For Immediate Release, July 25, 2014
||Bryan Bird, WildEarth Guardians, email@example.com, (505) 699-4719
Katherine Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, firstname.lastname@example.org, (520) 345-5708
John R. Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, email@example.com (541) 359-0990
Federal Court Decision Upholds Protections for Wildlife, Streams,
Quiet Recreation in New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest
Conservation Groups Successfully Defend Limits on Off-road Vehicle Use
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Conservation groups are praising a federal court ruling today upholding a June 2012 decision by the Santa Fe National Forest supervisor that protected over 400,000 acres from cross-country motorized use within the forest. WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club intervened in a legal challenge to the travel plan brought by the New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance. The District Court today ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service and conservation groups and found that “NMOHVA's argument…is not persuasive.” The judge found the supervisor’s decision met the requirements for environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The Santa Fe National Forest decision is sound and will protect wildlife and water from rogue off-road vehicles,” said Bryan Bird, wild places program director at WildEarth Guardians. “People can still use 2,463 miles of roads on the forest for camping, sightseeing, hunting, fishing and other activities, and know this world-class forest will be protected.”
In his ruling the judge agreed with the Forest Service and acknowledged that more roads equal more damage to wildlife, including from collisions, noise and disturbance. Further, off-road vehicles cause erosion that damages soil and stream water quality. The Forest Service’s decision to close trails in endangered Jemez Mountain salamander habitat was supported by documented negative effects from motorized trails to amphibians and their habitat.
“Today’s decision is a huge win for the long-term health of our public lands,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court affirmed a travel-management plan that protects habitat for New Mexico’s wildlife and respects the need for quiet recreation. With this ruling, the Forest Service can move forward to make sure that plan is implemented.”
In 2006 and 2007, the Forest Service held 38 public meetings, workshops, and several field trips to discuss travel planning on the Santa Fe National Forest. The process resulted in more than 1,000 public comments. In July 2008 the Santa Fe National Forest released its proposed action for “Managing Motorized Travel” on the Forest and sent notice of the proposed action to 10,270 people.
The court found: "[The Forest Service] engaged in an intensive collaboration process from early 2006 through late 2007 by hosting 38 public meetings and workshops, attending many field trips, and speaking with many individuals personally. The meetings generated approximately 1,100 letters from the public….This extensive and arduous collaboration process demonstrates that [the Forest Service] looked at the SFNF on a trail by trail, route by route level which clearly satisfies their burden to analyze reasonable alternatives."
“The Forest Service's decision represented a true compromise between protecting the Santa Fe National Forest's crucial environmental resources, such as streams and endangered species, while also provided sufficient access to those wishing to recreate with a motorized vehicle,” said John Mellgren, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center who represented the conservation groups.
In 1972 President Nixon signed Executive Order 11644: “Off-Road Vehicles on the Public Lands.” AR 000018. E.O. 11644, as amended and strengthened by E.O. 11989 (1977), recognized the need for a unified federal policy on the use of off-road vehicles on public lands, the impacts of such uses may have on environmental values, and the conflicts that may arise with other types of recreational activity. After determining that existing “regulations [had] not proven sufficient to control proliferation of routes or environmental damage,” the Forest Service determined that “[a] designated and managed system of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use [was] needed.” As a result, the Service adopted the 2005 Travel Management Rule (“Travel Rule” 36 C.F.R. § 212) to address significant increases in the level, type, and impacts associated with off-road vehicle use.
The court found: "[The Forest Service] relied upon the purpose and need of the 2005 Travel Rule in developing, studying and choosing an alternative, thereby considering the factors Congress intended for the agency to consider.”
WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club were represented by the Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene, Ore.
Santa Fe National Forest travel management decision facts:
Acres open to cross country use before TMP: 443,848 acres
Acres open to cross country use after TMP: 41 acres
Miles of routes open to motorized use on the forest before TMP: 7,832 miles
Miles of routes open to motorized use on the forest after TMP: 2,463 miles
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.
WildEarth Guardians is a non-profit, public interest, environmental advocacy and conservation organization. Guardians’ mission is to protect and restore wildlife, wild rivers and wild places in the American West. Guardians has over 45,000 members and activists.
The Western Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to safeguard the wildlife, wildlands, and communities of the American West.