The Resource Management Plans addressed, among others, the following resource issues:
How will the BLM manage Travel and Public Access?
Travel management is an important issues for the public and presents a management challenge for the BLM. Many who commented during the public scoping process felt that existing roads and trails should be kept open for public use and, where necessary, maintained, upgraded, or improved to provide safe and efficient public access. Others were opposed to the creation of new roads and/or believed that unnecessary roads should be closed for the protection of resources, particularly those roads that might fragment wildlife habitat or damage archaeological sites or riparian areas.
How will the BLM manage Wilderness Characteristics in the Decision Areas?
A number of individuals and groups voiced their concern for protecting areas with wilderness characteristics in the Decision Areas, specifically in the SDNM. A number of citizen groups and individuals suggested additional wilderness designations during the public scoping period, including the establishment of 16 new wilderness study areas (WSAs) totaling 250,000 acres. Other commenters felt that there is an abundance of existing wilderness, national monuments, wildlife refuges, and other restricted access lands in the region and were opposed to the additional wilderness-related allocations.
How will the BLM address Wildlife Management, including special status species and wildlife water developments in the Decision Areas?
Various wildlife-water development programs, initiated in the 1940s and 1950s throughout the western United States, have provided sources of freestanding water under the assumption that this is a key limiting factor on wildlife populations in arid habitats. Critics have suggested that wildlife water developments have not yielded expected benefits and may negatively influence wildlife by increasing predation, competition, and disease transmission. The scientific community in Arizona, led by the efforts of AGFD, is studying whether water developments are necessary for wildlife, what effect developments might have on populations of non-target animals (e.g., predators), and the development of additional wildlife waters. Scoping comments received regarding wildlife water developments represent both sides of the debate. Some individuals advocated that no new wildlife waters be developed while others stressed the importance of allowing the continued access, maintenance, redevelopment, and/or construction of wildlife waters.
How will Livestock Grazing be addressed in the Decision Areas, particularly in the SDNM?
The scoping process identified livestock grazing as an important issue for a number of people. Many comments pertained to better management of livestock grazing or were in favor of ending livestock grazing on public lands. There were some who advocated prohibiting certain kinds of grazing (e.g., year-round, domestic animals, stock grazing) and those who advocated prohibiting grazing in certain areas (e.g., Sonoran pronghorn and/or desert tortoise habitat, riparian areas), or under certain conditions (e.g., drought, when not sustainable).
The SDNM proclamation mandates that grazing permits on public lands within the Monument south of I-8 will not be renewed at the end of their current term. All of these permits expired in 2008 and 2009. The proclamation also states that grazing on public lands north of I-8 will be allowed to continue only to the extent that the BLM determines that grazing is compatible with the paramount purpose of protecting the Monument objects identified in the proclamation.
How will Renewable and Traditional Energy Facilities and Transmission Corridors be managed?
Given the growth in renewable energy interest in the Sonoran Desert, much concern was expressed regarding utility corridors and some concern was expressed regarding renewable energy, particularly solar sites. The energy-generating and transmission industries urged the BLM to consider the importance of providing additional utility corridors to meet growing demands for electrical energy requirements in Arizona. Others urged the BLM to consolidate requests for new transmission lines within existing utility corridors and to refrain from granting righst-of-way for new corridors. One exception to the opposition to new corridors was a proposal that new transmission lines be accommodated within corridors established within 400 feet of each side of highways.
How will public Recreation Activities be managed?
During public scoping, people reported that they enjoy a wide variety of activities in the Decision Areas, including hiking, hunting, sightseeing, camping, observing wildlife, and OHV use. They expressed desires for continued opportunities for such activities. Many of the comments overlapped with the travel management issues, particularly with regard to OHV use. Some disagreed with the types of recreational activities that should be allowed in the Decision Areas, or specifically on the Monument. Many expressed concern for the management of certain types of recreation to minimize environmental impacts. Some commenters advocated for dispersed recreation, while others advocated for the development of various types of recreational services (e.g., interpretive sites, restrooms, recreational vehicles areas, equestrian facilities, etc.). Some individuals advocated the development of non-motorized recreational opportunities while others preferred motorized forms of recreation. There were comments in support of dispersed, primitive-type camping as well as comments in support of having more developed camping with services and facilities.
While some people indicated that they enjoy recreational shooting within the Decision Areas, others expressed their opposition to recreational shooting due to its resource impacts as well as noise and public safety concerns. The BLM also is concerned with the public safety implications of recreational target shooting and the damage it may cause to resources in the Decision Areas, particularly to Monument objects.
Given the proximity of the Decision Areas to the Phoenix metro area and the increased participation of people in recreation pursuits on public lands over time, ineffective management of visitor activities is recognized as potentially having profound environmental effects on both Decision Areas. These possible effects, along with potential user conflicts, make appropriate management of recreational activities crucial to protecting public resources.