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For Immediate Release, September 14, 2009

Contacts:  Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603,
Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, (575) 388-5296

Forest Service Off-road Plan Endangers Leopold's Legacy

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Forest Service released its “Travel Management Plan” for the Gila National Forest on September 11, 2009, detailing the agency’s plan to protect the forest from damage caused by off-road vehicle use and an overgrown, unmanaged road system. Unfortunately, the plan does little to protect natural resources and instead sanctions ongoing motorized uses that are causing damage to river corridors as well as threatened and endangered species.

San Francisco River
San Francisco River, Gila National Forest.
Photo by Grant Gourley.

“This plan utterly fails to protect the forest for future generations and ironically comes during the year-long celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Aldo Leopold’s arrival in the Southwest,” said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. The Gila National Forest was an inspiration to Leopold and home to the nation’s first official wilderness area, created at the urging of Leopold himself. “It is especially sad that, on the eve the 45th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Gila National Forest is pushing a plan to let off-road vehicle use near wilderness areas destroy the quiet experiences Leopold wrote about, which so many forest users seek,” said Tuell.

One of the main concerns of conservationists in the region is the proposal to designate a road down the San Francisco River.  As explained by Donna Stevens, with the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, “We have been working with the Forest Service for the past five years, explaining the problems with allowing driving in a river bed – erosion, destruction of habitat and direct killing of animals in the river bed, as well as facilitating illegal access into an area that has been off-limits to driving for many years – but apparently, the Forest Service has decided that a few motorized users should be prioritized over watersheds, rivers, and our natural heritage.” 

The San Francisco River area is home to threatened and endangered species including the loach minnow, spikedace, and southwestern willow flycatcher. Cyndi Tuell of the Center notes, “The designation of a road through such fragile, important habitat represents the ultimate failure of travel management planning, which is supposed to protect natural resources, not facilitate destruction of fragile riparian ecosystems.”

In addition to the designation of a road in a river corridor, the Gila’s travel plan would allow driving for up to 1 mile from any open road to pick up deer and elk, something no other forest in the Southwest is proposing. The Center for Biological Diversity recently won an administrative appeal of a travel-plan decision with a similar game retrieval provision in Arizona. “It is incredibly unwise to propose driving nearly anywhere in the forest to pick up downed game. It is irresponsible and unnecessary and is a slap in the face to hunters who work hard to pick up their deer and elk the old fashioned way,” said Tuell.

The Forest Service is holding a series of public meetings throughout southern New Mexico in September and early October. Interested individuals may stop by anytime during the Open Houses.

Sept 19 - Las Cruces - Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, Tortugas Room 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Sept 22 - Glenwood - Glenwood School 3:00 to 8:00 pm
Sept 23 - Mimbres - Round-Up Lodge 3:00 to 8:00 pm
Sept 24 - Reserve - Ranger District Office 3:00 to 8:00 pm
Sept 25 - Cliff - Cliff School 3:00 to 8:00 pm
Sept 26 - Silver City - County Convention Center (next to Ace Hardware) 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Sept 29 - Truth or Consequences - Ranger District Office 3:00 to 8:00 pm
Oct 1 - Luna - Luna Community Center 3:00 to 8:00 pm
Oct 2 - Quemado - Quemado School 3:00 to 8:00 pm
Oct 3 - Lordsburg - Special Events Center 1:00 to 3:00 pm

Further information may also be obtained by contacting Lisa Mizuno, Forest Travel Management Coordinator at (575) 388-8267.

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