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Forest Service report of meeting with Catron County about Catwalk

Meeting between Catron County (County Commissioner Van “Bucky” Allred, Businessman Darrel Allred,
and County Sheriff Shawn Menges)

US Forest Service, Glenwood Ranger District
Pat Morrison, District Ranger

June 11, 2013

Pat Morrison presented the “decision tree” flowchart for closing the Catwalk in response to predicted rainfall events to the Catron County representatives.  Catron County promised to supply an electronic sign with changing message at the junction of US180 and NM 174.  County would, if necessary, change message daily to reflect status of Catwalk. 

They made the following suggestions that would help the local economy but preserve safety for visitors:

1.    Apply the decision tree criteria year round, including the monsoon season.

County rationale.  Historically monsoon season is least likely to result in a severe flood.  Flooding of Whitewater Creek has typically occurred as a result of a tropical storm with soils saturated by previous storms.  Cumulative prior rainfall is considered in the decision tree.  This decision tree should be applicable year round.  

District Ranger comments.  Suggestion seems reasonable.  Though specific cell locations cannot be predicted, the weather service can predict likely severity of storms “over the Gila Mountains and/or over the burn scar” which could be used to supply the trigger points on the decision tree.   Recommend accept suggestion.

2.    Change the criteria to be less conservative.  Predicted rainfall by percent likelihood should be 0-20%, 20-50% and more than 50%.

County Rationale.  Forest Service has no specific rationale for choosing 10% and 40% as breakpoints.  Weather predictions include higher predictive rates.  County can support what they consider to be very conservative rainfall amounts as long as likelihood percentage is less conservative.  Ranger has authority to use judgment to close facility if conditions appear hazardous or if rainfall is cumulative.

District Ranger comments.  I am using the daily fire weather forecast to keep apprised of predicted rainfall events.  I do not have any specific rationale for choosing 10% and 40% as break points as opposed to 20% and 50%.  I have no data on accuracy of weather predictions to indicate preference for either.  10% difference either way probably wouldn’t matter in the long run.  

3.    Have Catwalk open to octagon in mornings only during predicted monsoon events.  Rain typically occurs after 1:00 pm so Catwalk could be open to octagon and visitors could be easily notified and out before the rains come (this would apply only when closure criteria met, not every day.  Gold Dust Trail and the upper Catwalk trail would be closed before dark the previous day.  

County rationale:  Instead of closing the entire Catwalk when rain may come in afternoons, close the upper canyon where access is more difficult and allow use to octagon.  This would simplify closure at 1:00 pm because there would be less area to remove people from and little likelihood of missing visitors.  Closing the upper canyon the day before would be easier for FS to implement as the Catwalk closes at dusk anyway and there would be more time to check the upper canyon before closing.  

District Ranger Comments:  This would simplify closure of the lower part but would likely require staffing at octagon in the mornings to prevent visitors from going beyond the octagon.  I am not sure how we would implement the closure order but presume we could do something similar to what was discussed for complete closure.  

4.    If rainfall results in floodwaters or significant rise in creek levels over road crossings, Catwalk would remain closed a minimum of 24 hours or until Forest Service deemed safe to reopen.

County rationale:  County understands that it may take time for rainfall at higher reaches of Whitewater Creek to reach the Catwalk.  This delay will require closure for the day after a predicted event to allow time for FS to evaluate flow level and determine safety before re-opening.

District Ranger comments:  Agree.

5.    Forest Service would provide 7 day coverage within the Catwalk of at least one recreation aid to contact visitors, enforce closing times, and perform necessary recreation site maintenance duties.  

County rationale:  Forest Service would preserve higher level of safety with increased presence at Catwalk and should pay for 7 day coverage if it would facilitate keeping Catwalk open through the monsoon.  

District Ranger comments:  1 GS4 rec tech for 60 days would cost about $7000.  Not currently in budget but I can scrub FDDS and see if District could afford to pay.  Seasonal would work weekends, permanent staff would work weekdays.  This would provide 7 day coverage.  Catron County has agreed, subject to officer availability, to respond to Catwalk if rec tech is having issues with visitors resisting the order to vacate the facility. 

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