Three years ago, the Forest Service staged a series of forums where Rim Country residents pleaded for any plan that would provide at least some access to Fossil Creek.
This week, the Forest Service returned with the result of three years of pondering. Every option sharply limited access to Fossil Creek from the Tonto National Forest and Rim Country.
Fossil Creek Project Lead Beth Dykstra, who works for the Coconino Forest, on Tuesday said those comments from three years ago had too narrow a focus.
“They only looked at recreation,” she told an audience of 30 that showed up to the Payson Senior Center on Sept. 3.
Dykstra said the Forest Service has to expand its view of managing the area because the federal government has labeled Fossil Creek one of two Wild and Scenic Rivers in Arizona. So the Forest Service must consider both the mandates of the Wild and Scenic River Act and the various forest plans, said Dykstra.
“We have to think outside the box,” she said of the approach the agency is taking, “These are not alternatives, they are just ideas. This was our attempt to stretch beyond recreation.”
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act requires the agency to “protect and enhance the river’s free flowing condition, water quality and ORVs (outstandingly remarkable values).”
The six “outstandingly remarkable values” include: scenery, recreation, geology, fish, wildlife, historical, cultural and other values.
Dykstra and her staff hung posters of the seven Forest Service conceptual ideas. With the plans as backdrop, Dykstra told the crowd again and again that these were concepts only. She assured the audience the final product could look significantly different from anything on the walls.
“What we want to do is blend something from each,” she said.
As she completed her presentation, the questions started:
“Where will you get the money?”
“Why is access considered negligent?”
“It appears recreation is not expressed.”
“You’re going to send all the business through Camp Verde.”
“Why are we having a dog and pony show?”
Dykstra and Payson Ranger District Head Ranger Angie Elam patiently answered questions.
“I understand your frustration,” said Dykstra, “but Fossil Creek needs a management plan that falls within the constraints we have.”
Dykstra did say the Forest Service knows it cannot fund the plans without partnerships. She encouraged those present to write down any ideas they had, such as approaching Gila County to maintain the road from Strawberry. The price tag to keep the road clear of rocks and graded is estimated at $180,000, based on the cost to Arizona Public Service when it operated a power plant in the bottom of the canyon.
‘That’s a great idea, write it down,” she would say over and over to suggestions from the audience.
But the audience was skeptical, especially when they ticked off the facts of the last three years of Fossil Creek management.
The road from Strawberry has been closed for the last three seasons with no discussion on how to keep it open.
The Forest Service has not contacted any Rim Country volunteer groups to ask for help, except for Tonto Rim Search and Rescue and the Mounted Posse. These volunteer groups rescue people almost every weekend in the summer.
None of the suggestions made by Rim Country residents were acknowledged or incorporated in the seven plans.
Business in the Rim Country has suffered and the Forest Service offers no ideas to turn around the situation.
At the end of the meeting, Forest Service staff and attendees agreed something had to be done about the trash, human waste and damage to the environment the 90,000 visitors each year inflict on the pristine site.
But Dykstra admitted that despite the long delay the Forest Service has so far conducted no long-term studies to quantify the damage or the cost of the various plans.
“Right now we’re doing an analysis,” she said, “Each specialist will do their modeling and put it all together in an environmental analysis.
Dykstra said the Forest Service is on track to make a decision by the fall of 2014.
The deadline for comments is Tuesday, Sept. 10. After that, the Forest Service staff will still accept comments but cannot guarantee those late comments will be taken into consideration.
Concerned citizens may hand deliver comments to the Coconino Nation Forest Supervisor’s office (1824 S. Thompson St. Flagstaff, AZ 86001, Attn: Fossil Creek CRMP ID Team) or e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For questions on the hearings, please contact Jean Szymanski, Public Affairs Office, Forest Service – Southwestern Region (505) 842-3325.
To find out more information on the project, including past actions and suggestions, please view this Web site: Fossil Creek Comprehensive River Management Plan - http://www.fs.usda .gov/detail/coconino/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprdb5410835.