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For Immediate Release, August 14, 2009

Contact: Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603

Forest Service Corrects Course, Allows Review of Off-road Vehicle Plan Threatening Wildlife and Watersheds

TAOS, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday scored another victory for public involvement in public-land management when the Carson National Forest agreed to allow public reviews of an off-road vehicle management plan. The Forest had previously denied the public access to the documents, known as environmental assessments. In July the Center asked its members to contact the Forest Service and ask for the chance to review the documents. More than 3,500 emails were sent in response to the Center’s request. The environmental assessments will be made available for public review and comment sometime in mid-September.

“We commend the Carson National Forest for deciding to follow the law,” said Cyndi Tuell, southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The public has a right to understand and speak out against the damage that off-road vehicles cause to our public lands.”

All national forests are required to limit motorized cross-country travel by the travel management planning rule of 2005, aimed at protecting natural resources after more than 30 years of unregulated off-road vehicle use. High road densities and off-road vehicle use in the Carson are damaging wildlife habitat, causing watershed damage and soil erosion, hurting trout streams, and leaving few places available for those who seek a quiet place to enjoy nature. According to Tuell, it’s nearly impossible for people and wildlife to get more than a mile from a road on the west side of the Carson National Forest.

“Travel management planning — and the Carson National Forest’s wildlife and watersheds — will ultimately benefit from an informed and engaged public,” said Tuell. “This is the right decision.”

The Center has been closely tracking off-road vehicle management in national forests throughout New Mexico and Arizona, working to protect threatened and endangered species habitat from poor agency decision making during the process known as “travel management planning.” The Center has pushed for more public involvement and has repeatedly asked the Carson National Forest to take a hard look at the destructive impacts of off-road vehicle recreation.

The Carson National Forest is now accepting public comments on plans for five ranger districts. The public must submit comments for the El Rito, Canjilon, Tres Piedras, and Jicarilla ranger districts by August 15. Public input for the Questa Ranger District should be submitted by September 5. The documents currently available to the public contain very little information on the impacts of the proposed off-road vehicle plan. The documents to be made available in September will provide the public with another opportunity to ask the Forest Service to protect some of the last wild places in the forest.

Information on the plans for all the ranger districts is available on the Forest Service Web site, here.

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