For Immediate Release, June 3, 2014

Contact:  Katherine Davis, (520) 623-5252 x 308,
Andy Laurenzi, (520) 882-6946,
Sandy Bahr, (602) 253-8633,
Bryan Bird, (505) 699-4719,

Tonto National Forest Pushes Plan for 3,700 Miles of Off-road Vehicle Routes

Plan Threatens Mexican Spotted Owls, Endangered Flycatchers, Watersheds

PHOENIX— The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a new travel-management plan for Arizona’s Tonto National Forest that would allow off-road vehicles on more than 3,700 miles and risk destruction of watersheds and wild areas, including habitat for endangered species like Mexican spotted owls and southwestern willow flycatchers. The proposal is listed as the agency’s “preferred alternative” in a new draft environmental impact statement.

Many of the roads and trails that would be open to motorized use under the proposal were created by off-road vehicles in ecologically sensitive areas and were never analyzed for their impact on water, wildlife or other natural resources.

“Anyone who’s been to the Tonto National Forest knows it’s an Arizona treasure. Unfortunately the Forest Service seems more interested in catering to a small number of off-road vehicle riders at the expense of the public and endangered animals,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By allowing four-wheelers and other vehicles on these roads and trails that were never part of the official road system, the Forest Service is condoning bad behavior and neglecting the wishes of most people who enjoy the forest.”

Many of the roads in the proposed plan also provide access to fragile ancient and historical sites. While the proposal would restrict motorized use off designated roads and trails, greatly reducing inadvertent vehicle damage to archaeological sites, it would leave 3,750 miles of roads open, even though the Forest Service admits it does not have the budget to maintain or enforce such a system. Without this proper oversight, highly visible archaeological sites will continue to experience acts of vandalism.

“Travel management is the most cost-effective strategy that the Forest Service can employ to preserve sensitive cultural resources,” said Archaeology Southwest’s Field Representative Andy Laurenzi. “Given that the Forest Service cannot afford to maintain the current road system, closing more roads to public motorized use to protect cultural resources is a no-brainer.”

One of the primary reasons the Tonto National Forest was created in 1905 was to protect the watersheds of the Salt and Verde rivers, which produce more than 350,000 acre-feet of water each year that helps quench the thirst of Phoenix area and provides habitat for numerous species. Off-road vehicles and the user-created roads have devastating long-term impacts on streams and rivers — even a single vehicle driving through these areas can destroy river banks and introduce invasive species, leaving scars on the landscape that can last for months or even years.

“Due to its proximity to the Phoenix metro area, the Tonto is one of the most heavily used and abused national forests in the country. In addition to damaging the watershed, off-road vehicles destroy sensitive desert soils and plants and kick up enormous amounts of dust that contributes to poor air quality,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “What this national forest needs is more protection, not a plan that caters to the off-road vehicle industry and that promotes even more abuse of these fragile public lands.”

“Our national forests are too precious to allow ORV users to decide where they will ride without any thought about impacts to water and wildlife,” said Bryan Bird, wild places program director with WildEarth Guardians.

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.

Sierra Club has more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide, with more than 35,000 in Arizona. The Sierra Club’s mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environments.”

Archaeology Southwest explores and protects the places of our past across the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest. By exploring what makes a place special, sharing this knowledge, and enacting site protection strategies, we foster meaningful connections to the past and respectfully safeguard its irreplaceable resources.

WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health in the American West.

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