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Arizona Rivers Need Protection, Public Comments Due March 12

Posted: 03/10/2020
By: Kestrel Kunz

The Tonto National Forest is accepting public comments on their forest-wide management plan revision until March 12 - just 6 more days! On December 13, 2019 they officially released the Draft Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIS) for a 90-day comment period. Forest Plans are vitally important as they are the blueprint for resource management and they provide an opportunity to secure better protections for rivers and their surrounding landscapes. As part of the plan revision process, the Forest Service is required to rely heavily on public input to inform management direction, plan components, and new designated areas. These are our public lands and we have an important role to play in how they are managed. Use this super easy comment form to tell the Forest Service what you think! 

If you are a local Arizona boater, or have had the lucky opportunity to paddle the Salt River, or if you've chased storms across state lines to catch Arizona's famed creeks, or maybe you just have a fervid love for America's public lands and the wild, free flowing rivers and creeks that run through them. No matter the case, these rivers and their surrounding landscapes need your voice

The Tonto National Forest is home to some of America's most classic and most unique rivers. The Forest is home to the Salt River's classic multi-day run, which flows through the eastern portion of the Forest. The Wild and Scenic Verde River and Fossil Creek run through the heart of the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix, with additional segments of the Verde being studied for Wild and Scenic Eligibility in this Draft Plan. The Tonto is also home to numerous, well-renowned creeks including Salome Creek (The Jug), Tonto Creek (including Hellsgate), East Verde River, Sycamore Creek, and Ellis Creek. Some of these rivers attract paddlers from all over the country and some of them are so unique and challenging they have only been braved in recent years - and they all deserve protection. 

In addition to protecting these mainstem rivers and creeks, we need to protect the headwaters and small streams that feed into them. The recent Clean Water Act rollbacks under the current administration pose a threat to all ephemeral (i.e., storm-driven) and intermittent (i.e., seasonal) streams in the nation. Ephemeral and intermittent streams make up a significant majority of streams in the Southwestern U.S. and over 94% of streams in Arizona. Because of this rollback, it is more important now than ever that the Forest Service employ stronger protections for these sensitive streams and the important watersheds they support. 

Here are some key talking points for commenting on the Tonto National Forest Draft Plan and DEIS:

  • The Draft Plan needs stronger protections for rivers, riparian areas, and sustainable recreation
  • The Wild and Scenic Eligibility inventory is missing key data and justification. The Forest Service needs to inform the public why streams were considered not to have Outstandingly Remarkable Values and which factors were considered. 
  • Multiple geographical scales (local, regional, national) should be used to evaluate Outstandingly Remarkable Values in order to adequately assess the important and unique values that exist on the Tonto's rivers. 
  • Strongly support Wild and Scenic eligibility determinations on the Lower Salt River, Upper Salt River, Lower Tonto Creek, Upper Tonto Creek, Salome Creek, and the Verde River. 
  • The Forest Service fails to recognize paddling as a form of recreation that is Outstandingly Remarkable on the Lower Tonto, Salome Creek, and the Upper Tonto. These river segments provide very unique paddling opportunities in remote and scenic canyons. 
  • Numerous rivers are missing from the Wild and Scenic Eligibility Inventory, including rivers and creeks with high quality paddling opportunities. The East Verde River, Christopher Creek, Ellison Creek, and Sycamore Creek all have values that meet the level of Outstandingly Remarkable and should be determined as eligible for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System. 
  • Ephemeral and Intermittent streams need much stronger protection throughout the Draft Plan. These streams are critical components of their larger watersheds and they support unique habitat and ecology. Stricter regulation on anthropogenic disturbances are needed to adequately protect these important streams. 
  • The Tonto NF has recommended just 10% of wilderness quality lands for designation, a mere 43,000 acres of the Nation's fifth largest National Forest. The Tonto must recommend dramatically more lands for Wilderness protection, or risk losing these core reserves to motorized recreation, unsustainable grazing and hard rock mining.
  • Add your own personal touch! If you are familiar with any of the rivers within the Tonto National Forest then share your experiences and tell the Forest Service why these places are important to you. These are our public lands, afterall. 

American Whitewater has put together this online comment tool to make it easier for you to submit comments to the Forest Service. Follow the link and speak up for these rivers now. Make sure to personalize your comments as much as possible. 

Kestrel Kunz

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