The BLM in the Tuscon Field Office has released the Middle Gila Environmental Assessment which analyzes four different alternatives.
Comments are due August 31, 2023
BRC and our members engaged in scoping in early 2023. During this first step in the process, there were originally 725 miles of routes documented within the travel area that the BLM was considering whether to formally adopt into the trail system or not. These routes have been around for years, have a history of use and are used by many different interests and groups. The BLM has now identified 733 miles which should all should be formally recognized as motorized routes and the BLM should be considering more routes in order to show a range of alternatives to comply with NEPA. Unfortunately, the BLM is proposing various levels of closures.
Alternative B proposes 246.3 miles of closed roads and trails out of 700 miles. 733 miles of routes were identified however the BLM is only doing route inventory on 700 miles. Therefore, 35% of current mileage could be forever closed to the public to ever use again.
Organizations proposed allowing off road use to retrieve big game and extending the dispersed camping allowance from 100 feet of roads to 300 feet off roads. These suggestions were dismissed by the BLM along with BlueRibbon’s suggestion to analyze a true recreation alternative which would analyze adding additional recreational opportunities.
Alternative C is the preferred alternative which is a compromise between Alternatives B and D. Alternative C would close approximately 34% of the 700 miles of routes.
We ultimately support Alternative D which is the recreation alternative however even this alternative has it’s flaws, still closing over 180 miles of routes used by the public in southern Arizona. Routes are going to be closed due to transportation linear disturbances. These routes however would still be available to hikers and equestrian users. The BLM is assuming all potential and alleged disturbances are from motorized users which is just not the case.
One of the primary industries in Pinal and Gila Counties are mining and in Cochise County it is tourism. The BLM also recognized, “Travel and tourism related employment is slightly higher in the Study Area than in Arizona overall”. Poverty and unemployment rates in at least six of the studied and surrounding areas show numbers higher than the rest of the state. Closing routes that will affect the primary industries of mining and tourism will increase the unemployment and poverty rates. Closing the routes that are proposed even in Alternative D is unacceptable and will cause injury to the local community.
These routes will also lessen dispersed camping opportunities which is extremely popular in this area as well as e-bike use. According to the EA, “E-bike use would be allowed on routes designated as open to motorized use. A determination on the use of e-bikes on non-motorized trails would be made in the route management designations identified in the TMP” BRC advocates that any route open to human powered bicycles should also be made open to electric bikes.
Send a comment to the BLM letting them know that they need to adapt the alternatives given to support recreation access.