For Immediate Release, June 1, 2010
||Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603
Kevin Stillman, (505) 412-1936
Center Petitions Forest Service to Protect New Mexico Forest from ORV Abuse
SANTA FE, N.M.— For the second time in two years, the Center for Biological Diversity today petitioned the Santa Fe National Forest to suspend motorized vehicle use on the “Los Utes” road. The Los Utes road, which is located on the Jemez Ranger District near the Dome Inventoried Roadless Area, has seen recurring vandalism and unauthorized motorized vehicle use as recently as this spring. The U.S. Forest Service has refused to control the problems despite a 2009 Center petition requesting additional protections, and despite the Center having presented evidence of ongoing vandalism and unauthorized motorized use at the May meeting of the New Mexico off-road vehicle board.
“We’re not going to allow the Forest Service to simply walk away from its duty to protect public lands and habitats,” said Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time for the agency to step up to unruly off roaders and protect the wildlife and the places that are cherished by the public.”
The “Los Utes” road, also known as Forest Road 288, is located on the Jemez Ranger District and provides access to the Dome Inventoried Roadless Area. As recently as this spring, vandals have damaged gates, destroyed locks, and violated motorized-vehicle restrictions. Today’s petition asks the Forest Service to implement Executive Order 11644, which requires the agency to immediately close an area whenever the use of off-road vehicles is causing considerable adverse effects to soil, vegetation, wildlife, or cultural resources, all of which are occurring along the Los Utes road.
Local residents are concerned, too. Kevin Stillman of Jemez has been asking the Forest Service to control off-roader problems for years. Most recently, he asked the Forest Service to fix a sign letting people know which types of vehicles are allowed on the Los Utes road. He’s been disappointed with the agency’s response: “Stapling a piece of white paper to a forest service sign is less than adequate and borders on the ridiculous. It has clearly led some members of the OHVcommunity to believe that vandalizing the locked gate and post was a good way to get access to an otherwise closed area.”
“Implementing effective closures is a matter of agency will,” said Tuell. “We expect the Forest Service to work cooperatively with Game and Fish to protect wildlife in the Jemez Mountains. We just want the agency to do its job.”
Forest Road 288, or the Los Utes road, is under a Forest Service closure order that prohibits motorized uses to vehicles wider than 40 inches. Use of the road by full-sized vehicles has been ongoing for many years. In late 2009, the Forest Service installed a wooden post next to one gate, which was vandalized (sawed off) in early 2010. In May 2010 a lock on a gate restricting vehicle travel on this road was vandalized, and the gate has been left open.
In March 2009, the Center joined more than 70 individuals and groups in petitioning the Santa Fe National Forest to close areas hard hit by damaging ORV use, including Forest Road 288. This road is constructed on unstable soils, causing severe erosion in Rio Grande cutthroat trout habitat and – according to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish – fragmenting habitat for the Jemez Mountain Salamander, elk, deer, bear, and turkey.
The Forest Service denied the closure petition from 2009 in part because it believed there were few problems with this closure and that the gate was well placed to prevent unauthorized motorized access. However, the agency admitted it took a “long time” to repair the gate that was damaged and that the “repair” was little more than closing and locking the gate.
In other areas of New Mexico, the Forest Service is protecting forest resources by rigorously enforcing closure orders designed to protect wildlife habitat. In the Carson National Forest, the New Mexico Game and Fish and the Forest Service is working cooperatively to protect more than 5,000 acres in the Camino Real Ranger District. The effective closure has resulted in improved habitat for elk, resulting in a better hunting experience for many.
* For pictures of gates on Forest Road 288 and the damage occurring on this road, click here.
* The Jemez Mountain salamander is a state-listed endangered species that occurs only in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, with more than 90 percent of the population found on the Santa Fe National Forest.
* The Santa Fe National Forest is scheduled to release the environmental impact statement for its ORV plan sometime in June or July.
* The Center has been working to improve wildlife habitat through travel-management planning since 2005 in Arizona, New Mexico, and other western states. Click here for more information.