August 4, 2008

Forest Service Official Pushes for ATV Campaign

By Mike Branom, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

Aug. 4--If Americans can be taught to not litter in the wilderness, said the man in charge of the Southwest's national forests, they can be taught to stay on trails when riding their all-terrain vehicles.

Preventing tire tracks from spreading throughout the U.S. Forest Service's deserts, timberlands and grasslands is just one challenge facing Corbin Newman.

Now in his eighth month on the job as regional forester, Newman also must protect lives, property and the land's health while balancing the needs of recreation lovers against miners, loggers, ranchers and one another.

For every acre administered by Newman -- 20.6 million, stretching from the Valley's outskirts to the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas -- it seems there's a question about that acre's true purpose.

"One of the things that makes the national forests unique is these are public lands where you have a diversity of uses, relatively unfettered," Newman said last week during a visit with the Tribune.

"That worked well for a really long time.

"But more and more, particularly in the West, the amount of people wanting to use the forest has just skyrocketed."

It is that growth which has raised to prominence the issue of off-highway vehicles in Arizona's 11.2 million acres of national forest lands.

The number of OHVs more than quadrupled from 1996 to 2006, according to an Arizona State University West study. And in 2002, OHV recreation activity in Arizona generated nearly $3.1 billion in retail sales.

Due to this boom, the forest officials, environmentalists and even OHV enthusiasts cringe at the abuse suffered by the land. Along the Tonto National Forest's lower Sycamore Creek, about 10 miles northeast of Fountain Hills, the desert hillsides are scarred with tracks visible in satellite photos.

That's why, Newman explained, the Forest Service is coming up with rules spelling out where and when OHVs can travel.

Currently, officials within the individual forests are holding meetings and conducting studies with the goal of producing maps, ranger district by ranger district, showing approved roads and trails.

"We want to educate people and tell them, 'Here's the right way to do that and here's where you can do that,'" Newman said.

And that's why Newman believes in the example of Woodsy Owl.

In the early 1970s, the Forest Service came up with the nowfamiliar owl icon and its motto of "Give a hoot -- don't pollute."

Schoolchildren across America learned of Woodsy and his message through television commercials and comic books.

"Have we wiped out litter in this country? No," Newman said. "But do most folks know they shouldn't litter? You bet they do.

"That's what I'm hoping we go to with this, where people say, 'We should ride on the designated roads.'"

But critics of the Forest Service's plan point out the government doesn't have enough law enforcement officers to put teeth into its planned network of roads and trails.

"They have no money -- they are devastated financially -- and most of the time in the summers the Forest Service's money is spent fighting fires," said John Koleszar, an outdoorsman and the Arizona Wildlife Federation's vice president for conservation.

"There's going to be all these supposed changes, but no way of enforcing it."

Newman agreed with that assessment, but hopes the OHV community can police itself.

"We'll never have enough law enforcement," Newman said. "But if we can get voluntary compliance, that's better than 10,000 law enforcement officers."


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