It’s been an very wet winter in the high country of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNFs) as the area has received over 8 inches of moisture in the form of rain and snow since last December.
“The most recent snowpack and streamflow forecasts show these areas in excess of 220 perecent of normal,” explains Lakeside District Ranger, Ed Collins; he adds, “These conditions have left the forest roads, trails, and soils very saturated with moisture.” With warmer spingtime temperatures on the rise, the snow is melting—resulting in wet, muddy, and highly unstable ground conditions.
Forest managers are concerned about people traveling in the woods during this time as there is the potential for severe resource damage to occur and there is a high risk to people’s safety. For these reasons, the Forest Service has issued a Forest Order to temporarily close a portion of the roads on the Black Mesa and Lakeside Ranger Districts to wheeled, motorized vehicles until the ground conditions improve and the roads are stable enough to support traffic. Non-motorized traffic, snowmobiles, and authorized emergency vehicles, however, will still be allowed in the closure area. Also, this closure will not affect residents’ access to private property.
This closure will help prevent damage (such as deep ruts) to forest roads, trails, and open areas which can affect the condition of the forest’s soils, vegetation, waterways, and wildlife habitat. As Collins further explains, “Most roads and trails are not surfaced with asphalt or gravel so they are highly susceptible to damage caused by vehicles.
This closure is needed to prevent such damage from occurring.” In addition, the closure will help reduce the risk of people getting stuck and stranded in the woods, which in turn, reduces the risk posed to emergency response personnel who must search for and rescue stranded people in these areas.
The closure area outlined in the Forest Order encompasses the southern portions of the Black Mesa and Lakeside Ranger Districts—about 1/8 of their total acreage. It includes all national forest land between State Highway 260 in the north, the Fort Apache Indian Reservation boundary in the south, Forest Road 300 (near Upper Forest Dale Canyon) in the east, and Forest Road 512 (or the Young Road) in the west.
The remaining 7/8 of the districts will be open for wheeled, motorized traffic; however, these roads may be inaccessible due to snowy/muddy ground conditions. The Forest Service encourages forest users to use good judgment before driving in these areas so they can stay safe and also prevent any resource damage.
For questions about this closure, please contact the local Forest Service offices: Black Mesa Ranger District (928) 535-7300 or Lakeside Ranger District (928) 368-2100. To view a map of the closure area, please visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/conditions