For Immediate Release, July 19, 2010
Contacts: Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Forest Service Plan to Open 1,100 Miles of Road to ORVs Will Hurt Wildlife, Recreation
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Kaibab National Forest has finalized a plan for the Williams Ranger District intended to rein in decades of damaging, unmanaged off-road vehicle use and a sprawling road system. But the district’s decision will open more than 1,100 miles of road to all motorized uses, including adding user-created routes that were not designed by the Forest Service. The decision also allows hunters to drive up to one mile from any open road to retrieve a downed elk throughout the entire elk hunting season.
“We’ve known for decades that ORVs wreak havoc on fragile desert ecosystems and wildlife,” said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately, this decision is not going to adequately protect wildlife like pronghorns and Mexican spotted owls.”
The Forest Service’s erosion analysis indicated that more than half of the soils in the district have a low potential for revegetation and that the only way to prevent accelerated erosion is to maintain vegetative cover. But the decision will not result in any unneeded roads being revegetated. Instead, the Forest Service is merely changing the bureaucratic designation of the roads.
“We appreciate the Forest Service bringing the number of roads that are open to motorized travel more in line with the reality of their funding, but they still have a long way to go to make a difference on the ground,” said Tuell.
The Center is particularly concerned about roads the Forest Service identified as “high risk” and “low value” but decided to leave open. “If the Forest Service knows there are roads causing damage on the ground to wildlife, clean air and watersheds, the agency has an obligation to halt that damage. Arid lands heal slowly, and damage can take decades to recover,” said Tuell.
The pervasive presence of off-road vehicles in Arizona’s national forests has fragmented habitat across the state. All national forests in Arizona are in the midst of travel-management planning to finally address the damage caused by unmanaged recreation. The Center was hopeful the Forest Service would take this opportunity to finally begin to manage a use of the forest that was causing wide-spread damage.
All national forests are required to limit motorized cross-country travel by the Travel Management Rule of 2005 to protect natural resources after nearly 40 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 Tusayan and North Kaibab ranger districts are expected to release analyses of their plans later this summer, along with the Tonto National Forest. The Coconino National Forest is expected to issue its decision in November of this year.
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 barriers to hunting that ranked above having a hunt ruined by off-road vehicles.