For Immediate Release
Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Forest Service Plan to Open 1,100 Miles of Road to ORVs Will Hurt Wildlife, Recreation
Ranger District intended to rein in decades of damaging, unmanaged
off-road vehicle use and a sprawling road system. But the district's
decision will open more than 1,100 miles of road to all motorized uses,
including adding user-created routes that were not designed by the
Forest Service. The decision also allows hunters to drive up to one mile
from any open road to retrieve a downed elk throughout the entire elk
"We've known for decades that ORVs wreak havoc on
fragile desert ecosystems and wildlife," said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest
conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Unfortunately, this decision is not going to adequately protect
wildlife like pronghorns and Mexican spotted owls."
The Forest Service's erosion analysis indicated that
more than half of the soils in the district have a low potential for
revegetation and that the only way to prevent accelerated erosion is to
maintain vegetative cover. But the decision will not result in any
unneeded roads being revegetated. Instead, the Forest Service is merely
changing the bureaucratic designation of the roads.
"We appreciate the Forest Service bringing the number of
roads that are open to motorized travel more in line with the reality
of their funding, but they still have a long way to go to make a
difference on the ground," said Tuell.
The Center is particularly concerned about roads the
Forest Service identified as "high risk" and "low value" but decided to
leave open. "If the Forest Service knows there are roads causing
damage on the ground to wildlife, clean air and watersheds, the agency
has an obligation to halt that damage. Arid lands heal slowly, and
damage can take decades to recover," said Tuell.
The pervasive presence of off-road vehicles in Arizona's
national forests has fragmented habitat across the state. All national
forests in Arizona are in the midst of travel-management planning to
finally address the damage caused by unmanaged recreation. The Center
was hopeful the Forest Service would take this opportunity to finally
begin to manage a use of the forest that was causing wide-spread
All national forests are required to limit motorized
cross-country travel by the Travel
Management Rule of 2005 to protect natural resources after nearly
40 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 it has $43.5
million in maintenance backlog. The Tusayan
and North Kaibab ranger districts are expected to release analyses
of their plans later this summer, along with the Tonto National
Forest. The Coconino National Forest is expected to issue its decision
in November of this year.
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
barriers to hunting that ranked above having a hunt ruined by off-road
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