National Forest in Arizona Challenged to Protect Wildlife from Motorized Uses (Press Release 1/25/16)

Suit Filed to Stop Excessive Cross-Country Travel by Motor Vehicles
Location: 
Phoenix, Ariz.

Four conservation groups, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, filed suit today against the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona, aiming to protect wildlife and cultural resources from motorized cross-country travel. At issue are decisions in Travel Management Plans to allow motor vehicles to travel up to one mile off of all open roads. Less than 10 percent of the forest remains free from motorized vehicles as a result of the decisions.

“The Kaibab is home to diverse wildlife including rare, unique and sensitive species, such as the Kaibab tassel-eared squirrel found nowhere else on earth,” said Kim Crumbo of Wildlands Network. “When the districts started this travel planning process, we asked them to consider the effects of off-highway vehicles driving throughout the forest on goshawk, black bear, and mule deer, but they have ignored our concerns in these plans.”

The 1.5-million-acre national forest is also home to Mexican spotted owl and California condor, both protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Kaibab surrounds Grand Canyon National Park, borders Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and contains a stretch of the Arizona Trail on which motor vehicles are not allowed. Gunnison prairie dogs and the rare Arizona bugbane—a plant otherwise known to exist only in central Arizona—also call the Kaibab home.

“Allowing motor vehicles to drive over most of the forest also puts our wilderness areas at risk; areas critical to the long term resilience of native wildlife and their habitats.” said Kelly Burke of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council in Flagstaff. “Wildernesses such as Kendrick Mountain, Sycamore Canyon, Kanab Creek, and Saddle Mountain are much more likely to suffer damaging intrusions of motor vehicles if we don’t take action to stop these decisions.”

“Motorized cross-country travel causes severe damage to watershed and wildlife habitat,” said Greg Dyson of WildEarth Guardians. “The Kaibab 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 virtually everywhere on the forest. It’s a loophole that places most of the forest at risk to damage and abuse.”

“If we look at past numbers of big game retrieved on the forest, we could be looking at close to 2,000 motorized round-trips allowed annually by these decisions. That is a lot of off-road travel, and would significantly harm wildlife, cultural resources, and wild places, plus impair quiet recreation for the vast majority of forest users,” said Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Contacts:
Greg Dyson, WildEarth Guardians – 503-730-9242, gdyson@wildearthguardians.org
Kim Crumbo, Wildlands Network – 928-606-5850, crumbo@wildlandsnetwork.org
Kelly Burke, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council – 928-556-9306, kelly@grandcanyonwildlands.org
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter – 602-999-5790, sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org
John Mellgren, Western Law Environmental Center – 541-359-0990, mellgren@westernlaw.org

Read more about WELC’s work to protect the Kaibab and its native flora and fauna here.

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