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If you’d like to learn how to speak out for your right to quiet recreation and protect habitat for threatened and endangered species, email Cyndi Tuell or call her at (520) 623-5262 x 308.

Please check back frequently to stay up to date and find out how you can get involved.

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has been developing a plan to manage off-road vehicles since 2007. Unfortunately the plan puts seven of Arizona's native fish at risk by leaving thousands of miles of roads on the ground, which will cause erosion, sedimentation and destruction of riparian areas these fish depend upon for survival. Even worse, the Forest Service plans to allow continued motorized uses of the San Francisco River, despite documented negative impacts from vehicles in the river.

In addition to leaving more than 2,300 miles of roads open for public use, the Forest Service will allow people to drive along 600-foot-wide camping corridors (the length of two football fields) to camp with their cars and RVs off of hundreds, possibly thousands, of miles of roads. This failure to protect natural resources includes about 700 miles of roads alongside streams, rivers and wetlands critical to wildlife survival in Arizona’s dry desert forests.

The Center led a broad coalition of organizations in responding to the Forest Service’s plan and we’ll continue our fight to protect rivers, threatened and endangered wildlife and plants, and quiet places in the forest. Groups in the coalition include the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, the White Mountain Conservation League, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Arizona Zoological Society, Defenders of Wildlife, the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Sky Island Alliance, the Southwest Environmental Center and WildEarth Guardians.

A decision on this forest was expected in July 2011 but has been delayed due to the Wallow Fire. The decision has been indefinitely delayed by the Forest Service, allowing the continued destruction of our public lands. The Center is encouraging the Forest Service to make a decision quickly or ban driving off-road now to protect natural resources that were affected by the fire. It’s especially critical to protect the San Francisco River from motorized mayhem as soon as possible. However, the Forest Service instead tacitly authorized a large ORV event that takes place each Labor Day weekend. The off-roaders have posted videos of speeding through muddy roads, creating damage for which the rest of us will have to pay. The Forest Service requires hikers and conservation groups to get permits to use the forest, but off-roaders get special treatment.

You can help by contacting the Forest Service and letting the agency know that the proposed route in the San Francisco River (road 212-1) is unacceptable and should be closed immediately. Let them know you don’t support turning our rivers and forests into motorized playgrounds. Tell the Forest Supervisor that the Service’s unfair policy of allowing motorized events to occur without a permit is unacceptable. Ask the agency to make a decision on the travel-management plan as quickly as possible. You can call the Forest Supervisor’s office at (928) 333-4301 or email Tami Conner at tamiconner@fs.fed.us. More information from the Forest Service is available here.

Learn more about the native fish threatened by the plan:
Gila chub
Razorback sucker
Spikedace
Loach minnow
Roundtail chub

And read our Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest factsheet.


Carson National Forest, New Mexico

The Carson National Forest is home to Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in New Mexico, as well as more than 86,000 acres of wilderness and river otters, lynx, elk, antelopes, black bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Its 400-plus miles of mountain streams may be at risk unless you get involved in travel-management planning and ask the Forest to protect species habitat and riparian ecosystems.

Our members and activists have been a critical part of protecting the wildlife in the Carson National Forest. More than 3,500 of you contacted the Forest back in July 2009 and demanded it release documents that identified the impacts to wildlife from the Forest’s proposal for all districts. Thanks to your hard work, we were able to use this information in our letters to the Forest Service, forcing the agency to take a hard look at the serious negative impacts of ORV use. The planning process is complete on the Jicarilla, Westside, and Questa ranger districts; you can check out maps of the decisions here. The Questa Ranger District is one of the only districts that analyzed impacts to the watershed using a soil-erosion model. Unfortunately the model showed that their decision will add 53 tons of sediment to streams, including streams in the Red River watershed, which are already impaired. The Center and Amigos Bravos have appealed the decision and we hope the Forest Service will consider permanently closing some routes to offset the amount of sediment impacting our water and native fish.

The process has just begun to move forward in the Camino Real Ranger District. The Forest Service is allowing a 30-day comment period that ends in February 2013. We need you to get out into the forest and take pictures of roads that are eroded and polluting streams and get them to us. Tell us about experiences you’ve had in the forest that were ruined by off-roaders, and we’ll let you know if there are any new developments.
 
Contact the Forest and ask to be notified of upcoming meetings and the progress of travel planning: Jack Carpenter, Carson National Forest NEPA planning coordinator, (575) 758-6221, carson_trvl_mgt@fs.fed.us.

Read our Carson National Forest factsheet.


Coconino National Forest, Arizona

The Coconino National Forest, near Flagstaff, released a decision in 2012  that designated more than 3,000 miles of roads and motorized trails. In this forest, it will be difficult for forest visitors to get more than a mile away from any road. Wildlife will continue to struggle to survive.

We’ve asked the Forest Service to do more to protect wildlife habitat, watershed health and a quiet forest for future generations. Unfortunately, the motorized vehicle industry is closely watching this forest, too. The Blue Ribbon Coalition, Motorcycle Industry Council and Specialty Vehicle Institute of America appealed the Forest’s decision. You can read their appeal here. Motorized users are lobbying the Forest Service for more motorized trails and the Forest Service is responding by giving them what they want. We need you to help us fight back against adding more roads to this already overburdened forest.

Read our Coconino National Forest factsheet.


Kaibab National Forest, Arizona

The Kaibab National Forest is conducting travel planning on each ranger district separately. Forest Service documents indicate that, forest-wide, the Kaibab can afford just 20 percent of the roads currently in the forest, yet management is proposing thousands of miles of roads and will reward illegal behavior by designating user-created routes as part of the system.

The more than 3,400-mile road system in this Arizona forest is completely out of control, with more than three miles of road for every square mile of land. The Center and a broad coalition of conservation organizations gave the Forest Service detailed recommendations asking for protection of wildlife habitat and corridors, as well as clean water and air.

Unfortunately managers of the Kaibab National Forest continue to believe that letting hunters drive for a mile off nearly every open road is a wise management choice, and nearly every other Forest in Arizona plans to follow their lead. The decisions for the North Kaibab, Williams and Tusayan ranger districts have already been made, and they are available on the Forest’s website. These decisions allow cross-country driving for up to one mile so that hunters on ATVs can pick up their downed game. The Center believes hunters should pick up their game the old-fashioned way — and the way that protects habitat so future generations can also enjoy the hunt.

After an appeal by the Center and allies, the Tusayan Ranger District was told to take another look at an ill-conceived ORV plan that would allow hunters off-road access to almost the entire forest. The district released its second attempt at justifying its ill-conceived plan with another decision on January 31, 2011. You can read the plan decision for this district here. One good outcome of the decision is that driving the length of a football field to car camp is no longer an option, which protects thousands of acres for quiet camping. However, the plan fell far short of actually protecting the land.

Unfortunately the Williams Ranger District has followed the unwise decisions of the Tusayan. The final decision leaves open nearly the entire forest for motorized game retrieval for elk. We’re excited that the Forest Service wisely decided to eliminate car-camping corridors, including routes close to the Kendrick and Sycamore Wilderness. Thanks to your help, the Forest Service made the right decision on this issue. In August 2010, the Center appealed the decision for this district with the hope that we would convince the Forest Service to make some substantive changes that would actually protect natural resources. We’re happy to report that the Forest Service has agreed that user-created roads can’t be added to the system without the Forest Service taking a hard look at the impacts of those roads, and accurate information must be provided to the public.

Click here to look at maps of how far you can get from a forest road before and after the decisions for the Williams and Tusayan ranger districts. You can see the Forest Service still has far to go to protect our public lands from excessive road densities.

The North Kaibab Ranger District borders Grand Canyon National Park to the north and covers more than 648,000 acres In September 2012 the Forest released the final decision for this district, and the result is a disaster for wildlife, leaving more than 500,000 acres of land vulnerable to continued destruction by ORVs. The Center and our allies appealed this decision to try to better protect wildlife within this forest.

We will continue to push the Forest Service to comply with the Travel Management Rule and use the exceptions to the ban on cross-country driving sparingly rather than letting hunters have special provisions allowing them to continue to degrade habitat forest-wide.


Coronado National Forest, Arizona

The Center has repeatedly asked the Forest Service to reduce the number of off-road vehicle routes in the Santa Catalina Mountains to protect habitat for lowland leopard frogs, Mexican spotted owls, northern goshawks, desert tortoises, Gila chub and lesser long-nosed bats. Some of the routes in this area are more than 75 feet wide — see a photo.

Despite the fact that the Forest can afford to maintain just 9 percent of its current roads, in the Nogales Ranger District it also plans to increase the number of roads, especially in the area near the U.S.-Mexico border. We’ve asked the Forest Service to take another look at how many miles of roads are really necessary in this district, which is also home to the Chiricahua leopard frog, Mexican spotted owl and ocelot, as well as the site of a proposed addition to the Pajarita Wilderness Area and six “inventoried roadless areas.”  The area where the most routes are proposed to be added is near the known home range of Macho B, the last known jaguar to inhabit the United States, and critical wildlife corridors between the United States and Mexico and where critical habitat has been proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

You can read the plans for all of the ranger districts in the forest here. The Center will continue to stay engaged to ensure that the Forest Service prioritizes watershed and wildlife protection over a perceived need for more roads in an area already hard-hit by drought, fire and grazing. We plan to meet with the Forest Service throughout 2013 to ensure good decisions are made to protect wildlife in the Center’s backyard.


Gila National Forest, New Mexico

The heavily watered Burros area of the Gila National Forest offers a critical link for wildlife passing from one of New Mexico’s Sky Islands to the next. Recently the Center asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate the entire Gila National Forest as jaguar critical habitat.

The Center and the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance have joined forces to monitor travel management in the Gila. We’ve repeatedly asked the Gila to protect the San Francisco River from off-road vehicles, and with your help it appears our efforts were successful. The draft environmental impact statement for this forest has six alternatives, and three of them do not include the motorized use of the San Francisco River. This includes the Forest’s “preferred alternative,” which means there’s a good chance the San Francisco River will be protected.

More than 2,000 Center members and activist signed our letter to the Gila National Forest asking it to protect the San Francisco River and implement Alternative E — the only alternative that minimizes the impacts of roads and ORV use in the forest. We expect a decision from this forest in March 2013, a delay caused by forest fires in 2011 and 2012.  

In addition to the threats posed by ORVs, this forest is also under attack by Catron County. The County bulldozed more than 13 miles of the San Francisco River. You can read more about this destructive incident here and the Center’s response here.

Read our Gila National Forest factsheet.

Cibola National Forest, New Mexico

The Cibola is developing its travel-management plans by ranger district. This is one of the few forests in the Southwest making improvements to the road system and improving wildlife habitat.

The Mount Taylor Ranger District appears to be a sacrifice zone, with the Forest Service choosing motorized recreation over resource protection; the agency plans to add 163 new miles of motorized routes to the road system. Our press release outlines the environmental and fiscal irresponsibility of this plan. Quiet forest experiences are what most forest visitors, including you, seek out. We need you to contact the Forest Service and let them know that more quiet places are what this district needs, not more roads.

The Mountainair Ranger District recently released a second analysis of its comprehensive plan to protect species habitat, riparian areas and your right to enjoy a quiet forest. You can read the decision, plan and analysis here. This district can afford to maintain just 9 percent of its current roads, and more than a third of its roads are causing damage. Fortunately, the district now plans to reduce its open motorized-route system from more than 470 miles to fewer than 200. We will continue our work to protect the Mexican spotted owl, Rocky Mountains bighorn sheep, bald eagle and northern goshawk — not to mention quiet hiking trails — in this district.

The Magdalena Ranger District released its decision on how it plans to manage ORVs and roads in July 2012.

You can see information on each ranger district in this forest here.


Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

The Santa Fe has taken a good first step toward remedying damage from more than 30 years of overuse by motorized vehicles, but more needs to be done, and ORV advocacy groups have continued to pressure the Forest Service to expand the already-excessive and often unauthorized motorized-vehicle route system. The recent Los Conchas fire has damaged the Jemez Mountains, and we asked the Forest Service to choose Alternative 3 and to make a decision on this forest in 2011. Unfortunately, the agency has chosen Alternative 2M, which fails to protect communities such as La Cueva, Glorieta Mesa and the Jemez from the noise and watershed impacts of excessive ORV use. The Center appealed this decision in an attempt to get the Forest Service to come to its senses and better protect this land.  

The Center allied itself with four other conservation groups and dozens of individuals in asking the Forest Service to protect the Jemez Mountains from the continued destruction caused by off-road vehicle users riding in closed areas. The New Mexico Environment Department has joined our call to protect this area, which provides clean air and water to the citizens of New Mexico. Please help us yourself by asking the Forest Service to grant our request to protect this area from continued destruction. You can find contact information for the Santa Fe Forest supervisor here. After our most recent request to the Forest Service, it took immediate action — see the pictures.

Read our Santa Fe National Forest factsheet.


Tonto National Forest, Arizona

At more than 2.8 million acres, the Tonto National Forest is one of the country’s largest national forests, encompassing the Sonoran desert as well as mixed conifer and ponderosa pine ecosystems. There are 4,290 “official” roads on the Tonto and countless more that have been created by people driving off-road vehicles in fragile areas, which will show the scars of this abuse for decades to come.

The long-awaited plan to finally manage ORV use and get a handle on a road system for the Tonto — which is as long as a drive to Florida and back from Phoenix — unfortunately does very little to protect natural resources, including habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the Mexican spotted owl, the southwestern willow flycatcher and the cougar. These species survive in the midst of Arizona’s largest urban area, despite more than 1 million visitors on off-road vehicles each year, and we need the Forest Service to do more to protect this rare gem of the Southwest.

In September and October 2010, the EPA issued notices making it clear that air quality is a grave concern in and around this forest, and we’re hopeful that the Forest Service will heed the EPA’s warnings and do more to reduce the amount of dust and exhaust that result from oversized road systems. We have pointed out the air-quality problems with this Forest’s ORV plan, and the Forest Service is now taking a very hard look at whether all the roads it’s planning to keep are truly necessary.

The draft environmental analysis was released to the public on Jan. 6, 2012. The Center made a thorough critique of the plan, letting the Forest Service know that protecting species, clean water and clean air is important. We told the Forest Service to prepare a more thorough environmental impact statement to properly analyze the impacts of its outrageous road system, and the agency has finally agreed with us. On February 1, 2013, the Service announced it will prepare an environmental impact statement and is giving the public another opportunity to submit information.

Right now we need people out in the field, checking the new routes the agency is planning to add. If you’d like information about which routes are causing the most problems and need your boots on the ground, please contact Cyndi Tuell at ctuell@biologicaldiversity.org. You can also read our press release to find out just how bad this plan is. We are expecting a decision on this plan in the fall of 2013.



NATIONAL FOREST SERVICE INFORMATION

Arizona
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Coconino National Forest
Coronado National Forest
Kaibab National Forest
Tonto National Forest
Prescott National Forest

New Mexico
Gila National Forest
Carson National Forest
Cibola National Forest
Lincoln National Forest
Santa Fe National Forest

San Bernardino National Forest photo by Monica Bond