For immediate release, March 21, 2007
||Chris Kassar, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 609-7685
Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, (505) 388-5296
Forest Service Officially Denies Permit for Off-road Event
But Unofficially Gives It the Nod,
Turning a Blind Eye to Environmental Destruction
SILVER CITY, N.M.— Under scrutiny from conservation groups and local homeowners, the Gila National Forest denied a permit request for a large all-terrain-vehicle “Jamboree” in the Burro Mountains from March 22nd to March 25th. Despite the fact that Forest Service District Ranger Russell Ward determined that “there has been insufficient time for public participation and insufficient time to determine all the environmental effects related to [the Jamboree],” Mr. Ward invoked a bureaucratic loophole to condone and encourage the event to continue without a permit.
“With a wink and a nod, the Forest Service is going to let dozens of high-powered off-road vehicles into the Burros despite admitting that this event risks harming sensitive Forest resources and exacerbating conflicts with other Forest users. How is the Service doing this? By waving a magic wand and saying the event doesn’t need a permit. And that’s appalling,” said Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.
Impacts to nearby homeowners within the Oak Grove subdivision are also inevitable. “Although I don’t align myself with any particular group, I’ve lived here for ten years and the increase in ORV traffic that we’ve seen in the Burros is incredible,” said Oak Grove resident Don Wooton. “The fact that the Forest Service would give their blessing to the ATV Jamboree without fully considering the impacts to the Burros and our homes is a slap in the face to us. Our property rights are threatened by the Forest Service’s failure to protect our backyards from unregulated off-road vehicle use like the Jamboree.”
“Ensuring that the Forest Service minimizes the Jamboree’s impact to forest resources and minimizes conflicts with other forest users is a critical test for the Forest Service in light of their current travel planning process,” said Donna Stevens of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance.
Stevens’ comment references an important, national effort to reign in unmanaged motorized recreation, which, according to former Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, is one of the four gravest threats to our national forests (www.fs.fed.us/projects/four-threats/). As Stevens’ explains, “We’ve been collaborating in good faith with the Forest Service on the Travel Management Plan for the last couple of years. The Forest Service is basically telling us that all the work we’ve done with them and all the recommendations we’ve made to protect the resources don’t really mean anything.”
Despite receiving the request for the permit in mid-January, the Forest Service only requested input from the public a week ago, after the Center for Biological Diversity and Upper Gila Watershed Alliance contacted the Service. “We found out about this event by looking at an advertisement in our local paper,” emphasizes Ms. Stevens, “and our best guess is they never would have told anyone if we hadn’t called them up to express our concerns.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and Upper Gila Watershed Alliance attempted to talk with the Forest Service and the Jamboree’s organizers to determine whether a mutually agreeable compromise could be reached – one in which the event could continue on selected routes that did not threaten sensitive resources or add to user conflicts. “We were ignored and rebuffed by both the Forest Service and the Jamboree’s organizers. Not exactly the cooperative spirit for resolving land-management issues that we feel honors the public trust,” said Kassar. “The bottom line here is that no one has the right to abuse our public lands. The Forest Service has to take some responsibility to ensure that this doesn’t happen. This was a real opportunity for the Service to step up and show a commitment to local conservation interests, and they failed drastically.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, science-based nonprofit organization that works to protect endangered species and wild places. The Center has more than 35,000 members and ten offices throughout the United States, including Arizona and New Mexico. www.biologicaldiversity.org