Tonto National Forest finalizes analysis for revised forest plan
PHOENIX – On March 25 the USDA Forest Service released the final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision for the Tonto National Forest revised land management plan. Commonly referred to as the forest plan, it reflects the significant economic, social and ecological changes that have occurred in central Arizona since the original forest plan was approved in 1985.
Neil Bosworth, Tonto National Forest Supervisor, said this milestone culminates seven years of environmental analysis, public engagement and community involvement.
“The forest plan was developed with federal, local, state and tribal governments, as well as stakeholder groups and community members,” Bosworth said. “The plan’s framework recognizes current issues, the value of wilderness, sustainable recreation, traditional and cultural uses, and supports local economies while fostering a healthier and more sustainable Tonto National Forest. It shows that we can balance the need for economic development with active management to maintain healthy forest ecosystems.”
The forest plan provides direction for the long-term management of the Tonto by delineating the desired conditions, goals, objectives, standards and guidelines that will guide management activities across the forest for the next 10 to 15 years.
Chapters 2 and 3 of the forest plan outline objectives that represent projects or activities intended to be accomplished during the 10- to 15-year period. Objectives are listed by resource area. For example, an objective under the recreation resource area is to develop at least one new partnership each year with a local organization or club who will provide quality, long-term volunteer services and projects for the Tonto. An objective under vegetation ecological response units is to restore at least 500 acres of semidesert grasslands over a 10-year period.
Under the new forest plan, the Tonto is projected to support about 3,300 jobs and generate an estimated $174 million in labor income annually through mining, livestock grazing, forest products and sustainable recreation. It also promotes an “all-lands” approach to meeting shared goals across the landscape. This means working with partners and neighboring landowners to improve forest conditions, reduce fire risk and make the forest more resilient to drought, flooding, insects and disease. Other priorities include restoring riparian areas and preserving the special characteristics of designated wilderness and eligible wild and scenic rivers, while providing for sustainable recreation in these areas.
The next step in the plan revision process is a 60-day objection period. This officially starts with the March 25 publication of the legal notice in the Arizona Capitol Times. Parties who submitted substantive comments during the 90-day comment period on the draft plan and draft environmental impact statement have standing to file an objection.
For specific requirements on filing an objection, visit the Forest Plan Revision page on the Tonto website, review 36 CFR 219 or the legal notice. Once any objections are resolved or responded to, the Tonto will publish the final forest plan and final ROD. The forest supervisor’s signature on the ROD brings the entire forest plan revision process to an end, and implementation can begin.
National forests are required to have a land management plan that reflects changes in forest conditions and public use as well as current science. The final environmental impact statement, draft record of decision and other project documents are located onthe Tonto website’s planning page.