A GOP state lawmaker on Tuesday voiced his opposition to the U.S. Forest Service’s travel management plan for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
But Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said the USFS plan would severely inhibit the public’s ability to use the land.
“These restrictions have the potential to devastate the region’s economy which is largely dependent on tourists and seasonal residents. Furthermore, the AS-TMP would severely limit the ability of rural counties to properly utilize the Forest road system to serve their citizens,” Finchem wrote in his letter. Finchem further criticized the Forest Servce for not working closely enough with local authorities and the public to craft its plan.
The travel management plan was begun in 2005, and an initial environmental impact statement was produced in October 2010. The Wallow Fire burned the following May, just after the comment period on the initial environmental impact statement ended. The Forest Service put the travel management plan on hold in order to gather more public input and better incorporate “changed conditions” following the fire.
The revised environmental impact statement was released in August, and the public comment period ends Wednesday.
Finchem has long been an advocate of states assuming control of federally managed land. Earlier this year, he tried to get a bill passed that would establish a Department of Public Land Management, separate from the existing state Land Department, that would allow the state to manage, but not own, federal public land currently under the purview of the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.
Finchem’s bill failed to in the Arizona Senate, but he has like-minded fellows in the White House. BLM acting head William Perry Pendley has long sought the federal government to either sell or transfer public land to the states, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has been a lifelong advocate for expanding the public’s ability to use public lands for recreation and business.