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6:57 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

BLM extends comment period on closing 1,630 miles of trails

ATV riders enjoy some of the 5,500 miles of trails on public land in Mohave County. The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to close 1,630 miles of trails in its travel management plan. (Daily Miner file photo)

ATV riders enjoy some of the 5,500 miles of trails on public land in Mohave County. The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to close 1,630 miles of trails in its travel management plan. (Daily Miner file photo)

KINGMAN – The people’s voice was heard by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which has extended the comment period on its travel management plan that would close 1,630 miles of trails in Mohave County to Nov. 30.

The deadline was extended by 60 days to improve public participation and “to be a good neighbor,” BLM officials said in a press release.

The travel management plan is an environmental assessment of BLM land in Mohave County, including some 5,500 miles of recreational trails, primitive routes and emergency roads.

They’re winding through the desert and mountains surrounding Kingman, Golden Valley, Dolan Springs, Meadview, White Hills, Wikieup and Bullhead City.

Robert Smith, a resident of Bullhead City who’s involved in numerous off-road riding groups, said he spends hundreds of hours with his wife in their Jeep exploring this “wonderful desert.”

“Imagine if the BLM said we’re secretly closing 30 percent of Arizona’s roadways and oh, by the way, we’re giving you three weeks to comment on our plan,” Smith said at the Sept. 17 Mohave County Board of Supervisors meeting. “This process is very confusing.”

The BLM has extended comment periods for travel management plans in the past, said Valerie Gohlke, spokeswoman for the BLM Field Office in Kingman. The Bouse Cactus travel management plan was extended by 45 days, and others have been extended as well, she said.

“What is important to know is that we have required deadlines where we are under an obligation to finish an environmental assessment in 180 days,” Gohlke said in an email to the Daily Miner.

She said it would be improbable to extend the comment period for 180 days, as board Chairman Gary Watson said he would have liked.

“Even when the comment period is extended, we continue working on the TMP,” Gohlke said.

The process starts with an inventory of trails, then BLM specialists discuss the contents of each trail for biological, environmental and archeological concerns and whether there are any hazards on the trail.

Comments from the public, especially ranchers, hikers, outdoor recreationists, off-road enthusiasts and clubs are encouraged and the final plan will reflect that input, Gohlke said.

If the BLM decides to close a trail, it would simply be unmarked and not maintained by the agency. A closed trail would simply happen when the natural vegetation overgrows or if a natural event such as a flood or high water washes out the trail and it becomes inaccessible.

“The trails would not be physically blocked except for compelling reasons, like if a trail leads recreationists over a cliff or other known safety hazards, or for sensitive resource protection,” Gohlke noted.

Mohave County supervisors passed a resolution Sept. 17 opposing the BLM’s efforts to close RS 2477 rights of way and all other roads and trails within the draft travel management plan, and urges the office to keep the remaining roads and trails open unless there is a compelling reason for closure.

The board recommends BLM work with county staff to identify RS 2477 rights of way to remain open.

Revised Statute 2477 is a complex and controversial issue with far-reaching implications for the management of federal land. It was enacted by Congress in 1866 to encourage settlement of the West by establishing a network of roadways.

Steve Latoski, director of Mohave County Public Works, said his staff found 172 miles of trails that have been established by RS 2477, and the county may be able to assert its right-of-way use of those trails.

BLM Field Manager Amanda Dodson, Assistant Field Manager Chris Bryan and Recreation Specialist Matt Driscott met with county representatives early in September to discuss the trail plan.

“The BLM is a multiple-use agency, so we try to propose action where we’re managing for resources, but recognizing there’s a valid existing right with public access, and we want to hear from the public as to why they want a route to stay open or to close it,” Vohlke said.

Most importantly, the travel management plan is adaptable over time and could be updated should it be necessary, she added.

The public may send written comments to Kingman Field Office, 2755 Mission Blvd., Kingman, Arizona, 86401. They can also fax comments to 928-718-3761, or email to blm¬_az_kfo_tmp_comment@blm.gov.

At their Monday meeting, Mohave County Supervisors directed the establishment of a Public Lands and Recreation Commission, development of bylaws and defined the membership structure.

The initial focus of the commission will be to advise on the TMP and to address matters relating to preserving, developing and promoting public access, recreation, non-motorized travel, and off-highway vehicle use for public enjoyment, safety, and personal well-being on public lands.

“While Mohave County recognizes the importance of ensuring the future productivity of public lands, we are also interested in protecting the revenues generated by additional room nights, VLT dollars, HURF revenues as well as the shopping and dining that occurs in our local communities,” Mohave County Administration said in a press release.