The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 253-8633 or (602) 999-570
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 638-2304
Daniel Patterson, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (520) 906-2159

Off-Road Vehicle Plan Threatens to Destroy Public Lands Near Grand Canyon


Conservation groups appealed the Tusayan Ranger District's off-road vehicle plan
today, citing the fact that the plan puts the forest's archeological
sites and wildlife habitat at serious risk, as well as the nearby Grand
Canyon National Park. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand
Canyon Wildlands Council, Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, and the Sierra Club have repeatedly asked the Forest
Service to protect this area, but the district instead moved ahead with
a decision that allows off-road vehicles to continue to damage the

"We are appealing this decision in order
to force the Forest Service to do its job. They should be focused on
protecting our public lands and ensuring that future generations have
the freedom to enjoy a quiet, healthy forest," said Cyndi Tuell,
Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
"We are particularly concerned that this plan will allow off-road
driving throughout the majority of the forest, putting wildlife in
prime elk habitat in jeopardy. It just doesn't make sense."

Some of the Southwest's most valuable elk hunting is found in the
Tusayan Ranger District, which borders the Grand Canyon National Park
to the south. According to conservationists, allowing hunters to drive
for one mile off every open road to pick up their downed elk will not
only harm the hunting experience but also harm the habitat of sensitive
species such as the northern goshawk, American pronghorn, mountain lion, and black bear.

The Travel Management Rule
requires the Forest Service to ban cross-country motorized travel to
protect habitat for sensitive species and watershed quality.
Conservation groups proposed a plan that would have offered habitat
protection, increased quiet recreation opportunities, and allowed
hunters the chance at a classic, unspoiled elk-hunting experience.

"This plan fails to protect wildlife habitat and we are left with no
option but to appeal this poor decision," said Kim Crumbo, conservation
director for the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. "We
are committed to do what it takes to ensure this forest is protected."

The groups are also concerned about the so-called "albedo effect": Dust from off-road vehicles has the potential to increase snow-melt rates,
decreasing critical water supplies in the already arid West. Dust also
has a localized impact on anyone who might be hiking, hunting,
backpacking, or wildlife viewing in the area. The coarse particulates
that make up dust are inhaled by those individuals and can affect the
heart and lungs and increase respiratory symptoms, irritation of the
airways, coughing, difficulty breathing, and more. The elderly,
children, and those with respiratory or other health issues are at
greatest risk from particulate pollution.

risks associated with off-road vehicle activities are well known and
well documented," said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra
Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "Our natural heritage is at risk with this
plan and it is incredibly unfortunate the Forest Service has chosen to
favor the off-road vehicle industry to the detriment of this and future

The lack of enforcement is also
well documented, yet the off-road plan for the Tusayan Ranger District
contains few provisions for ensuring compliance with the new rules
other than relying on the public to comply. A 2007 study
by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Rangers for
Responsible Recreation found that off-road violations account for most
law-enforcement problems on federal lands. The groups appealing this
decision are concerned that the Tusayan Ranger District will not be
able to prevent illegal off-road use from spilling into the Grand
Canyon National Park, which could destroy wildlife habitat, ancient
archeological sites and could disrupt visitors to the Grand Canyon.

"We tried to work with the Forest Service to develop a good plan that
would protect natural resources, but we were ignored. We can't support
a plan that doesn't comply with the law," said Tuell.

The conservation groups are appealing the decision on several bases,
including failure to comply with the Travel Management Rule and the
National Environmental Policy Act, failure to look at an alternative
that would offer resource protection, and failure to properly consider
the impacts of this project on wildlife, air and water quality, and
global climate change. The groups are asking the Forest Service to
withdraw its decision and develop appropriate analysis of the
environmental impacts of this project.


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.

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

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.