By Ron Vernesoni
Sedona AZ (April 15, 2012) – I was appalled to read that individuals are actually building their own trails in the National Forest with virtual impunity of the law. I Googled the issue, and found a very organized movement in Sedona to build trails in the National Forest for mountain biking on a massive scale. No thoughtful environmental assessments are being conducted beforehand as required by the USFS and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). What about the damage to sensitive ecosystems, and wildlife habitat? I found it interesting when reading some of the mountain biking forums that very few posters even mention the word “environment” in their posts—-let alone more in-depth concerns about overall forest degradation.
How could the local USFS drop the ball on an issue as important as this? Apparently the USFS has already adopted numerous illegally built mountain biking trails in the National Forest into the trail system without required NEPA review prior to approving their adoption. This is a violation of federal law. However, I guess anything goes in the interests of tourism and commercialism in Sedona. Why not build a few dozen ATV trails to accompany the mountain biking trails? Why not turn the National Forests into a playground, and forget about all this wacko environmental stuff?
I urge you to learn more about the recent adoptions of user built trails. This includes a though scoping process which is reviewed by the FS archeologist, hydrologist, botanist etc. And many have gone through NEPA and if not a Categorical Exclusion was written. Much of these have been in planning for some time. It has also gone out for public comment on each project. All the new trails are also multi user for hike, bike and horse. There is by a few, illegal trails that have been built within all user groups which each group is trying to manage. The VVCC and SMBC both local cycling groups recently had IMBA here in Sedona to teach sustainable trail building techniques to the FS trail crews and volunteer trail workers. There has been a great positive movement by our local Coconino FS to meet the needs of all our user groups. I am very proud of the use of my tax dollar by the Coconino FS. I agree that unauthorized trail should not be built by any user group but there is much more to this story than you see. Anyways you are entitled to your wants of the public lands and how they are used. The staff within Coconino is great staff listening to the people they serve.
I appreciate the thoughtful comment, and wish you well in your efforts. I am only doing what I feel is right, based on 35 years of environmental regulatory and environmental engineering experience. You are right that everyone is entitled to their viewpoint regarding the appropriate use of public lands. I favor low impact uses of the forest that promote conservation of wildlife and vegetation in a very sensitive high desert environment like ours. My concern is that this massive influx of mountain bikers into the Sedona area in a short period of time represents a change in usage of the Coconino National Forest not anticipated in the current Forest Management Plan (creation of additional multi-use trials is not even mentioned in the FMP). Therefore a systematic proactive planning process on the part of the USFS to address this issue never occurred. Instead the USFS was caught off guard, and is now in a reactive mode. As a former EPA official, I know how the conclusions of NEPA studies can be tailored to a desired result under stressful circumstances. Has the USFS considered all resource impacts and alternatives in their NEPA analysis as required, given the changed forest usage? I will be reviewing these documents to attempt to answer this question, and will be requesting non-profits such as the Center for Biological Diversity, to assist me in this determination. I have a high regard for the dedicated employees of the local USFS office, as you do. I believe they are doing their best despite being severely underfunded and understaffed. However, my goal as an active citizen for the environment is to try to ensure that environmental laws are properly implemented and enforced. I will be extremely pleased if the NEPA studies performed by the USFS allow me to draw this conclusion.