For Immediate Release, April 19, 2011
Contact: Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603
Forest Service's New Mexico Road Plan a Financial Boondoggle That Puts Wildlife, Watersheds at Risk
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— A new plan to manage motorized vehicles for parts of the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and allow off-road vehicles to run roughshod through sensitive wildlife habitat. The plan released Friday covers more than 500,000 acres in the Mount Taylor Ranger District, which is home to the Mexican spotted owl, American pronghorn and Zuni bluehead sucker. The district also includes the Zuni Mountains and Mount Taylor, which are rich in cultural resources with special religious significance to the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, as well as the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation.
The decision converts more than 120 miles of illegally created cross-country routes into new roads, even through the agency lacks the budget to maintain the existing route network. In total, the plan opens 674 miles of roads to all vehicles and adds 208 miles for off-road vehicles.
“We’ll fight this fiscally irresponsible, environmentally damaging plan, which threatens to cut off access to most forest users for the benefit of the few,” said Cyndi Tuell, a Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In an era of agency belt-tightening, it makes no sense for the Forest Service to adopt a plan that not only costs more than it can afford, but also will foster ever-greater environmental damage it lacks the ability and resources to repair.”
According to the Forest Service’s own analysis, the decision will cost the agency $441,000 to bring the motorized trails system up to standard, with an additional. $67,000 required for annual maintenance. The projected annual maintenance costs for the ORV network are more than double the $28,000 the Forest Service currently has budgeted for the task and would require the agency to dip into its funding for general road maintenance as well as for non-motorized recreation.
The Center and its allies also asked the Forest Service to analyze this project in light of climate change because species in landscapes fragmented by roads are less resilient to changing conditions than those living in habitat that’s more intact. The Forest Service refused to consider the issue at all.
“For a viable future, we need resilient forests where plants, animals and people can adapt to the rapid environmental changes caused by climate change,” said Tuell. “Unfortunately, the Mount Taylor Ranger District didn’t take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a more connected landscape by significantly reducing the number of unneeded roads. It’s a lost chance that comes at the expense of future generations.”
In its decision, the agency also rolled back standards designed to maintain road density at levels that protect watersheds and public water sources.
The Forest Service’s decision and related documents are available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/TM_Mt_Taylor. Those who submitted comments during the August 2010 comment period are eligible to appeal the decision and must do so within 45 days.