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For Immediate Release, November 1, 2009


Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Trevor Hare, Sky Island Alliance, (520) 624-7080 x 14

Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management Asked to Protect Public Lands in
Eastern Arizona From Off-road Vehicle Damage

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sky Island Alliance asked the Bureau of Land Management Friday to protect the Gila Box in eastern Arizona from continued off-road vehicle damage. The Gila Unit of the Safford Field Office of the Bureau is seeking public input for its travel-management plan in the Gila Box area, which includes the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. Maps and information on the project are available here.

“The Gila Box National Riparian Conservation Area and the surrounding mountains are some of the crown jewels of eastern Arizona and deserve to be protected from the degradation associated with off-road vehicle use,” said Trevor Hare, landscape restoration program manager at the Sky Island Alliance.

The conservation groups’ main concerns include the protection of threatened and endangered species, including the Gila chub, southwestern willow flycatcher, loach minnow, Chiracahua leopard frog, as well as desert bighorn sheep and the lowland leopard frog. The area also contains one of the most significant riparian zones in the Southwest and is home to several species of vulnerable native fish. Erosion caused by poorly designed roads and off-road vehicle use is a major threat to species, and one that is not adequately addressed in the travel-management plan.

Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, worried about both the poor public process and the lack of rationale for the agencies’ decisions. “While the Bureau of Land Management’s maps and other documents are confusing and contradictory, one thing is perfectly clear: The agency is failing to properly protect our sensitive river areas and species.”

The agency used what is known as the Route Evaluation Tree to develop its proposal. A recent court case held that by using the Route Evaluation Tree, the Bureau didn’t comply with legal requirements to minimize damage from off-road vehicle uses. The Center and Sky Island Alliance are concerned that the Gila Box plan, which also uses the Route Evaluation Tree, is similarly flawed and fails to comply with the law or protect water quality, species habitat, and riparian ecosystems.

“We’ve been pointing out the problems with the Route Evaluation Tree for two years. Now that the courts have agreed with us that its use can lead to bad planning, we’d like the BLM to take another look at their plan,” said Hare.

Both groups are concerned that the use of the Route Evaluation Tree will leave roads on the map that are causing damage to rivers, archeological resources, and leading to an unwieldy road system. “We know the Forest Service can’t afford their road networks and I think it is safe to assume the same thing with BLM, especially when they can’t show us what they can afford,” said Hare.

The Bureau and the Forest Service are in the midst of developing plans in Arizona and New Mexico to protect public lands from decades of poorly managed off-road vehicle use. The Center for Biological Diversity and Sky Island Alliance recently asked the Gila National Forest and the Coronado National Forest to improve their proposals for travel management. More than 15,000 members and online activists joined the groups in submitting comments to the Forest’s managers. The groups feel the Forest Service must do a better job of protecting natural resources for future generations and ensuring visitors to these forests have the opportunity to escape the sounds of off-road vehicles on public lands.

“A road should only occasionally cross a river, not occasionally, briefly emerge from a river,” said Tuell. In the Gila National Forest, the Forest Service plans to designate a road in the San Francisco River.

The comments submitted to the Gila National Forest can be found here.
Information on the Gila National Forest Travel Plan can be found here.
A map of the Gila National Forest game retrieval plan can be viewed here.
More information on travel planning in Arizona and New Mexico can be found here.

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