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For Immediate Release, September 20, 2012

Contact: Cyndi Tuell, (520) 623-5262 x 308

Forest Service Plan Opens Thousands of Acres to Off-road Vehicles Near Grand Canyon

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Kaibab National Forest this week released a plan that exposes thousands of acres of public forest north of Grand Canyon to destructive off-road vehicle use. The Center for Biological Diversity has urged the Forest Service to protect the North Kaibab Ranger District and its California condors, mule deer and Kaibab squirrels from off-roaders, but the plan allows hunters to drive off-road across nearly the entire forest.

“We don’t understand why the Forest Service is giving motorized hunters a free pass to destroy public forests near the Grand Canyon,” said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center.

The federal “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.” These exceptions include the use of vehicles for car camping and picking up downed game animals. The Kaibab acknowledged that the use of motorized vehicles for camping would have a serious negative impact on the land and has decided to greatly rein in off-road driving for car camping. But the Forest Service has decided hunters should not be required to play by the same rules as other forest users and has ignored the “sparingly” provision of the new regulation.

“Unfortunately, the Forest Service believes Arizona’s hunters are unable to retrieve the animals they kill the old-fashioned way,” Tuell said. “This policy will damage our national forest to accommodate a new breed of motorized hunters.”

The North Kaibab Ranger District borders the Grand Canyon National Park to the north and is home to sensitive species such as the northern goshawk, California condor, Kaibab squirrel and mountain lion.

“Nearly every road in the forest is lined with invasive plants,” said Tuell. “Allowing vehicles to drive through weeds and then throughout the rest of the forest facilitates the spread of these invasive plants, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Plus it can increase the chance of wildfires.”

Besides damaging natural resources, roads that are not properly maintained can limit access for all forest visitors and increase public safety risks. “While some off-roaders may enjoy the challenge of steep, rutted and muddy routes, they shouldn’t get to push the rest of us out of the forest for the sake of their thrillcraft,” said Tuell.

All national forests are required to limit motorized cross-country travel under the Travel Management Rule of 2005, designed 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 of 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.

Roughly 47 percent of Kaibab National Forest visitors participated in “hiking/walking” compared to 3.4 percent who used ORVs, with less than 1 percent (.08 percent) reporting ORV use as the main activity. (National Visitor Use Monitoring Results, Region 3: Kaibab National Forest, September 2006, are available here.)

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 Tusayan Ranger District released its plan in 2011 and included the same game-retrieval provision.

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.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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