For Immediate Release, February 11, 2011
Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 444-6603
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 253-8633
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 638-2304
Forest Service Plan Threatens More Than 900,000 Acres of Public Lands Near Grand Canyon
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— For the second time in two years, the Kaibab National Forest has finalized an off-road vehicle plan for the Tusayan Ranger District that allows hunters on ORVs to drive on more than 900,000 acres of wildlife habitat, putting that entire area at risk from the spread of invasive weeds. The Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Sierra Club have repeatedly asked the Forest Service to protect this area, but the district is moving ahead with a plan that allows hunters on ORVs to continue to damage the forest. The conservation groups successfully appealed a very similar decision in 2009.
The Travel Management Rule requires the Forest Service to ban cross-country motorized travel to protect habitat and watershed quality, but does allow certain exceptions if they are applied “sparingly.” The Kaibab National Forest acknowledged that the use of motorized vehicles for camping would have a serious negative impact on the land and has decided to rein in off-road driving for car camping. However, the Forest Service has decided not to apply the “sparingly” provision to hunters.
In New Mexico and nearly all other western states, the use of motorized vehicles to retrieve downed game will not be allowed for more than 300 feet off open roads.
“Unfortunately, Arizona’s hunters are seen as less able to retrieve downed game the old-fashioned way,” said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate with the Center. “The result is that our natural heritage is being sacrificed to accommodate this relatively new breed of motorized hunters.”
The Tusayan Ranger District borders Grand Canyon National Park to the south and is home to sensitive species such as the northern goshawk, mule deer, Abert’s squirrel, American pronghorn, mountain lion and black bear.
“Nearly every road in the district is lined with cheatgrass,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “Allowing vehicles to drive through this weed and then throughout the rest of the forest is certainly going to facilitate the spread of this invasive plant, wrecking havoc on the ecosystem.” According to Crumbo, wildlife in Grand Canyon National Park struggle to survive in the narrow, vulnerable South Rim and are dependent on a healthy ecosystem in the adjacent national forest.
“Not only is this decision ecologically irresponsible, it’s fiscally irresponsible,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “The Forest Service can afford to maintain just 100 miles of the planned 566 miles of road each year and very little maintenance is done on the ‘high clearance’ roads that are the cause of a majority of the harm to natural resources.”
In addition to impacts to natural resources, roads that are not properly maintained can limit access for all forest visitors and increase the risks to public safety. “While some ORV enthusiasts may enjoy the challenge of steep, rutted and muddy routes, such enjoyment must not come at the expense of the Forest Service’s already inadequate budgetary conditions, its duty to maintain safety standards, and to protect and conserve the public’s natural and cultural resources,” said Bahr.
All national forests are required to limit motorized cross-country travel by the Travel Management Rule of 2005 to protect natural resources after more than 30 years of unregulated off-road vehicle use. National forests across the Southwest are acknowledging that they can afford to maintain just a fraction of their current road systems and in fact have billions of dollars worth of backlogged maintenance. This places our public lands at risk for habitat and watershed destruction and increases the risk to the public of driving on unsafe, unmaintained roads, which are often made more unsafe by off-road vehicle use.
47.2 percent of Kaibab National Forest visitors participated in “hiking/walking” compared to 3.4 percent who used ORVs, with less than one percent (.08 percent) reporting ORV use as the main activity. (See National Visitor Use Monitoring Results, Region 3: Kaibab National Forest, September 2006, available at http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/nvum/.)
The Kaibab National Forest can afford just 8 percent of its current system, according to its own analysis, and has $43.5 million in maintenance backlog. The Williams Ranger District released its plan late in 2010, and included the provision for retrieving game for up to one mile from all open roads. The North Kaibab Ranger District released its off-road vehicle proposal in March 2010 and is also proposing to allow the use of a vehicle for up to one mile off all open roads for elk and bison.
Off-road vehicles have had a negative impact on hunting experiences in Arizona. A 2005 Arizona Game and Fish Department study found a majority of hunters (54 percent) thought off-road vehicles disturbed their hunting experience. Failure to draw a tag, urbanization, and lack of time were the only other barriers to hunting that ranked above having a hunt ruined by off-road vehicles.
Map of area open to Motorized Big Game Retrieval. Areas in blue are open to cross-country travel to retrieve downed elk.
From Tusayan RD EA 2008, page 33.