Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, February 1, 2013

Contact:  Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603

Arizona's Tonto National Forest Road Plan to Face Full Environmental Review

PHOENIX— In a dramatic about-face, Tonto National Forest officials today announced they will develop an in-depth “environmental impact statement” to analyze how their travel-management plan will affect wildlife, water, air and other natural resources. The agency had previously attempted to use a less-thorough “environmental assessment” to approve the plan, which will designate more than 3,000 miles of roads and trails for motorized uses.

Chiricahua leopard frog
Chiricahua leopard frog photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department. Photos are available for media use.

“Off-road vehicles decimate fragile desert habitats and watersheds, so we’re glad the Forest Service is doing a more thorough review, as we’ve been urging them to for five years,” said Cyndi Tuell, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This recreation system has been extremely badly managed, and we hope very much that the Service takes this opportunity to right what’s wrong here and fix the situation.” 

The forest is home to 21 threatened and endangered species, all of which can be harmed by roads and off-road vehicles. The Forest Service’s own previous analysis showed that more than 63 species of plants and animals will be harmed by their proposal, including Mexican spotted owls, desert bald eagles and Chiricahua leopard frogs. Native fishes such as the spikedace and loach minnow, along with sport fish, would be affected by routes near streams and riparian areas.

The Tonto National Forest was established in 1905 to protect watersheds that provide millions of acre-feet of clean drinking water. But roads and motorized trails are destroying the ability of these watersheds to produce that water.

“The Tonto has the worst watershed condition of any forest in the region, with more ‘impaired’ watersheds than any other forest in Arizona or New Mexico,” said Tuell. “Roads and trails are the main cause of watershed impairment, and the Forest Service has known this for years. Yet the agency has done virtually nothing to protect our water supply. That has to change.”

At nearly 3 million acres and one of the most heavily visited urban forests in the country, the Tonto is also one of the most archaeologically rich forests in the region. A 2010 study completed by Archaeology Southwest found a direct link between roads and damage to cultural resource sites. The forest also provides a quiet refuge for the people of Phoenix and surrounding communities to escape the sounds of the motorized world they live in every day.

“We are deeply concerned about wildlife, but also air and water quality, archaeological treasures, and quiet recreation opportunities that are all at serious risk with this plan. The Forest Service simply must stop ignoring the long-lasting impacts irresponsible motorized recreation has had on our public lands. It has to act now to begin to reverse the destruction,” said Tuell.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back