The consequences of inaction are enormous: the further destruction of historic sites, continued degradation of scenic beauty by uninformed overuse, the constant threat of tragically destructive wildfires, and the steady diminishment of visitor and resident experience as a result of overcrowding, traffic, trash, graffiti, and crime are all indications that protection is needed now.
HIGHEST LEVEL OF PROTECTION
A direct consequence of inaction is the risk of not having the highest level of protection possible. The monument designation provides the highest level of permanent protection other than a wilderness designation. This is a considerably higher level of protection than Amendment 12 provides.
Amendment 12 can be changed by an administrative process totally within the United States Forest Service. The administrative process has become even more controversial since recent United States Supreme Court Rulings ( Amendment 12 ). A change to a monument status requires either an act of Congress signed by the President or another proclamation by a sitting President.
THE CURRENT PLAN IS NOT WORKING
We do not want to place ourselves in the same position as those who failed to look into the future and plan appropriately. The 1998 Decision Notice for Amendment 12 states: “In 1987, when the Coconino National Forest Plan was finalized, few people foresaw the immense impact human activities would have on these lands. Nor did anyone anticipate the increased population and changes to tourism.” As we look back on Amendment 12 it now appears that it was a good attempt to identify how to manage our lands but it too has fallen short.
The lack of significant improvement has not been due to the resolve of the Forest Service but to increasing demands on our region that have so profoundly impacted the forest and residents’ lives. Additionally, the National Forest Service, even before the economic recession of 2008, has been the target of historical funding cuts.
The new Coconino National Forest Land Management Plan (Plan) clearly identifies that in many areas we are not reaching the goals and objectives envisioned by previous plans and Amendment 12. There have been improvements but the same issues still exist and many have just gotten worse. More importantly the new plan is a departure in management approach.
The National Forest Service has developed new planning regulations. As part of that process the focus of new planning will be “Desired Conditions” or goals. According to the Plan: “Desired conditions are the focus of this plan; management of the Coconino NF’s resources will be directed toward achieving the desired conditions.”
The Plan also indicates: “Desired conditions are the basis for the other plan components and describe the framework for future projects and activities. They are aspirations and not commitments…” We should also be aware that by nature they are very subjective and open to different interpretations. The Plan also highlights continuing concerns about staffing levels and short-term budgets. The Plan states: “Management approaches are strongly influenced by recent trends, past experiences, anticipated staffing levels and short-term budgets.”
PROTECTING OUR HERITAGE
There is increasing vandalism to archeological heritage sites. The American Antiquities Act of 1906 allows the President of the United States to proclaim a National Monument (link to antiquities act). One of the overriding issues for the designation is a higher priority for preservation and protection of archeological sites.
PRIORITY FOR FUNDING
A national monument designation does not necessarily mean that Congress will provide additional funding. However in practice the designation will allow the monument to have a higher priority for special programs, grants and private funding. There are also other federal and state agencies who may provide funding for issues such as transportation, natural resource preservation, scientific study and antiquities monitoring, inventory and protection. Without the designation our region will continue to have to compete for funding at a lower priority.
INCREASING POPULATION CONCERNS
As stewards of this unique environment, numerous heritage sites, riparian and wildlife habitat and scenery we need to do all we can to preserve and protect it for future generations. Without the strongest possible special designation this will not happen. It is projected that Arizona’s population will increase to an estimated 12 million by 2060 and to 18 million by 2110. The priority that a monument designation gives our region will allow us to protect an environment that is already under threat with a state population of 6.6 million. The highest percentage of visitors we have to this region are day use. This population increase will just increase the pressures on the forest and our citizens’ quality of life. Additionally, we should take into account the millions of people moving into areas within an 8 hour drive of the proposed monument.
RESIDENTS QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES
Consequences of inaction range from inability to solve our transportation needs, continued impacts to our neighborhoods and inability to enjoy the reasons why we moved here in the first place. There is a real need to find a proper balance between residents’ quality of life and how the national forest impacts our daily lives. Some feel inaction will lead to less visitation due to traffic congestion, noise, poor trails, water quality issues and the inability to get away from their hectic lives in urban areas.
Do we really want to see all these negative impacts happen only to find out that what we wish for will also be the reason we no longer want to live here? Without planning and responsible funding our quality of life will continue to suffer. As Albert Einstein stated: “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.” The issue, though, is not just planning but planning so change can occur. Do we really want to test the tipping point where so much damage has been done that going back will not be an alternative?
HOW DO WE PUT OURSELVES IN A POSITION TO SUCCEED?
A consequence of inaction is that we will not be using all available resources to preserve and protect our forest lands and quality of life. The challenge before us is at best difficult. We should be using every available tool to assist us in meeting our objectives. A National Monument designation along with its identified planning and priority advantages will allow for a higher level of protection, funding options and other resources than we have available today under the new Coconino National Forest Plan.
THE RISKS ARE REAL
Examples of why the risks are real:
Despite the best efforts of the Forest Service, there is a current and continuing need to address each of the areas listed below. They have been chronically underfunded and cannot keep up with the challenges they face from ever increasing visitation, lower funding and population expansion.
Need for Increased Education
- Education will lead to higher level for visitor experience
- An educated visitor and forest user will lessen impacts on the forest and neighborhoods
- Help promote a sustainable environment
- Is a less expensive alternative to increased maintenance and restoration
- Interpretive outreach at trailheads using onsite technology to update changing conditions and needs in real time
- Increased signage for trails, hazardous conditions, sensitive areas and other needs of the forest
- Trail etiquette
- Litter control
- A proactive approach that leads to cost savings and resource protection
- Due to current staffing levels, enforcement and prevention are inadequate
- Increasing population and visitation will require a higher level of prevention outreach for public safety and fire prevention
- In the last decade, Sedona, Village of Oak Creek and Oak Creek Canyon have seen four wildfires that resulted in over 30,000 acres destroyed
- Need for new methods to protect archeological sites and other sensitive areas from vandalism
- Resource protection needs will continue to increase
- Need for more uniformed officers on patrol
- There is a need for action vs. planning. A monument designation will help to prioritize this region for funding to address parking, shuttles, highway signage prior to arriving in monument area and other alternatives. We are in a very competitive environment with increasing needs for solutions. Transportation has a profound impact on our resident’s quality of life and visitor experience
- Use of technology can help maximize current limited funding. Options include monitors at parking areas so information can be given to motorists about current conditions via radio, visitor centers and current interstate message signage.
- There is a currently inadequate funding for maintaining forest service roadways
- Required to meet increasing legal and regulatory requirements
- Resource monitoring
- Habitat preservation and protection
- Trash and recreation site upkeep
- Watershed preservation and protection
- Historical sites
- Provide for solutions to backlog of repairs and improvement