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Tonto National Forest ORV Plan Is Disaster for Air, Wildlife and Watersheds

Tonto National Forest ORV Plan Is Disaster for Air, Wildlife and Watersheds

PHOENIX, Ariz.— The Tonto National Forest released a plan this week that would open an additional 1,441 miles of roads despite the fact that off-road vehicles have been identified as a major contributor to air- and water-quality problems in that forest and in Maricopa County. Many of the Tonto’s watersheds are already impaired or at risk for impairment, and roads are often in poor quality in damaged watersheds. The forest is home to 16 threatened and endangered species.

“The plan is a financial disaster as well as an environmental one — it’ll make poor-quality air and water around Phoenix even worse,” said Cyndi Tuell at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Forest Service included a simple list of the environmental problems associated with the plan. The list is 17 pages long and includes more than 63 species of plants and animals that will be hurt, including Mexican spotted owls, desert bald eagles and Chiricahua leopard frogs.

Financial data from the Forest Service show that the current road system of more than 4,200 miles of roads costs more than $6.9 million to maintain every year; but the forest receives just $1.6 million a year, on average. When roads are not properly maintained they deteriorate, cutting off public access to hiking and camping; adding roads in the face of a steadily decreasing budget is irrational.

“The Forest can only afford a couple hundred miles of roads,” said Tuell. “In this economy it’s flat-out irresponsible for the Forest Service to be adding a single mile — and now we hear more than 1,000 miles are going to be added for the benefit of ORVers? Taxpayers can’t foot that bill.”

The Tonto National Forest was created in 1905, primarily to protect the Salt and Verde river watersheds, which provide clean water to millions of Arizonans. The Forest Service has gone to great lengths to analyze the watershed around Phoenix to allow the agency to better manage roads and other projects on the landscape. Tuell questioned the Tonto’s plan to add to the already overburdened watersheds, putting not only wildlife but the people of Phoenix at risk.

“If the Forest Service refuses to use its own information to manage the forest properly, we’ll have to force it to do its job,” Tuell said.

Comments on the new plan are due Feb. 6. For a direct link to the documents, click here. Comments must be submitted to Gene Blankenbaker, forest supervisor at the Tonto National Forest Supervisor's Office, 2324 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85006, or on the internet using a comment form at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=28967, by phone at (602) 225-5200, by fax at (602) 225-5295, or by email at comments-southwestern-TMRTonto@fs.fed.us.

Comments may also be hand-delivered weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Tonto National Forest Supervisor's Office, 2324 E. McDowell Road.

Contact: Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603


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