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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : opinions May 1, 2016


3/18/2014 2:20:00 PM
Commentary: Local National Forests important to our quality of life
Tom O’Halleran
Tom O’Halleran
Tom O'Halleran
My Turn

The Coconino National Forest (CNF) released its Draft Land and Resource Management Plan (Plan) on Dec. 20, 2013, to provide the public the opportunity to comment on the plans specific recommendations and findings. The comment period is now closed but by reading the plan one comes away with a real sense of the unique surrounds that we all live in.

The Plan states: "The Coconino NF is a regional, national, and international year-round recreation destination. Visitors are drawn into the diversity of settings provided, including: warm grasslands in the Verde Valley, cool riparian respites in canyons, prominent red rock spires and buttes around Sedona, and snow covered peaks and forests near Flagstaff."

In the winter you can golf in Sedona, the Village of Oak Creek or the Verde Valley and in the afternoon ski on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. During the summer a swim in Oak Creek or the Verde River can be followed up by hiking in some of the most beautiful country in the world. The CNF encompasses approximately 2 million acres and contains 10 Congressionally designated wilderness areas.

Seven of these wilderness areas are located within the Verde River Basin. They are not just a forest. Each and every one of these wilderness areas has either the Verde River or perennial streams running through them. The wilderness areas and CNF are an important elements in the overall sustainability of our water resources. Most of the land in the Verde Valley is within either the CNF or Prescott National Forest. The dividing line between these two forests is the Verde River. Communities of the Verde Valley and Sedona share these majestic areas with our millions of visitors and we should recognize their importance to our regional economic viability.

Every resident of the Verde Valley region resides within a short drive of these wilderness areas. The new CNF Plan has identified two additional areas in the region for possible wilderness designations. Some may question the need for additional wilderness areas. The CNF Plan is clear on this issue: "There is recreational need for wilderness throughout the Coconino National Forest, and the high use of wilderness in northern Arizona....Northern Arizona has fewer acres of wilderness compared to other portions of the Southwestern Region, despite being an area of higher wilderness use."

We need to realize that our region's national forests are important to our quality of life, tourism industry and water resources. We need to start planning for their sustainability. The Plan identified that local, state and regional population trends will impact forest health and strain the resources of the CNF. As Arizona's urban areas continue to expand there will be more people escaping the confines of urban areas for a day, week or month to northern Arizona's world renowned forests and communities.

The management plans of the CNF and Prescott National Forest are meant be in place for the next 15 years. The current CNF plan has been in place since 1987 or 27 years. These Plans provide strategic guidance, information for project and activity decisions making them the framework that contributes to sustaining the ecological systems so important to our wildlife, vegetation, scenic integrity and water resources. Most importantly they also are the plans that will have a profound effect on what our region appearance in the future determining if our major economic driver, tourism, will be able to compete with other Southwestern tourist centers. Every community in the region depends on the jobs and taxes that are derived from tourism. How we balance tourism with stewardship of our natural resources will be a challenge.

Why should we be concerned? Let's take a look at just a few reasons: 1) federal funding for our nations forests has been steadily falling for the last few years and that trend is expected to continue; 2) our forests have and will continue to be negatively impacted by climate variability; 3) over 70 percent of the lands within the Verde River Basin are managed by federal or state government; 4) many of Arizona's national forests were approved by Congress for the express purpose of watershed protection; 5) without appropriate management forest fire threats to our communities and natural resources could increase; and 6) the region is one of Americas most important bird migration routes.

In addition the CNF has all of Arizona's big game species except buffalo. Our water resources provide for recreation actives such as fishing, swimming and kayaking. Not only the CNF but most of Arizona's forests contain significant Native American archeological sites. The Verde Valley contains more archeological sites than anywhere else in the nation. There are important ranching and early settler sites located in the forest.

Why should we be concerned? Because we live in a special place and we need to be stewards of this magnificent land for future generations. We need to recognize that it is at risk and requires all of our collective efforts to preserve it. Treat the forest kindly!



Tom O'Halleran is the president of Keep Sedona Beautiful


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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2014
Article comment by: Bob Loblaw

It won't stop until every forest service road is closed to the public!

The price we pay for growth and having people move here is that they now want to run Arizona like Illinois and Indiana so that it feels like home to them. Sadly for us, they're winning!!!


Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Article comment by: nutso fasst

"our forests have and will continue to be negatively impacted by climate variability"

One could as easily argue that our forests have and will continue to be positively impacted by climate variability, depending on what type of forest you prefer.

20,000 years ago the Mogollon Rim was predominately Englewood Spruce, trees that are now confined to higher, cooler elevations. The ponderosa pine is a relative newcomer that moved in as temperatures rose after the last ice age.
http://cpluhna.nau.edu/Research/paleoof_southern_coloplat.htm

Recurring fire keeps a Ponderosa Pine forest healthy.
http://cpluhna.nau.edu/Biota/ponderosafire.htm
But how many folks living in and near these forests today are willing to put up with low-intensity ground fires every 2-12 years?

Speaking of relative newcomers, mesquite trees have invaded what were once grasslands in the Verde Valley, sending their roots as deep as 160 feet to drink from a dropping water table.




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