Aug 3, 2011

Washington, DC (August 3, 2011) Last week, during a hearing of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, Congressman Steve Pearce questioned Harris Sherman, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), on issues of importance to New Mexico.

During the exchange, Rep. Pearce asked Undersecretary Sherman whether vehicles could travel in roadless areas.  Sherman answered that “vehicles are allowed to travel on existing roads.”  In light of attempts by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to close roads throughout the Gila, Rep. Pearce promised to make the testimony public to residents of New Mexico.

“The Forest Service has bullied the people of New Mexico into believing that they can close our roads—roads that allow families, the elderly, and the disabled to enjoy nature like everyone else,” said Pearce.  “It is a welcoming update that the USDA has provided information to the contrary.  I am encouraged to hear that New Mexicans will be able to continue to use our roads to access and enjoy the treasures of this great state.”

Additionally, according to a survey of local law enforcement agencies and departments conducted by Mike Skidmore of the grassroots organization “Keep Our Forest Open,” it appears that there will be no effort to enforce any new roadless rules put forth by the Forest Service’s proposed travel management . 

"I have spoken to several sheriffs’ departments in the surrounding counties that currently patrol the Gila, and they have indicated to our organization that they do not plan on enforcing the new roadless rules should they be implemented," said Skidmore.

Sierra County Sheriff Joe Baca confirmed this information.  “If the Forest Service goes forward with their Travel Management Plan, then my deputies will not be out there keeping people off the roads,” said Baca.  “I will send back the $16,000 I’m given for forest patrols.  I have better things to do—preventing real crimes—than keeping people out of the forest.”

Rep. Pearce’s office has heard an outcry from constituents upset about Forest Service proposals to close roads in the Gila National Forest.  In March, over 700 New Mexicans attended a rally to protest the closures.  Rep. Pearce has been an outspoken opponent of the closures, saying that our forests should be open for everyone to enjoy.