Team discusses routes, enforcement in forest
Members of a multi-disciplinary team discusses local routes
maintained by the Coronado National Forest.
Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012 8:40 am
By Marisa Gerber For the Nogales International | 0 comments
Twenty-five or so people filled the meeting room at the Coronado
National Forest's Nogales Ranger Station on March 30 and spent about
four hours discussing one topic: roads.
The diverse group, which is comprised of a few locals and called the
Collaborative Alternative Team (CAT), is tasked with offering an
alternative plan to the U.S. Forest Service's travel management plan.
In simpler terms, it's the document that details which of the Forest
Service's roads it plans to continue maintaining and which it will
Aside from swapping thoughts on which of the routes were most
important, the crew also used the time at last week's meeting to
share information about their individual areas of expertise. It was a
time, for example, for the core CAT team members – most of whom made
the trek down from Tucson – to exchange knowledge with the locals.
Patrick Connor, who represents cultural and archeological interests
for the CAT team, asked one of the local park rangers about the
biggest enforcement issues in the area.
Jim Coleman of the Coronado National Forest's Nogales District was
quick to respond. "Unregulated, unauthorized, destructive mining
operations, prospecting operations. That's a big one," Coleman said.
It's not uncommon, Coleman said, for people without permission to
bring big machinery out to the Tumacacori or Atascosa mountains and
cut new roads amid their efforts to prospect for metals.
The Nogales District also has difficulties enforcing the usage of
four-wheelers, which they refer to as Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs).
"A lot of the OHV issues are a function of some of the things Border
Patrol has been allowed to do," Coleman said. "They go up to the
hilltop and they have a watch station. It's not engineered. It's a
threat to the resources, but if it looks like a road, somebody's
going to drive on it."
Hearing the concern, David Hodges, one of the core CAT team members,
posed a question to the Forest Service leaders: why not just close
off roads where OHV abuse is common?
James Copeland, who heads the Nogales District, said OHV enforcement
is harder than it sounds.
"When you say close an area, what do you mean?" Copeland asked. "If
we fence the whole thing people can cut a fence."
After introductions and discussions of how the process worked, the
CAT team turned its focus to discussing the area's most controversial
Although the public was welcome to attend the meeting, they weren't
allowed to speak up during the meeting. Instead, people could fill
out a lavender-hued paper labeled "Public Information Card" and the
meeting's moderator would read the comments at the end of the
meeting. No comments were read, however.
Last Thursday's meeting was a follow-up to a meeting in Rio Rico in
February when the group members put little, circle-shaped stickers on
large pieces of paper listing all the routes. Placing their sticker
by the route meant they disagreed with the Forest Service's proposed
plan for it, or they had a nugget of information about the route to
share with the group.
Take, for example, route 223-0.47R-1, which runs through a wash in
Peña Blanca Canyon. The Forest Service has plans to decommission the
road to protect riparian species and cultural resources.
Dan Bell, a local rancher and a member of the CAT team, said he put a
dot next to the route to share his local expertise with the group.
"Border Patrol uses that, because that's a dump-out area behind the
lake," Bell said. "They use that to deploy out of. I put a dot there
because I know that they use that road."
Copeland nodded as Bell spoke. He said the Forest Service in
currently in discussions with the Border Patrol about creating an
alternative road nearby that doesn't cut through the riverbed.
They do, however, give the federal agency some wiggle room.
"In some cases we may have to tolerate what Border Patrol does
because of Homeland Security," Copeland said. "It's going to take a
little bit longer."
While the route isn't personally important to Bell, he said he likes
to look out for the Border Patrol, because what they do directly
impacts the ranchers along the border.
"We have a lot of illegal activities happening in the forest," Bell
said. "I wanted to make sure that areas that are essential to Border
Patrol's access weren't on the chopping block."