N.M. forest to seek roads comments
ALBUQUERQUE - Forest officials have decided to seek public comment on the impacts of a proposed plan that would close nearly 270 miles of existing roads to motor vehicles in three ranger districts in northern New Mexico.
Carson National Forest officials made the decision Thursday to give the public 30 days to review environmental documents and comment on the plan that also would prohibit cross-country travel and add corridors for camping.
The decision comes after a firestorm of criticism from environmentalists and off-highway vehicle users. Both groups applauded the decision to seek public comment.
Both sides have said the forest was conducting planning in an unusual way by not letting the public weigh in on documents that spell out potential impacts to soil, water quality, wildlife and recreational access.
Carson spokeswoman Kathy DeLucas said forest officials heard loud and clear from people who want to review the assessments.
"We just want to do the right thing," she said.
At issue is a proposed action plan released in July, as forests across the nation move to designate a system of motorized routes that provide recreational opportunities while protecting natural resources.
The public had 30 days to comment after the July release, but there was no environmental assessment at that time.
Members of the New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity have been asking for another review.
The environmental group held a campaign that resulted in more than 3,500 e-mails being sent to forest officials.
"Travel management planning - and the Carson National Forest's wildlife and watersheds - will ultimately benefit from an informed and engaged public," said Cyndi Tuell, the group's southwest conservation advocate. "This is the right decision."
Mark Werkmeister, president of the off-highway vehicle group, said the public now will have access to the same information that forest officials use to make decisions.
"We just wanted all the information available for public comment," he said.
Forest officials said the environmental assessments will be ready in mid-September and the comment period will follow.
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