Public Agency Speaker: District Ranger, Amy Tinderholt of the USFS Red Rock District
Camille welcomed District Ranger Amy Tinderholt, along with Chris Johanson, USFS Recreation and Kevin Kuhl, USFS Trails. The presentation covered updates on the APS 69kV powerline, West Sedona designated camping project, Sedona trailhead shuttle, collaborative planning for OHV management and added staffing for wildfire prevention in the Verde Valley.
Click HERE to download presentation slide deck.
APS 69kV Powerline: The main concerns from citizens regarding the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) were wildfire risk and impacts on scenery, cultural resources, wildlife, soil and water, recreation resources (Kel Fox Trail) and visual concerns both from residences and the Forest. Consideration of a “micro-grid power system in lieu of the proposed powerline” was also voiced. At this point the USFS is working to better understand the issues raised and to complete their environmental surveys with an eye toward the potential effects of the proposed actions. She emphasized that a part of this process will be further communication with the Village of Oakcreek. After the Draft Decision is issued, parties who submitted comments previously on the Draft EA who feel their stated concerns were not fully addressed will have 45 days to submit arguments. BPRCC submitted comments and has the option to respond to the Draft Decision.
West Sedona Designated Camping Project: Chris Johanson reviewed the project, noting that high use has resulted in an increased number of undeveloped camping areas. To contain fire risk and protect wildlife habitat, rangeland and cultural resources, a large site in West Sedona will be closed (31,400 acres) and replaced with eight designated smaller camping areas (pods), allowing for 150-200 campsites. The new areas will be fortified with boulders to reduce potential expansion beyond the designated sites. In answer to a question about increased camping in the Beaverhead Flat area, he explained that as one area is closed, spill-over into other areas can be expected. The USFS will be monitoring the situation carefully and adjusting the allocations as needed. Click here for additional details and map.
Trailhead Shuttles: The two initial shuttles (Posse Ground to Soldiers Pass, Dry Creek and Mescal Trailheads and 179 at Bowstring to Cathedral and Little Horse Trailheads) were explained, noting that when they are in operation, Cathedral and Soldier Pass Trailhead parking lots will be closed. Increased recreation traffic to the trail system at the end of Verde Valley School Road is a community concern, and Amy agreed that spillover is expected. She emphasized that this is a learning process with adjustments expected over time. She confirmed that designated horse trailer parking will be maintained. In response to a question on trash, Amy noted that “leave no trace” educational efforts are ongoing. Shuttle stops and many – but not all -trailheads have trash bins that are frequently serviced.
Collaborative Planning for OHV Management: A shared path forward among many stakeholders is now in process with a projected timeline of 6-18 months. A number of organizations have stepped up with enthusiasm to assist. In answer to questions regarding a hiatus or pause in OHV’s on the damaged forest service roads, Amy explained that all licensed passenger vehicles (including OHV’s) have equal right to use forest service roads that are managed for passenger vehicles. It is possible however to limit access to roads designated for high clearance vehicles (eg Broken Arrow), but the regulation process can take years to complete.
Wildfire Mitigation Staff: The presentation concluded with good news that the USFS will be recruiting for five new permanent positions this Spring and six new temporary/seasonal crew members next Spring. The additional staff will expand their ability to provide community Firewise programs. In answer to a question on prescribed burns, Amy noted that we can expect more this summer.
During the general question period an issue was raised regarding signage for dangerously narrow trail areas that do not permit step off for passing, with the comment that some recent trail re-routes have resulted in increased peril for equestrians. Kevin Kuhl responded that they try to strike a balance between safety and sign pollution, and not every hazard is sign-posted. Amy offered that the FS cannot set the expectation that all hazards are signed. The national forest and trail use is inherently risky. Amy is willing to better understand the concern from equestrian users.