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Off-road Vehicles
Reno Gazette-Journal, October 21, 2010

Conservationists sue Forest Service over plan
By Jeff DeLong

Claiming the plan could harm the environment and wildlife, conservationists Wednesday sued the U.S. Forest Service over a travel management strategy for national forest land south of Reno.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court by the Center for Biological Diversity challenges the travel plan prepared by the government for California's Bridgeport Ranger District near the Nevada line. The area is part of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and centered about 90 miles south of Reno.

The plan, critics alleged, designates 220 miles of new motorized routes for SUVs, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles and could harm habitat for the federally protected Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep and Lahontan cutthroat trout, as well as land used by pine marten and other species.

Also impacted is sage-grouse nesting habitat along 11 miles of routes while another 79 miles are adjacent to streams, the suit contends.

Forty-nine miles of routes are in federally designated roadless areas, critics said.

"We cannot allow the Forest Service to ignore its responsibilities to protect rare and imperiled species and their habitats," said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist for the center.

"The intrusion of noisy, exhaust-spewing off-road vehicles into roadless areas is completely at odds with the very values for which these areas were protected in the first place," Mrowka said.

Mike Crawley, the district ranger named in the suit, was out of the office and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But Brian Hawthorne, public lands director for the Boise-based Blue Ribbon Coalition, a recreation advocacy group, called the suit part of a coordinated effort by conservationists to dismantle the Forest Service's travel management strategy at the cost of recreation on public land.

"It's very discouraging," Hawthorne said. "We're becoming increasingly concerned they are going to hit pay dirt with one of these lawsuits, and if they do, it's going to severely impact recreation in the national forest and not just for motorized use. It's going to affect everybody."

Hawthorne criticized the center's description of travel routes as being new, insisting they already existed. And travel plans prepared for all areas close some existing routes, "sometimes to a significant percentage," he said.

The coalition has intervened in several similar suits and might in this one, Hawthorne said.

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