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For Immediate Release, February 15, 2012

Contact:  Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603

Coconino County Sheriff Attacks ORV Rules That Protect Forests From Damage

PHOENIX, Ariz.— Calling it “wilderness by fiat” and claiming it will make “criminals out of families,” Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil last week launched a tirade against U.S. Forest Service “travel-management plans” meant to protect Arizona’s national forest lands from irresponsible ORV use. National forests across the country have been developing the plans since 2005 to protect water, air and wildlife on millions of acres.

Citing ongoing and extensive damage from off-road vehicles to forest lands in Coconino County, the Coconino and Kaibab national forests finalized travel-management plans in late 2011, and in 2010, that allow vehicle travel on designated routes and areas. 

“Anyone who’s spent any time in the woods around Flagstaff knows these rules are badly needed. Off-road vehicles are trashing our forests and causing long-term damage,” said Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sheriff Pribil should be advocating for the enforcement of rules that protect our publicly owned forests, not lobbing criticism long after the rules have been put in place.” 

Financial data from the Forest Service show the agency can’t afford to maintain the existing 51,000 miles of existing roads in Arizona and New Mexico forests (Region 3).  Most forests are capable of taking care of just 10 percent of their roads each year.

There is also a road maintenance backlog of more than $430 million in Region 3, and nearly $7 million of that backlog is for critical health and safety needs. When roads are not properly maintained, they deteriorate, cutting off access to hiking and camping. Poorly maintained roads also result in increased risks for public safety because fire and other emergency personnel have difficulty accessing people who need help.

“In Arizona, the Forest Service can only afford a couple hundred miles of roads on each forest,” said Tuell. “In this economy it’s flat-out irresponsible for the Forest Service to keep thousands of miles of unneeded, environmentally harmful roads.” 

Under the new plans in Arizona and New Mexico forests, the public will still be allowed to camp anywhere they like; they may just have to walk a few hundred feet to their favorite spots, leaving nearly 21 million acres of land available for camping. There are also more than 25,000 miles of roads open to cars and high-clearance vehicles.

“Law-enforcement officers in Arizona can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce based on their personal opinions,” Tuell said. “Sheriff Pribil should know about the toll that unrestricted driving has on the forests that provide water for millions of people in Arizona. These are publicly owned assets that need protection, not destruction.”

Read Sheriff Pribil's letter to the Arizona state legislature.

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