Route 'Evaluation Tree' In Use on Arizona National Forests

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A single-track trail on Tonto National Forest that riders want considered in decision making process.
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Friends of Sycamore members discuss route inventory on January 2006 trail review with BRC.

The Friends of Sycamore, a group of Phoenix based trail users report a good working relationship with the Mesa Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest on route inventory and evaluation. In an update released on September 13, 2006, the group reported that the U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Rule is progressing along a reasonable path, and the agency continues to work actively with trail users.

Don Amador, Western Representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) said; "I think BRC's on-site trail review of the area early this year with the Friends of Sycamore and our discussion of the importance of local groups being proactive was beneficial. Also, having off-road clubs develop their own 'citizen alternative' is another key to the success of the route inventory and designation process."

Don Covert, a spokesman for the Friends of Sycamore expressed appreciation to BRC for efforts to help educate the rider community on the importance of working with the land agencies. Covert said: "Local riders are working to protect recreational access by helping with the route inventory, recommending routes to keep and/or close, and offering our own recreation alternative to be included into the decision-making process."

Covert and his group began working closely with staff on the Tonto National Forest on route inventory and evaluation by collecting GPS track logs from Friends of Sycamore members as well as from the broader OHV community in the Phoenix area. "We had a good response from all types of motorized users including 4X4, off-road motorcycle and ATV enthusiasts and were able to compile a composite of all of their favorite roads and trails," Covet said. Initial problems with data compatibility were overcome when the Forest Service found funding for a professional route inventory crew to do a complete inventory of the Sycamore Creek area.

Covert reported that the team did an exceptional job, finding about 30 segments of routes that had not been submitted by users and only missing about 4 segments from the user data, which they then quickly captured. Covert noted; "the user GPS database was still very useful as it allowed us to do an exhaustive route by route comparison with the GIS data for completeness."

The Forest Service is now incorporating the route data into an "evaluation tree" that will be used to help decision makers decide which trails should be designated for what type of vehicle. Advanced Resource Solutions, an independent contractor for the Forest Service has developed software that assists agency experts in evaluating each route. Don Amador said of the process; "These federal land managers have a difficult job sometimes. They need to evaluate the public's desires for an enjoyable trail system while protecting against undue degradation. And they have to do all this with limited budgets. The Evaluation Tree concept helps both agency experts and the general public asses and comment on all of the variables."

Amador noted that not all stakeholders are happy with the Evaluation Tree concept. Anti-access groups have opposed the process from its very beginning. "It seems that these groups want to force the agency into never-ending environmental analysis before any routes are designated." Amador said. But pro-access groups understand that minimizing impacts is a worthy goal and are willing to work with land managers to try to find workable solutions to these difficult problems.

Covert seems optimistic about the process and enthusiastic about participating in a working group with Forest Service employees. "We are working with members of the consulting firm, other OHV enthusiasts and several agency people representing various disciplines such as soils, wildlife, recreation and archeology. The output of these route evaluation sessions will be a database that lists uses, concerns and recommendations for each route segment in the Sycamore Creek area."

The Friends of Sycamore group will use this data to put together an overall recommendation to the Forest Service that discusses the road and trails system, staging area improvements, mitigation for areas of concern and initial input on private citizen participation in area management. We expect to have the Friends of Sycamore recommendation document completed in late 2006.

--For questions or comments on this article or related issues, contact: The BlueRibbon Coalition, 4555 Burley Drive, Suite A, Pocatello, ID 83202-1921. Phone: 208-237-1008, Fax: 208-237-9424. Email: .

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