For Immediate Release August 3, 2009
Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 253-8633 or (602) 999-570
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 638-2304
Daniel Patterson, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (520) 906-2159
Forest Service Off-road Vehicle Plan Halted Near Grand Canyon
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Following an appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups, the Forest Service late Friday conceded to re-do an off road vehicle plan for lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. The Kaibab National Forest will reanalyze an off-road vehicle plan that would have allowed nearly unfettered off-road vehicle access that threatened archeological sites, watershed conditions, wildlife habitat and would have continued the spread of invasive species.
The plan would have allowed hunters to drive ORVs one mile from any road to retrieve downed elk – leaving virtually all lands open to off-road vehicle damage. In addition, the plan would have damaged the habitat of sensitive species such as the northern goshawk, American pronghorn, mountain lion, and black bear – species spanning both National Forest and National Park lands.
“The Tusayan Ranger District’s plan would have continued rather than curbed damage resulting from off-road vehicle use,” said Cyndi Tuell, southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re encouraged that the Forest Service agrees with our appeal, and we look forward to a plan that makes public land and wildlife protection the top priority.”
Early in the planning process conservation groups proposed a plan that offered habitat protection, quiet recreation, and a classic hunting experience. The Tusayan Ranger District ignored that proposal. On Friday, the Forest Service directed the Tusayan Ranger District to withdraw its decision, to fully analyze the conservation alternative and reanalyze the other plan alternatives using the best available science.
The Travel Management Rule requires the Forest Service to ban cross-country motorized travel to protect habitat for sensitive species and watershed quality. “This final decision failed to protect wildlife habitat and was not based on the best available scientific information,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “After years of working with the Forest Service and a careful review of the plan and the decision, we were disappointed at the failure to protect forest resources. The appeal decision makes it clear the District has to base their plan in reality.”
“This is a statewide victory and a win for public lands overall,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “The Forest Service has made it clear that ranger districts and forests must develop plans that protect natural resources and must consider consistent, factual information over a desire to coddle the off-road vehicle industry, which facilitates the rampant destruction of public lands and resources.”
"This fragile, arid forest has been slashed by too many off-road vehicles, too many eroded tracks, and suffered too many bad decisions from Forest Service managers, who pushed excess, not reasonable access," said Daniel Patterson, an Ecologist and Southwest Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, in Tucson. "So-called motorized game retrieval is an unnecessary loophole that harms the land and undercuts enforcement efforts to keep ORVs on roads. We will continue to try to work with the Forest Service toward a better plan." Patterson is also an Arizona State Representative and Arizona hunter who hunts on the Kaibab National Forest.
The conservation groups appealed the decision based on several concerns, including failure to comply with the Travel Management Rule, the National Environmental Policy Act, a failure to look at an alternative that would offer resource protection, and a failure to properly consider the impacts of this project to wildlife, air and water quality, and how this project will impact the environment in light of global climate change.
The appeal decision does not make clear whether the Tusayan Ranger District will have to consider global warming and the “albedo effect” in the next steps of the planning process. The albedo effect is an increase in snow melt rates when dust from off-road vehicles settles on snow pack which has the potential to decrease critical water supplies in the already arid west.
Dust can also have health impacts to people hiking, hunting, backpacking, or wildlife viewing in the area. The elderly, children, and those with respiratory or other health issues are at greatest risk relative to particulate pollution.
“We tried to work with the Tusayan Ranger District to develop a good plan that would protect natural resources, but we were ignored. We couldn’t support a plan that didn’t comply with the law, and the Forest Service has agreed with us” said Tuell.
All national forests are required to limit motorized cross-country travel by the Travel Management 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 National Forest can afford just 8 percent of its current system, according to its own analysis, and it has $43.5 million in maintenance backlog. The Williams Ranger District is expected to release an analysis of its plan later this year, along with the Coconino National Forest. The North Kaibab Ranger District has yet to begin its off-road vehicle planning. The Tusayan Ranger District decision is available on the Forest Service Web site.
Off-road vehicles have had a negative impact on hunting experiences in Arizona. A 2005 Arizona Game and Fish Department study found a majority of hunters (54 percent) thought off-road vehicles disturbed their hunting experience. Failure to draw a tag, urbanization, and lack of time were the only other barriers to hunting that ranked above having a hunt ruined by off-road vehicles.