For Immediate Release, April 3, 2009
Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Collette Adkins Giese, Faegre & Benson, (612) 766-7683
Matt Norton, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, (651) 223-5969
Air Quality Concerns Halt Superior National
Forest Off-road Vehicle Plan
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.– The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups have scored a victory in the fight to protect wild lands from damage from off-road vehicles. Due to a decision by regional forester Kent Connaughton, the Superior National Forest must take a step back and consider how its proposed off-road vehicle plan will affect air quality in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“This is definitely a victory for Americans who treasure wilderness and quiet recreation on their public lands. The Forest Service has acknowledged that moving forward with this plan without taking a hard look at the environmental impacts of off-road vehicles was a mistake,” said Cyndi Tuell, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The groups appealed the forest’s decision to allow motorized travel on more than 1,600 miles of roads and trails in the Superior National Forest, citing problems with air quality, water quality, noise pollution, and a failure to protect endangered species such as Canada lynx and gray wolf. “Unfortunately, Canada lynx habitat is still at risk under this plan,” said Brad Sagen, a representative of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness.
Currently the forest contains 30 areas of lynx habitat with road densities that are incompatible with lynx, and this plan would only bring two of those areas into compliance with the law. Collette Adkins Giese, the attorney representing the conservation groups, said that the groups are considering their options for further legal action on this plan.
“Unfortunately, the Forest Service has not met its obligation to minimize harm to the environment. Taking an awful situation and making it only slightly less awful is not nearly enough and does not accurately reflect how the majority of people want our public lands protected,” said Gwen Myers, second vice president of the League of Women Voters in Minnesota.
More than 1,600 miles of roads and trails would remain open to off-road vehicles under this plan, affecting more than 2.7 million acres of forest. The groups were shocked to learn the Forest Service did not see any differences between the impacts of passenger cars and off-road vehicles. “When they told us that off-road vehicles wouldn’t cause more noise or damage than regular cars, we knew we were in trouble, ” said Matt Norton, an advocate and attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. As off-road vehicle technologies improve, people are able to travel further into forests, bringing the sights and sounds of urban life with them. Revving engines to climb rocks and berms used to block officially closed trails is not uncommon.
After the groups appealed the decision, talks with the Forest Service to resolve their concerns quickly broke down. “Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the Forest Service was not willing to close a single mile of road during the appeal process,” added Adkins Giese. “We tried to negotiate reasonable changes to the plan, and we were willing to have some give and take, but they were not even willing to discuss the possibility of reducing the number of roads.”
The plan was the Superior National Forest’s attempt to implement a 2005 regulation that requires forests to take a look at their roads, determine what they need, what they can afford, and then identify which roads should be closed because they are too costly or causing too much damage. Most forests cannot afford to properly maintain their current road systems, and implementation of this requirement is seen by many as an ideal opportunity to bring the overgrown and unmanageable road networks under control.
The Forest Service will now have to reevaluate the effect of its off-road vehicle plan on air quality in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is designated as a specially protected area under the federal Clean Air Act. The groups will continue to monitor off-road vehicle management in the Superior and other national forests in Minnesota and across the United States.
The appeal was filed on behalf of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, League of Women Voters of Minnesota, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, and Sierra Club, North Star Chapter.