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Conservationists React to Gila National Forest Travel Management Plan

PHOTO: Conservationists in New Mexico are reacting to the federal government's plan for all future travel inside the huge Gila National Forest, located in the southwestern part of the state. CREDIT: U.S. Forest Service.
PHOTO: Conservationists in New Mexico are reacting to the federal government's plan for all future travel inside the huge Gila National Forest, located in the southwestern part of the state. CREDIT: U.S. Forest Service.
June 13, 2014

GILA, N.M. - Conservationists say there are good points and less than positive elements of the U.S. Forest Service plan governing future travel in the Gila National Forest.

Donna Stevens, executive director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, said the travel management plan restricts motorized vehicle use to roadways inside the forest.

"Currently vehicles can drive wherever they want," said Stevens. "This is really harmful to our streams and fisheries, wildlife habitat and quiet recreation."

The plan, released this week, calls for the closure of several hundred miles of existing roads in the 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service has been working on the plan for the better part of a decade.

According to Stevens, her organization believes that leaving open more than 3,000 miles of road doesn't do enough to protect the forest. She said roads can have a negative impact on the wildlife that call the Gila National Forest home.

"Even if it doesn't make a lot of sense to us," she said, "there are many species of animals that won't cross an eight-foot-wide dirt road. Because to them it's a barrier, even if it doesn't look like much of one to us."

Stevens said the Forest Service travel management plan is expected to be implemented next year.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM