Forest Service Needs to Clarify Management Plan for the Arizona Trail

Forest Service Needs to Clarify Management Plan for the Arizona Trail
View of the Arizona Trail.

On behalf of more than 2,000 farmer and rancher members across the state, Arizona Farm Bureau recently submitted comments to the United States Forest Service regarding the proposed Arizona National Scenic Trail. Of greatest concern? The Forest Service’s goal to create a one-half mile barrier on either side of the centerline of the trail.

Arizona’s farmers and ranchers are uniquely positioned to understand the desire to enjoy Arizona’s wildlife, wilderness, and scenery. Because their livelihoods depend upon the health and sustainability of the land and water, farmers and ranchers have dedicated their careers to working with the ecosystem to produce safe, affordable, abundant food while preserving Arizona’s natural resources for generations to come.

First, Arizona Farm Bureau is concerned that development of the Arizona Trail will impede the continued success of farming and ranching operations within the trail’s path. Several of the draft’s Goals, Objectives, and Practices highlight these concerns:

·         Reference #4: Practice of establishing a one-half mile barrier on either side of the centerline of the trail as a management corridor

Arizona is no stranger to federally controlled land. Already, more than 38 percent of Arizona’s land is controlled by the federal government. In fact, only 19 percent of the state is privately owned. At 800 miles long, and at a mile wide, the trail would put more than half a million acres under yet another layer of government control. For land users, this means even more red tape, administrative barriers, and regulatory concerns associated with any type of land use.

·         References #7, #10: Practices to minimize the extent and impact of uses adverse to the trail’s purpose

Unfortunately, the goals of the Arizona Trail may pit land users against one another when one desired use conflicts with another. This is a concern especially prevalent among our ranching community, because the trail’s proposed location overlaps with several existing ranches and grazing permits. The nature of Arizona ranching makes minimizing the impact of animals on the trail and in the management corridors is practically impossible. Moreover, an increase in human traffic on the trail (see References # 82–99) in areas that may overlap with existing grazing permits poses safety concerns for both the people along the trail and the animals who graze around it.

Although this may seem like a minor concern, examination of the ranching industry’s impact on Arizona proves that it is anything but minor; cattle and calves are responsible for at least $892 million of Arizona’s $17.1 billion agricultural industry. In 2016, cattle and calf sales surpassed $1 billion, according to the 2016 United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Annual Statistics Bulletin.

“The cattle industry represents a significant piece of Arizona’s economy,” said Arizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers. “It’s unwise to undertake any project, however good intentioned, that may significantly hamper the industry’s continued success.”

Reference #113 suggests that when desired uses conflict, the Forest Service could issue permits for commercial uses consistent with the trail’s goals. Although that sounds like a reasonable solution, the reality of permits is that they are usually slow, ineffective, and difficult to manage. Permits for land use, especially land use that may have existed at the time the trail was developed, are not the answer to managing multiple uses along the trail.

·         Reference #123: preservation of historical and cultural features along the trail

Another stated management goal is to see the “significant cultural and historical features along the Arizona Trail are preserved.” Arizona Farm Bureau applauds this goal, and hopes that in executing it the Forest Service will recognize the significant cultural and historical contributions Agriculture has made to this state. Agriculture was one of the first industries to develop in the state, and the settlement of much of Arizona is directly attributable to agricultural pursuits. Ranching is inextricably intertwined with Arizona’s history. The first permanent ranch in Arizona was founded as long ago as 1872. Agriculture in the form of cotton, citrus, and – especially applicable here – cattle is responsible for three of Arizona’s “five C’s.” “Cowboy Culture” isn’t just a best seller in Hollywood, it’s an Arizona legacy responsible for much of this State’s continued success. To remain true to its stated goals, the USDA must take consider the continued success of agricultural operations within the path of the Arizona Trail a top priority.

Agriculture has always been in Arizona. For proof, one of Arizona’s earliest people groups, the Hohokam, were growing cotton over 1,000 years ago, according to archeological digs in Arizona.

“No one is more appreciative of Arizona’s beauty and landscape than its farmers and ranchers,” Added Rogers. “But public enjoyment of the land must be balanced with all other beneficial uses, including those undertaken by our farmers and ranchers. We urge the Forest Service to clarify the management plan for the Arizona Trail to better reflect the needs of our agricultural industry.”

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