September 4, 2014
RE: Comments from Arizona Backcountry Hunters & Anglers on Tonto National Forest Travel Management Plan
Neil Bosworth, Forest Supervisor,
Please consider the following comments on behalf of the Arizona Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers regarding the proposed Tonto National Forest Travel Management Plan.
Arizona Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a member-driven sportsmen conservation organization dedicated to speaking-up for the solitude, challenge, and overwhelming reward that hunting and fishing our wild public lands and waters provides. These traditions depend on large intact tracts of wildlife habitat, where modern human disturbances are minimal. The Tonto National Forest offers this type habitat and hunting opportunity for small game, deer, bear, javelina, turkey and mountain lion. Our interest is in seeing that this habitat and hunting opportunity continue for future generations, thus our comments follow along these lines. We generally support the preferred alternative, with the needed revisions listed below.
Decommission Unsustainable Routes
For too many years, unregulated cross-country motorized travel has led to trail and road development at densities that are both economically and ecologically unsustainable. Many of these routes were user-created without any sort of planning for resource protection or wildlife conservation. Further, because many of the roads on the Tonto were unplanned and created largely as a result of unrestricted motorized use, the social and biological impacts of such use were never evaluated. Accordingly, we fully support the Forest Service’s efforts to identify and decommission duplicative and unsustainable routes in the forest. We also understand the demand for areas that allow cross-country travel and support limiting these uses to the designated areas listed in the plan (p. 39).
Motorized Game Retrieval
The need for motorized game retrieval in the Tonto National Forest has been unsubstantiated and therefore should be eliminated from the preferred alternative. In particular, except by CHAMP permit, we strongly oppose the provision which allows animals to be retrieved with motorized vehicles up to one mile from the trail. While we understand the Arizona Game & Fish has supported this provision, as hunters who are willing to walk and work for our big game, we take exception to the notion that hunters need motorized equipment to retrieve game. We simply do not need an exception to a rule that is aimed at protecting the habitat that our wildlife, and ultimately we hunters, depend on. The resource damage caused by this exception is selfish and would give hunters a bad name, while also causing sometimes permanent habitat loss. We ask that the Tonto National Forest limit motorized travel to designated routes for all public land users – no exceptions needed.
Many of our members appreciate the ability to access the backcountry from campsites accessible by motor vehicle. These hunters depend on quality campsites in relatively close proximity to their hunting areas. While we understand the need to protect resources with limits on dispersed camping, the USFS should retain popular and sustainable dispersed sites outside of the limited area where appropriate by signing and designating them as open. The USFS must analyze the effect of reducing road densities and consider that mitigation when prescribing reductions in reduced camping opportunities. If the USFS can meet management objectives through reduced road densities and campsite designation, dispersed camping opportunities should be retained.
These dispersed sites provide a rustic opportunity to experience solitude, whereas sites in close proximity to the road do not. If road densities are maintained below a threshold of at least one mile of road per two square miles of unroaded area, limited, designated dispersed campsites will maintain a quality backcountry experience and minimize disturbance to wildlife. The USFS should maintain dispersed camping opportunities and mitigate these impacts through reduction of road densities and campsite designation.
Thank you for considering our comments and for your efforts to maintain non-motorized habitat and traditional hunting opportunities in Arizona. Please let us know if there is anything that we can do to be of help to this process.
Southern Rockies Coordinator
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
Arizona Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
Photo courtesy of Chris McCotter