CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation
California Wilderness Coalition
NEWS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Contact: Karen Schambach, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation: 530-333-1106
Judge Closes 700 Miles of Off-road trails on Eldorado National Forest
Sacramento – A federal court judge yesterday tentatively ordered the United States Forest Service to close over 700 miles of roads and trails on the Eldorado National Forest to off-road vehicle (ORV) use. Judge Lawrence K. Karlton announced his tentative order at the conclusion of a remedy hearing in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups challenging the Forest Service’s management of ORVs throughout the Forest. The court’s closure order follows its February determination that the Service adopted its 1990 ORV plan for the Forest in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Judge Karlton also gave the Forest Service 30 days to propose a time-schedule for completing the required, forest-wide NEPA analysis for its forest-wide ORV plan. The plaintiffs, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity and California Wilderness Coalition, and the ORV groups that intervened in the lawsuit, will have 30 days to respond to the Forest Service’s proposal before Judge Karlton makes his order final.
Environmentalists, who had requested an order generally suspending illegal use of ORVs in the Forest pending NEPA compliance, call the closures and the imposition of a fixed timetable for NEPA compliance a good start. “These non-system routes are largely unplanned, user-created running sores on the landscape that contribute to sediment in our streams, habitat fragmentation and wildlife disturbance,” said Karen Schambach of CSNC. “Closing these most damaging trails while requiring the Forest Service to analyze and designate a legally defensible off-road travel plan will have huge benefits for the Forest, both in the short-term, and in the long-term.”
The ruling marks the second, significant defeat for ORV groups in the case, who initially argued for no closure of the unauthorized and illegally created trails while the Forest Service reconsiders its ORV route designations. The first defeat for the ORV groups came in Judge Karlton’s February ruling, when the judge threw out their claims of standing under NEPA. In dismissing the ORV group’s proposals, Judge Karlton noted that the Forest Service had ignored NEPA and its own regulations in allowing illegal routes to proliferate across the Forest for the past 15 years, despite undisputed documentation of ongoing ORV violations leading to environmental damage across the forest during that time.
"Once again, when common sense and the law are applied, nature wins and the bad guys lose," said Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We support Forest Service efforts to reduce damaging off-roading, and this decision on the Eldorado will help by maintaining access, while curbing off-road excess."