In the coming weeks, the Forest Service will ask the public for input on a proposed Travel Management Rule for the Coronado National Forest.

No, this plan isn't about traffic lights and stop signs. It's about managing motorized recreation in balance with other forest uses and values. More than that, it's about hiking, camping, clean water, clean air and protecting wildlife habitat.

Or at least it should be.

The idea for Travel Management surfaced in 1972 in an executive order from President Richard M. Nixon directing the Forest Service to address unmanaged motorized recreation.

More than 30 years later, the Forest Service finally identified unmanaged motorized recreation as one of four key threats to our national forests. Off-road vehicle use is a well-documented cause of wildlife-habitat fragmentation and erosion that harms water quality, and managing roads is an expensive endeavor.

Long overdue, travel management is an important opportunity for the Coronado National Forest to "right-size" its overblown and unmanageable road system to protect the forest for a variety of uses and for future generations.

But something isn't adding up.

The Coronado National Forest's 2009 proposal for travel management in the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountains left nearly every mile of road on the ground open to off-road vehicles and did little to protect natural resources.

The Forest Service is even considering adding new miles of roads to its already unmanageable system.

You could drive from Tucson to Flagstaff on the miles of roads in the forest around Tucson. That is simply too many miles of road for a healthy forest.

Not only is this plan environmentally harmful, it is fiscally irresponsible. The Forest Service can afford to maintain just 9 percent of its roads, meaning hundreds of miles of road in the Catalina Mountains are falling into disrepair.

Forest-wide, the Coronado needs more than $5 million annually for adequate maintenance but gets just $700,000. This wide gap between what is needed and what the Forest Service receives has resulted in a maintenance backlog of nearly $9 million.

Anyone who has driven up the back side of Mount Lemmon or taken a trip to Redington Pass has clearly seen the impacts of this lack of maintenance and the resultant risks to the public.

The Coronado Planning Partnership, a local group that cares about the future integrity of the forest, asked the Forest Service to look at an alternative plan that would do a much better job of protecting clean water and wildlife while providing the public with access to our public lands.

We hope the Forest Service will take a hard look at our proposal and realize that this more fiscally responsible plan is a better course of action.

We are asking the people of Tucson to get involved and ask the Forest Service to protect the quiet forests and healthy landscapes we all enjoy so close to home.

Let the Forest Service know the long-term health and productivity of public lands should be the priority guiding their decisions. We encourage you to contact the Forest Service and support the Coronado Planning Partnership's proposal.

More information

Louise Misztal is writing on behalf of the Coronado Planning Partnership, a group of organizations and individuals in the Sky Island region of Southern Arizona who share a concern for the natural and cultural heritage of the Coronado National Forest. More information is available at www.sky islandaction.org

More information on the Coronado plan is available at www.fs.fed.us/r3/ coronado/travel/index.shtml