Off-road Vehicle Plan Threatens Public Lands Near Grand Canyon

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 253-8633
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 638-2304

Off-road Vehicle Plan Threatens Public Lands Near Grand Canyon

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Kaibab National Forest has finalized a plan
for the Tusayan Ranger District that puts the nearby Grand Canyon
National Park, as well the forest's archeological sites and wildlife
habitat, at serious risk. The Center for Biological Diversity and a
broad coalition of local and national conservation organizations have
asked the Forest Service to protect this area, but the district is
moving ahead with a plan that largely maintains the status quo and
allows off-road vehicles to continue to damage the forest.

Of particular concern is the fact that Forest Service wants to allow hunters to drive off-road vehicles through nearly the entire forest
to pick up downed elk. "We understand the district wants to encourage
elk hunting in this area, but this a dangerous and backwards approach,"
said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate with the Center.
"Opening up the entire forest to degradation for a select group of
forest users is unwise, unfair, and unnecessary."

The Tusayan Ranger District borders the Grand Canyon National Park to
the south and contains some of the most sought-after elk-hunting
grounds in the Southwest. However, it is also home to sensitive species
such as the northern goshawk
, American pronghorn, mountain lion, and black bear. Noise and dust
from off-road vehicles will leave the Forest Service land, impacting
visitors to the park. The Travel Management Rule
requires the Forest Service to ban cross-country motorized travel to
protect habitat for these species - as well as watershed quality - but
does allow certain exceptions if they are applied "sparingly." Rather
than take the "sparingly" provision seriously, the Forest Service has
approved a plan that opens up most of the forest to cross-country
travel by hunters, claiming it will have "limited" negative impacts on
the environment and failing to consider the impacts on other users.

A plan proposed by conservation groups, which would have gone much
further to protect forest resources, was not even considered by the
district. Of the alternatives the district had to choose from in
deciding on the final plan, there was little difference in the number
of miles of roads to be opened, and none of the plans considered
prevented cross-country driving to pick up downed elk.

"The Forest Service is ignoring the consequences of decades of
unregulated off-road vehicle use and didn't even consider another
approach," said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for the
Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. "The Forest Service has
a duty to protect wildlife habitat and this plan utterly fails to do
that. Given the lack of any real choice between the plans, we are not
surprised, just disappointed."

"This decision
continues to expose the watershed, wildlife, and natural quiet of this
forest to the well-known and well-documented risks associated with
off-road vehicles," said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra
Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "The Forest Service has shirked its
responsibility to ensure the long-term protection of our natural
heritage. We are gravely disappointed in this plan, which favors the
off-road vehicle industry to the detriment of future generations."

The conservation groups also expressed concerns about the lack of
enforcement. A 2007 study by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility and Ranger for Responsible Recreation found that
off-road violations account for most law-enforcement problems on
federal lands. The fact that there is a single law-enforcement officer
for the Kaibab, Coconino, and Prescott national forests, totaling over
2.85 million acres, adds to concerns that the Forest Service will be
unable to prevent illegal off-road vehicle use from spilling out of the
Tusayan Ranger District into the Grand Canyon National Park. The
results, they say, would be destruction of not only wildlife habitat,
but of ancient archeological sites and could disrupt visitors to the
Grand Canyon.

"If other forests follow the poor example of the Tusayan Ranger District, our forests will be in real trouble," said Tuell.

Background

All national forests are required to limit motorized cross-country travel by the Travel Management Rule of 2005
to protect natural resources after more than 30 years of unregulated
off-road vehicle use. National forests across the Southwest are
acknowledging that they can afford to maintain just a fraction of their
current road systems and in fact have billions of dollars worth of
backlogged maintenance. This places our public lands at risk for
habitat and watershed destruction and increases the risk to the public
of driving on unsafe, unmaintained roads, which are often made more
unsafe by off-road vehicle use.

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The Kaibab National
Forest can afford just 8 percent of its current system, according to
its own analysis, and it has $43.5 million in maintenance backlog. The Williams Ranger District
is expected to release an analysis of their plan later this year, along
with the Coconino National Forest. The North Kaibab Ranger District has
yet to begin its off-road vehicle planning.

Off-road vehicles have had a negative impact on hunting experiences in Arizona. A 2005 Arizona Game and Fish Department study
found a majority of hunters (54 percent) thought off-road vehicles
disturbed their hunting experience. Failure to draw a tag,
urbanization, and lack of time were the only other barriers to hunting
that ranked above having a hunt ruined by off-road vehicles.

From Tusayan RD EA 2008, page 33.


Map showing area of Tusayan Ranger District open for off-road,
motorized elk retrieval. From Tusayan RD EA 2008, page 23.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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