearly 1.5-million acre forest. Environmental groups said in a news release last week that the
plan makes several positive steps, including protections for the Middle Fork Road, Goose Lake Road and Bitter Creek in the Questa ranger district.

But the groups added that the plan is still inadequate to protect rivers, forests and wildlife.

"This proposal enables ongoing abuses of our public lands from off-road vehicle users," said Rachel Conn of Amigos Bravos, a statewide river conservation group. "And while everyone has the right to use our National Forest, no one has the right to abuse it."

The plan is the result of a 2005 order by the U.S. Forest Service that instructed national forests across the country to adopt a so-called travel management rule.

Similar efforts in the Santa Fe National Forest have been contentious, with ATV opponents charging that the noisy machines pollute the air, tear up the land and endanger other forest users. Motorized vehicle users respond that most off-roaders are responsible, safe and
looking to do the right thing.

Carson officials say the plan resulted from numerous public meetings held in July 2006 and March 2007 attended by some 150 people, as well as from hundreds of comments.

The proposal would bar cross-country motorized travel in the Canjilon, El Rito, Tres Piedras and Camino Real ranger districts, and keep cross-country prohibitions in place in the Jicarilla and Questa districts.

At the center of plan are intricate maps meant to show where motorized travel is OK. But critics say these maps make lousy enforcement tools and the Forest Service lacks the manpower to put boots on the ground.

"In light of budget cuts and maintenance backlogs, this plan is irresponsible," said Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Carson can afford to maintain only 17 percent of the routes in this plan. Adding new routes is irresponsible, hurts wildlife and atersheds, and conflicts with other forest users that hunt, fish and hike the forest."

Carson spokeswoman Kathy DeLucas said the forest has agreements known as memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement agencies that will help patrol the trails, and has an ATV ranger in Questa. "We're pretty well covered," she said.

The proposal also includes seasonal closures meant to protect wildlife, such as the elk that calve on the west side of the forest, said Jack Carpenter, a Forest official working on the project.

The Forest Service is seeking comments on the "scoping phase" of the project through Feb. 28. Four environmental assessments, each focused on different parts of forest, will follow this summer, after which the public will then have 30 days to comment again.

Final decisions are expected this summer with decisions implemented in October.

The Forest Service is hosting two open houses on the plan:

Wednesday, 4-6 p.m., at the Red River Conference Center.

Feb. 17 at the Questa ranger district office from 3-8 p.m.

The plan can be viewed at http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/carson/recreation/travel_mgmt/index.shtml.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton