I’m not in the habit of writing letters to the editor, but there are times when I feel compelled to speak out on an issue. I am passionate about my faith, my family and my country; however, as one of my cowboy friends says, “this is likely to plow up a snake.”
I am strongly opposed to the U.S. Forest Service “Travel Management Plan.” I believe this plan will have adverse consequences on residents and visitors who have historically had access to our public lands. It appears to be another restrictive Washington-dictated plan by bureaucrats who have no firsthand knowledge of the West.
I am fortunate to have been a resident of northern Arizona since 1942 and served this area for 44 years in law enforcement. Lumber, ranching, the railroad, tourism and our natural resources have all contributed to the vitality and growth of our region. I have enjoyed personal friendships with many of the early ranchers and pioneer families and value the rich stories of our past.
Over the years I have sketched, painted and photographed old barns, structures and beautiful hand-hewn log cabins built by individuals who carved out a life in these mountains. My family and I would enjoy picnics in the old Hochderffer Barn during a summer shower. I have a photograph of the old Grand Canyon Stage Stop Cabin where travelers could spend the night before continuing on the dusty ride to visit the canyon.
These beautiful historic places no longer exist. They were demolished under the policy of “returning the land to its natural state.” Translated, this means you destroy the structure and burn the remains. The policy of continuing to close off public access to these areas is a preview to the consequences of the proposed Travel Management Plan.
In my years of law enforcement, I traveled over many miles of forest roads and observed people from all walks of life enjoying their backcountry experiences. Hikers, bikers, family picnics, hunters, young and old, all engaged in their activities on our public lands.
My experience has been that the vast majority of forest users are good stewards of our resources, they don’t start forest fires; they clean up their campsite; and don’t vandalize public property (obviously, there are exceptions and these individuals should be dealt with accordingly).
Simply stated, I view the U.S. Forest Service role as that of managers, not owners. The historic right of access to use and enjoy our public lands must be protected.
In my many years as sheriff, my office worked cooperatively with forest officials and I continue to enjoy personal friendship with many of their personnel. Issues like forest fires, traffic accidents, search and rescue and other operations require close working relationships. My complaint is not against the individuals in our region, it’s against the federal policy of continual encroachment, closure and restrictions by FIAT! This will result in otherwise law-abiding citizens becoming violators.
This is all about the reduction of grazing rights, the “taking” of private property, expansion of wilderness areas, the consequences of the Endangered Species Act, environmental extremists, the impact of the Water Rights Law and the “over reach” of federal authority. This is a fight over who will control millions of acres of western land. This should get our attention. The real goal is to drive people off the land and return it to its “pre-civilization” state.
I am hoping that citizens will stand up and oppose the federal policy of restricting access to our public lands. If public opposition is strong enough, perhaps we can get local, as well as state and national elected officials to join in this battle and have it rescinded.
It has been my life-long pleasure to explore the beautiful country that God has given us in northern Arizona and I would like to assure that our children and grandchildren have the same opportunity to enjoy these lands for future generations.
Joe D. Richards, retired sheriff,