Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 26, 2016

Contacts:  Katie Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 560-2414,
Greg Dyson, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 730-9242,
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club — Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter, (602) 999-5790,
Andy Laurenzi, Archaeology Southwest, (520) 882-6946,

Challenge Filed to Plan for Excessive Motorized Travel on Tonto National Forest

Proposal Likely to Result in Death of Endangered Species, Damage to Habitat, Rivers, Streams

PHOENIX— Five conservation groups have filed a joint challenge to the Tonto National Forest Travel Management Plan. In their administrative objection, the groups charged that the Tonto’s management has allowed far too much motor vehicle use across the forest, leading to reduced air quality and damage to wild and scenic rivers, Mexican and narrow-headed garter snakes, southwestern willow flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos and historical resources, all in violation of federal law.

The Tonto National Forest Travel Management Plan decision authorizes public motorized use on more than 3,600 miles of roads and trails and includes more than 2,000 acres of off-road vehicle recreation areas. In addition, the decision grants big-game hunters special privileges, allowing motor vehicle big-game retrieval across 1.9 million acres, or approximately two-thirds of the forest.

“We can’t stand idly by while the Forest Service allows the continued loss of native wildlife and damage to our public lands,” said Katie Davis, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Through this objection we intend to secure greater protections for wildlife — without sacrificing the opportunity for everyone to enjoy the Tonto National Forest.”

One of the primary reasons the Tonto National Forest was created in 1905 was to protect the watersheds of the Salt and Verde rivers. Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) and user-created roads have devastating long-term impacts on streams and rivers — even a single vehicle driving through these areas can destroy riverbanks and result in the death of tortoises, snakes and other animals. The objection challenges the Forest Service’s decision to allow motorized use that will result in the death of wildlife and undermine the purpose of the Endangered Species Act, designed to allow for the recovery of species on the brink of extinction.

“Motorized cross-country travel causes severe damage to watersheds and wildlife habitat,” said Greg Dyson of WildEarth Guardians. “The Tonto was required to close motorized cross-country travel, which they did, but they then used the big game retrieval exception — an exception that must be used sparingly — to allow OHVs to damage and abuse two-thirds of the forest.”

Many of the roads in the plan would also provide motorized access to fragile ancient and historical sites. The current proposal would leave 3,600 miles of roads open before many archaeological sites have been properly identified and fails to provide adequate protections for irreplaceable cultural artifacts. The objection challenges the Forest Service’s decision to defer proper study and protection for these sites. A study by Archaeology Southwest showed a greater risk of vandalism for rock art and habitation sites in close proximity to roads open to motorized travel.

“The Tonto's decision appears to indicate that natural and cultural resource management on the Forest is secondary to motorized recreation,” said Andy Laurenzi, Southwest field representative for Archaeology Southwest.

The objection also alleges violations of the Clean Air Act. Motorized use on the Tonto National Forest directly impacts the air quality of the Phoenix metro area, which suffers from high levels of dust and ozone pollution. The objection highlights concerns for declines in both public health and the welfare of wildlife under the proposed plan.

“The Tonto National Forest provides clean air, clean water and opportunities for quiet recreation, as well as significant wildlife habitat,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “Irresponsible off-road vehicle activity and the excess of user-created roads associated with it have devastating long-term impacts on streams and rivers. The Forest Service travel plan fails to limit damage to the land, its waters and its wildlife.”

The groups’ objection is here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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