For Immediate Release, January 29, 2009
||Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 253-8633
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 638-2304
Tusayan Ranger District Fails to Protect Public Lands,
Species Habitat, and Quiet Recreation
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity and a broad coalition of local and national conservation organizations have submitted comments to the Kaibab National Forest pointing out significant flaws in the Forest’s plans to designate more than 500 miles of roads on the Tusayan Ranger District as open to motorized use. The Center is also critical of the district’s proposal to allow hunters to drive through nearly the entire forest to pick up downed elk.
The Tusayan Ranger District, which borders the Grand Canyon National Park to the south, contains some of the most sought-after elk-hunting grounds in the Southwest and is home to sensitive species such as the northern goshawk, American pronghorn, mountain lion, and black bear. While the Travel Management Rule requires the Forest Service to ban cross-country motorized travel to protect exactly these species — as well as watershed quality — the agency has chosen to ignore the ban by allowing a select group of forest users practically unlimited access to these fragile public lands.
“Failing to consider a plan that offers real protection for species habitat is a slap in the face to those of us who have been working in good faith with the Forest for years to develop a plan that would prioritize protection over a perceived need for more access ,” said Cyndi Tuell, a Southwest conservation advocate with the Center. “We have been given no choice but to oppose the plan and ask the Forest to do its job and take a hard look at the environmental consequences of decades of unregulated off-road vehicle use in this forest.”
The Kaibab’s environmental analysis does little to inform the public of the environmental consequences of off-road vehicle use and does not evaluate a broad range of alternatives, as required by law. In fact, there is less than a 2-percent difference in the number of miles of roads presented in the two “action” alternatives. The conservation groups had presented an alternative for consideration that was discarded after initial review as being “outside the scope” of the project.
“To say that protecting habitat is outside the scope of the project is nonsensical,” stated Kim Crumbo, conservation director for the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “The purpose of the project is to rein in destructive off-road vehicle use and instead, the Kaibab’s proposed plan will open up every part of the forest to the spread of invasive plants, will result in the crushing of innumerable species, and will be impossible to enforce.”
The input provided to the Forest Service by the conservation organizations included recommendations for decommissioning specific roads based on the Forest Service’s own determination that these routes were at a high risk for problems such as erosion and were of low value to the agency or the public. The Kaibab will evaluate all comments received and is expected to release a final decision for the Tusayan Ranger District in April 2009.
“This plan risks important natural resources on our national forests — the watershed, wildlife, and natural quiet to name just a few,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “These forests are public lands, and the Forest Service has a responsibility to ensure that resources are protected for the long term. Instead of doing that, the agency is promoting a plan that favors the off-road vehicle industry to the detriment of future generations.”
All national forests are required to limit motorized cross-country travel by the travel-management planning rule of 2005 to protect natural resources after more than 30 years of unregulated off-road vehicle use. National forests across the Southwest are acknowledging that they can afford to maintain just a fraction of their current road systems and in fact have billions of dollars worth of backlogged maintenance. This places our public lands at risk for habitat and watershed destruction and increases the risk to the public of driving on unsafe, unmaintained roads, which are often made more unsafe by off-road vehicle use. The Kaibab can afford just 8 percent of its current system, according to its own analysis, and it has $43.5 million of maintenance backlog.