For Immediate Release, June 8, 2009
Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Kevin Stillman, resident of Jemez Springs (505) 412-1936
Sam Hitt, Wild Watershed, (505) 474-2928
Santa Fe National Forest Refuses to Protect Species Habitat
and Watershed in Jemez Mountains
SANTA FE, N.M.— The Santa Fe National Forest denied a petition from local residents, politicians, and conservationists asking the Forest Service to protect part of the Jemez Ranger District from illegal off-road vehicle use. The petitioners are considering options for how to respond to the denial.
The petition, signed by more than 70 individuals and organizations, including Senator Dede Feldman and Representative Jeanette Wallace, was supported by the New Mexico Environment Department. The Forest Service has denied the petition based on a claimed administrative defect and what petitioners believe is inaccurate information of the situation on the ground. The Forest Service denies that off-road vehicles are causing damage in this area and claims that petitioners are seeking to protect the area using the wrong administrative rule.
The Center for Biological Diversity is particularly concerned about the threat to the Jemez Mountain Salamander. “The Forest Service claims we are overstating the threat off-road vehicles pose to the salamander, but the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish pointed out that over half of the essential habitat for the salamander will still be open to off-road vehicles under the Forest’s travel plan,” said Cyndi Tuell, southwest conservation advocate at the Center. “When more than half of the salamander’s home is under attack, the Forest Service needs to step in and protect it, not pretend there isn’t a problem.”
The Forest Service claims that the petition is asking for action in areas that are not being damaged by off-road vehicles, but Kevin Stillman disagrees. “The Forest Service implied the gate at Los Utes Road has been fixed, but we have a picture taken this past weekend that shows it is currently open.” Stillman said the gate has been ignored for more than a year and that people are driving around other gates in the area regularly.
Sam Hitt of Wild Watershed pointed out that the Forest Service is apparently unaware of Rio Chiquito, a perennial stream in Cochiti Canyon with more than 30 road crossings in need of protection. “This is a stunning lack of on-the-ground knowledge. They need to carefully consider our petition rather than dismiss it based on a procedural technicality.”
“Unfortunately,” said Tuell, “the Forest Service mistakenly believes our petition is based on the Travel Management Rule. However, we are clearly asking the Forest Service to act on the decades-old executive orders that require the Forest Service to immediately close an area being damaged by off-road vehicles until that damage has been eliminated and future damage has been prevented.”
“We are simply asking the Forest Service to follow the law,” said Stillman.
Photo by Kevin Stillman, taken June 6, 2009. Gate at Los Utes Rd #288.