by Brian Ballard
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Recently I attended a public workshop for the Tonto National Forest Plan revision. Here is a recap of that process and how you can get involved in the future.
The Forest Service held a series of well organized meetings across the valley and in nearby communities, including Cave Creek where I was able to attend. They conduct these plan revisions every 15-20 years. It’s a thorough process that involves public input, field research, implementation, and analysis. Upon signing in, we voted on our favorite breakout session topics. The topics included motorized and non-motorized recreation, wilderness thresholds, desert ecology, forest fires, water issues, grazing, and recreational shooting.
The Forest Service had many staff present who gave a brief but thorough presentation on the plan revision process. Their broad overarching goal is to determine how to better manage or adapt policies for a healthier, more productive, and enjoyable public experience. There is no agenda to increase or decrease the boundaries of the Tonto National Forest. One topic that created some confusion, however, was about designated wilderness areas such as the Superstitions. The research gathered in the revision process could suggest new wilderness areas, but it is not the National Forest’s job to change the size of ones that currently exist. Wilderness designations are ultimately controlled by Congress.
It was then time for our breakout sessions. We all had the ability to choose whatever topic we wished- I chose desert ecology/water issues and the broad topic of recreation. Previous online comments generated a handout list of potential subjects and we were encouraged to imagine desired conditions for each topic. A few concerns I brought up concerned climate change, non-native species, the protection of natural springs, and the issue of road access in ecologically sensitive areas. The small groups joined provided a great opportunity for me to give my opinion. Notes were taken on poster paper, and even while others were having a conversation, it was easy to write thoughts down on sticky notes, which were discussed and added to the overall summary.
I had no idea what to expect, but I was impressed by the amount of involvement I had and the organized nature of the process. This Tonto Revision plan is just getting started- there will be two more rounds of public meetings before a final plan is decided upon in late 2018. Explore the links below and keep your eye out for these future opportunities!