Finchem at odds with Forest Service over new road plan aimed at preventing wildfires




    A tanker dumps fire retardant on the Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona on June 11, 2011. The fire was the largest in Arizona history, burning more than 530,000 acres. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

    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. 

    The plan is billed as one of the measures the Service is using to prevent wildfires in Apache-Sitgreaves, which in 2011 suffered the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history. 

    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.

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    Parker Shea joins the Arizona Mirror after recently graduating from Arizona State University, where he was editor-in-chief of State Press Magazine. He hopes to one day have a career reporting on issues related to the environment. He is a daily runner and enjoys exploring the Arizona wilderness.