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NM residents vow to fight forest travel plan

Associated Press Published: October 6, 2012
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Forest officials have denied the claims of discrimination and said the concerns of many groups were considered when crafting the plan, which specifies which roads and trails across the 1.6 million acres of the Santa Fe forest are open to vehicles. The forest held dozens of meetings and received more than 3,000 comments over the last seven years.

The agency reiterated in documents related to the appeal that the Santa Fe forest followed federal laws and policies in developing the travel plan.

While the Forest Service is used to considering scientific denominators such as watersheds or endangered species, critics say getting the agency to give equal weight to factors such as culture and tradition has proven more elusive.

Daniel Patterson, southwest director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said both ranchers and land managers are in a tough situation.

"It's been different from forest to forest. But still, on too many the planning really hasn't done the job of right-sizing the road system," he said. "It's a matter of access and excess, and it's the job of the Forest Service to balance that."

On the Santa Fe National Forest, the travel plan designates nearly 2,500 miles of trails, roads and areas where vehicles are allowed. On Glorieta Mesa, the plan cuts access to illegally created roads but allows all classes of vehicles on the remaining roads.

Mesa residents accuse the Forest Service of turning their community, which is largely made up of Hispanic and low-income families, into "a sacrifice zone" for off-roading.

They had pushed for only street-legal vehicles to be allowed but claim their requests were rebuffed and that derogatory remarks about Mexicans and ranchers were made during conversations with agency employees. Forest officials deny those claims.

"We as minorities have been taking it in the shorts ever since the U.S. government came into our part of the country," Griego said. "It's time for us, as a people and as a culture, to stand up and say enough is enough."

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