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For Immediate Release, January 7, 2011

Contact:  Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, (575) 590-5698

San Francisco River Would Be Protected From ORVs in Proposed Gila National Forest Plan

Silver City, N.M.— Gila National Forest officials are proposing to keep off-road vehicles out of the San Francisco River, a move that would provide important protection for endangered fish, frogs and birds that use the river habitat. The proposal — which is likely to be fought by off-roaders — is part of a new draft “travel management plan” that will determine where ORVs will be allowed. The public can provide input on the draft plan at a series of meetings this month in New Mexico.

The San Francisco River is a natural treasure that provides habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, spikedace, loach minnow and Chiricahua leopard frog,” said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s vital that the Forest Service hear from the public that the river be protected from destructive off-road vehicles.”

The draft plan includes six alternatives. Three would protect the San Francisco River from motorized vehicles, and three would allow all types of vehicles to drive through the river. The Forest Service’s “preferred alternative” would ban vehicles in the river.

“While we’re pleased to see the Forest Service’s support for keeping off-road vehicles out of the San Francisco River, the preferred alternative still opens up too much of the rest of the Gila to motorized vehicles,” said Tuell.

In the draft plan, roads open to public use range from 4,604 miles in the “no action” alternative to 2,332 in Alternative E. The Forest Service’s “preferred alternative” includes 3,323 miles of open road despite the fact the agency can afford to maintain fewer than 600 miles of road annually. Lack of road maintenance can cause erosion, which harms wildlife habitat and makes it difficult for the public to get to favorite places in the forest.

Donna Stevens, executive director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, is hopeful about the Forest Service's attempt to safeguard the Gila National Forest's soils, plants and wildlife for future generations through the travel-management process. “Alternative E is the best option to both safeguard the environment and responsibly manage Forest Service funds,” said Stevens. “The plan with the fewest miles of roads on the ground still gives the public more than 2,300 miles of roads to drive on. That’s like driving from Silver City, N.M. to New York City.”

The Gila National Forest’s plan is in stark contrast to a similar plan released by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona in late 2010. Each alternative in the Arizona plan would permit all types of vehicles, from ATVs to monster trucks, to drive directly in a section of the San Francisco River that runs from the confluence of the Blue River to Clifton, Arizona. Several segments of both of these rivers are currently closed to off-road vehicles to protect wildlife habitat and water quality in both Arizona and New Mexico.

The Center and other groups are asking their members to attend the upcoming meetings and encourage the Forest Service to select the plan that best protects natural resources while still allowing plenty of access to the forest.

Meeting times and dates:




January 13, 2011

3 – 7 pm

Sierra Fair Building,
Truth or Consequences, NM

January 15, 2011

10 am – 4 pm

Grant Co. Convention Center,
Silver City, NM

January 20, 2011

3 – 7 pm

Catron Co. Fairgrounds,
Reserve, NM

January 29, 2011

10 am – 4 pm

Hotel Encanto,
Las Cruces, NM

You can learn more about the Center’s campaign to protect wildlife and wild places from off-road vehicles at this link.

You can learn more about the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance program at

For information from the Forest Service, please use this link.

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