“They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you”
–Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere”
By DAVID CORREIA
If a four-wheeler roared through the woods and no forest rangers were around to hear it, would it matter that a new rule makes it illegal?
Don’t look for an answer in the new travel management plan released last week by the Santa Fe National Forest.
After 59 meetings and 3,000 comments, Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor Maria Garcia finally brought the forest into compliance with the November 2005 United States Forest Service travel management regulations (70 FR 68264) that require each forest and grassland to create a travel management plan regarding the impacts of motorized travel.
With 4,924 miles of existing roads, the Santa Fe National Forest has one of the highest densities of roads per acre of any national forest in the southwest. Of the four proposed alternatives Garcia selected option 2M, a proposal that closes more than 2,500 miles to motorized travel and leaves open just over 2,300 miles. Only 50 of those acres will be open to cross-country travel, an amount that includes part of the Jemez used for an annual motocross event.
How does the Forest Service plan to enforce the new rule? Garcia admits that the public is almost universally suspicious of the Forest Service’s ability to enforce any rule, much less a sweeping new rule such as the travel restrictions described in the new plan. Despite this suspicion you’ll find only one paragraph on enforcement in the record of decision. In it the Forest Service all but admits it can’t enforce the rules. Garcia just hopes that “most people will follow the rules.” She then, in pitch-perfect bureaucratize, describes a forthcoming plan to implement the current plan. “I am confident that our forthcoming implementation plan will help the public understand and comply with the new rules.”
But when joy-riders cut the fences that keep the cattle in the pastures of grazing permittees, it’ll be the Forest Service that claims ignorance. “Gosh darnit!” they’ll tell the permittees “we thought these new rules would stop this! Sorry, but you’ll have to repair the fences. Oh, you know what? Maybe don’t bother. Even though you’ve been grazing animals on this forest since before there actually was a Forest Service, our new Environmental Impact Statement says you’ll have to take those cows off. Sorry, some environmental organizations really just don’t like it when you do that. But look on the bright side: you’ll save money on barbed wire.”
And speaking of those environmental organizations. The fiction that these new “rules” will somehow actually change use patterns on the SFNF has seized the imagination of WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity. Even though the Santa Fe National Forest went from a forest entirely open to cross-country motorized travel (except in the wilderness areas and a few other locations) to one that, on paper, limits motorized travel by half, The “We Speak for Nature” environmentalists characterized the decision as one in which the USFS opened up the forest to “motorheads.”
It was already open—entirely open—to anyone on a motorized vehicle. So why bother with the charade? The answer is that the Center for Biological Diversity doesn’t care about the forests. They’re just interested in having someone to sue. And they make a living playing plaintiff to the Forest Service’s permanent role as defendant.
And even the “motorheads” are unhappy. The New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Association appealed the decision. (Yes, we know what you’re thinking: this is an actual group, and one that has perfected the absurdist rhetoric of alarmism: this from their website— “Motorized recreation on the public lands of New Mexico is under attack right now and all around you. Aligned under the guise of ‘environmentalism’, selfish elitists have determined that you have no right to recreate in your chosen way and are determined to LOCK YOU OUT from enjoying your motorcycle, ATV, snowmobile, or 4WD on public land.” We applaud them for their constraint. CAPS, yes; but no mention of terrorists, the “market” or the use of exclamation points!!)
Now that the decision has been published, the public has 45 days to comment. The USFS plans thirteen public information meetings around the region beginning on July 28 and concluding on Aug. 20 after which they will do exactly what they already plan to do. And then go back to the office.