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For Immediate Release, March 29, 2012

Contact: Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603

Thousands Ask Coconino Sheriff to Enforce Laws Protecting Wildlife, Wild Places

PHOENIX, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today delivered a letter signed by over 2,600 people calling on Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil to enforce laws that protect wildlife and the environment on U.S. Forest Service land. The letter is a response to the sheriff’s tirade against Forest Service regulations that protect wildlife such as the Mexican spotted owl and native fish. Calling it “wilderness by fiat” and claiming it will make “criminals out of families,” Pribil has attacked the Forest Service’s “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 2010 and late 2011 that limit vehicle travel to designated routes and areas. 

Signers to the letter tell the sheriff: “I'm appalled by your recent attempt to get the Arizona state government to undermine more than six years of public input in the travel-management planning process. Your letter to the Arizona speaker of the House demonstrates your lack of understanding of how the people of Arizona feel about our wild lands. It also demonstrates your lack of respect for nature and the public will. Your statement that the Forest Service is making ‘criminals out of families’ and ‘converting hundreds of square miles of forest land to wilderness by fiat’ is inaccurate, irresponsible and inflammatory.”

Unmanaged ORV use has degraded Arizona's watersheds and pushed already-threatened and endangered wildlife closer to extinction. Forest visitors who try to find quiet places to camp or picnic have been driven out. The new forest rules would offer protection for both the wildlife and visitors seeking a quiet forest experience.

“The public wants protection for the Forest Service lands where they bring their families to hike and camp. They also clearly want those lands to be managed responsibly and for law-enforcement officers to enforce the laws that protect us all,” said Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sheriff Pribil should be using our tax dollars to ensure our public lands are safe and visitors are following the rules, not lobbing criticism long after the rules have been put in place.” 

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.

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