Heavily driven Santa Fe Forest proposes shutting some motorized paths

Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico. Photo by Dylan Hoffman, USFS.

In New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest you’ll find one of the most heavily roaded forests in the southwest. More than 4,470 miles of road braid across its landscape—enough to take you from Santa Fe to Reykjavik, Iceland.

If loads of roads weren’t what you were expecting to find in a national forest, you’ll be happy to know that the forest may soon see a return of roadless areas.

Recently, the forest released an initial plan to close many miles of unnecessary, environmentally damaging roads across the forest.

Beautiful but scarred

Exploring the Santa Fe Forest, you’ll find the Pecos Wilderness, lush meadows, high peaks, conifer forests, a large dormant volcano and lots of wildlife. Hiking the back country could reward you with a glimpse of a black bear scratching its back on a Gambel Oak, a Mexican spotted owl perched in a Douglas fir, a mountain bluebird fluttering through aspen woodlands, or a bighorn sheep grazing the alpine tundra.

Scientists say the forest’s wildlife are highly impacted by unmanaged off-road vehicles, such as dirt bikes and ATVs, as well as hundreds of miles of unnecessary, environmentally damaging roads that crisscross and fragment the forest.

The Forest Service’s plan determines where hikers, campers, wildlife viewers and other quiet recreationists can experience the natural sights, sounds, and smells of nature away from the roar of the off-road vehicles.

The forest is proposing to close many miles of the unnecessary and environmentally damaging roads. Many of the areas the agency is proposing to restore include important wildlife habitat, streams and riparian corridors, and areas central to quiet, non-motorized forest users.

We believe the agency’s proposed plan is a good first step that will improve forest health, enhance the tranquility of the back country experience, and help recede a multi-million dollar road maintenance backlog.

Parts of the Santa Fe National Forest’s proposal could be improved, but we applaud the forest staff for acknowledging the forest must trim back and for deciding to use the travel management planning process to get a handle on their bloated, over-extended route network.

In a world of growing urban populations, it’s important to protect our public lands as refuges for wildlife and for people. The Santa Fe National Forest has taken a good first step towards doing that.

Other forests should follow the Santa Fe’s lead as they undergo travel and recreation management planning.