For Immediate Release, August 2, 2007
Chris Kassar, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 609-7685
Don Hoffman, Rangers for Responsible Recreation, (928) 339-4426
Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, (520) 326-4300
Off-road Vehicles Violate Wilderness Act:
Intrusion into Escudilla Wilderness Results in Citation
ALPINE, Ariz.— On July 14, 2007, two men were cited for intrusion into the Escudilla Wilderness on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest after they were caught riding off-road vehicles in the protected area. A forest law-enforcement officer contacted them on the main Escudilla Trail, and entrance tracks were noted heading up Tool Box Draw past a sign delineating the area as a Wilderness Area.
Escudilla, the third-highest mountain in Arizona, was designated “wilderness” by Congress in 1984 and thereby closed to motorized travel. Each year thousands of hikers and horse riders visit Escudilla Wilderness to enjoy its fragile alpine meadows, vibrant stands of aspen and magnificent views.
“If this violation proves true, it is a clear violation of congressionally sanctioned protections, and we commend the Forest Service for its prompt action against this intrusion into a wilderness area,” said Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is exactly the type of illegal and irresponsible behavior that affirms the importance of the Service’s effort to rein in off-road abuse through its travel management planning process.”
The Apache-Sitgreaves is in the midst of travel management planning as required by the national Travel Management Rule of 2005, which requires every forest in the nation to designate and map a system of routes, trails and areas where off-road use will be permitted. The rule is intended to close forests to indiscriminate cross-country travel and permit off-road use only on designated routes. Conservation groups are participating in the process to preserve important forest values, including native plant and wildlife habitat, clean water and quiet recreation opportunities.
“I was shocked to discover ORV tracks within inches of a sign indicating the area was closed to motorized vehicles,” said Dave Denali, a Nutrioso resident who frequently hikes in Escudilla Wilderness. “Upon returning home I immediately contacted the local Forest law-enforcement officer, and I was pleased to learn that the individuals had been caught and cited. The officer indicated that the violators stated they were part of a local group looking for routes to open up the wilderness to ORVs.”
Irresponsible off-road use in northern Arizona was specifically cited by the U.S. Forest Service in the draft Travel Management Rule as among the worst in the nation for the documented spread of noxious weeds, erosion, disturbance to wildlife, degradation to sight and sound, as well as a source of conflict with other recreationists.
“The fact that ORV users are willfully disregarding the law shows the need for more stringent regulations and an increased emphasis on law enforcement,” said Don Hoffman, a former Forest Service Recreation manager and member of Rangers for Responsible Recreation. “The Service is now in a position to designate a motorized route system that minimizes ecological damage and one small enough that it has the resources to monitor, maintain and enforce.”
“We are hopeful that the Apache-Sitgreaves will continue to take proper action to prevent further incursions into Wilderness and other protected areas,” added Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, executive director for the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “Getting ORVs and other abuses under control so Arizona’s beautiful wild places remain that way could be one of the most important issues the Forest Service tackles in the coming decade.”