Being the fifth largest national forest in the United States and having nearly six million visitors annually, the Tonto National Forest is in an ongoing struggle to maintain the almost three million acres of breathtaking, beautiful country, ranging from the low elevation of our scorching desert to the post card environment of the Rim Country we call home.
The result of being such a diverse forest, and having a boundary to the nation's fourth most populated county is the fact that OHV (off-highway vehicles) traveling on, and more importantly off, of forest roads, is leading to major deforestation. It is no wonder that OHV travel (unmanaged recreation) is now classified as one of the four major threats to the forest along with forest fires, invasive or disease-carrying species (i.e. Bark Beetle), and loss of open space.
The deforestation comes from hunters who want to go that extra half mile to their favorite hunting or glassing spot, four-wheel enthusiasts looking for that new challenging trail, or simply people who think they can make it through that mud puddle blocking the road. This all leads to our forest roads looking hideous and sometimes unmanageable, and when reading a map it may seem more like a maze.
Traveling off of the numbered roads on your OHV seems ironic to me because there are plenty of forest roads for travel. The Tonto National Forest has enough forest roads to expand from Payson to New York City and back.
Even though U.S. Forest Service plans to
revise their forest roads under the travel management plan, cutting back and blocking off certain roads, it is ultimately left up to the operators of the off-highway vehicles to determine the fate of the forest roads. Will they obey the signs blocking off their secret place in nature, or will they understand that all this strategic planning is in the best interest of future generations?
So, next time you have the privilege to visit the beautiful outdoors, just remember that without the proper use, our forest will no longer be beautiful. Don't be tempted by that set of quad tracks cutting across that wide-open meadow. Let's all put forth an effort to help preserve the forest for many years to come.
-- Luke Apfel is a freshman at Northern Arizona University. He is a 2005 Payson High School graduate.