For Immediate Release, August 1, 2014

Contact: Katherine Davis, (520) 345-5708

Appeal Challenges Gila National Forest Plan Allowing 3,000 Miles for Off-road Vehicles

Plan Threatens San Francisco River and Endangered Birds, Fish, Frogs

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal this week of the Gila National Forest’s travel management plan because it fails to protect the wild San Francisco River, imperiled frogs, fish and birds, and potential wilderness areas from rampant off-road vehicles.

The plan will continue to allow ORVs on 3,000 miles of roads, including in sensitive riparian areas. While the new plan closes much of the San Francisco River to motorized access, it leaves open one of the most heavily trafficked areas near the river. The plan also designates motorized roads and trails near numerous other rivers and creeks, including those eligible for “wild and scenic river” designation.

“If we’re going to keep these river areas wild and livable for wildlife, we just can’t have off-road vehicles coming in and causing damage. They need to be completely closed to motorized recreation,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner at the Center. “By continuing to allow ORV access near the San Francisco River, the Gila plan dismissed the importance of that unique habitat.”

The Forest Service’s recent travel management decision takes several important steps toward reducing the harm from motorized trails on the Gila’s waters and wildlife but falls short of meeting all its legal obligations to the public and the millions of backpackers, hikers, birders and others seeking quiet recreation. The Lower San Francisco River is eligible for federal designation as a “wild and scenic river” and is important for bald eagles, imperiled Chiricahua leopard frogs, loach minnows, spikedace, southwestern willow flycatchers and bighorn sheep.

The Gila’s forest management plan, which guides all decisions on the forest — including management of off-road vehicles — requires protection and improvement of the riparian habitat surrounding the San Francisco River. The San Francisco River also falls within a congressionally designated wilderness study area, which the Forest Service must maintain in its natural state. Authorizing destructive motorized use within these areas violates federal law and responsible management of public lands.

Other concerns raised in the Center’s appeal are the travel management plan’s failure to address the survival of narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes, recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and the incorporation of unauthorized routes without analysis of their impacts on the forest or an attempt to minimize those impacts — steps that would be taken if the Forest Service itself had created these roads.

“Designating roads and trails for public use is not a decision that should be made lightly, and certainly not one that should be made without full consideration of the potential effects to the surrounding forest and native wildlife,” said Davis. “Requesting that the Forest Service go back and analyze these issues using the best available science is reasonable and supported by past legal decisions.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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