Resource Protection and Quiet Prevail in National Forest (press release 10.22.14)

Seven Years In The Making, Gila's Motorized Travel Plan Survives Multiple Challenges
Silver City, New Mexico

Roads and motorized trails in the Gila National Forest will be better aligned with budgets and environmental concerns after a landmark decision on motorized travel withstood numerous challenges. With a significant reduction in roads and motorized trails, the limited budgets available for maintenance will go farther and wildlife habitat and water quality will improve.

The decision closes 908 miles of routes on the Forest, leaving 3513 miles of routes open to motorized use (24% reduction in motorized routes). It also closes the majority of the forest to cross-country motorized recreation (previously 2.4 million acres open to motorized cross-country travel, now 94,008 acres open to motorized cross-country travel, and those acres are only open for very limited, specific purposes).

“The Gila is a crown jewel in a series of conservation landscapes stretching from Canada to Mexico along the Spine of the Continent,” Said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The Forest Service is taking a huge stride towards enduring protection of wildlife, water and recreational assets.”

On July 28, 2014 WildEarth Guardians, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club filed an administrative appeal of the Record of Decision for Travel Management on the Gila National Forest. The Forest Service regional office affirmed the decision in September with minor instructions to address the Silver City watershed.

Numerous other parties appealed the decision, including several counties, individual county commissioners and motorized groups, but these appeals were rejected as without merit.

Donna Stevens, the Executive Director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance noted that while there are still problems with the decision, “We are extremely pleased that the Forest Service recognized the need to protect the Silver City Watershed and San Francisco River from motorized abuses, but we will continue to fight to protect the entire Upper Gila Watershed from the unnecessary roads that remain,” said Stevens.

The Gila travel management planning process was lengthy, spanning 7 years with more than 78 public meetings, 2,400 attendees, and 20,000 public comments. Local input, including that of County Commissioners, was sought at each phase. The 2005 Travel Management Rule, based on a 1972 executive order from President Nixon, requires all national forests and grasslands to complete travel management planning.

The new plan protects areas for hikers, hunters, mountain bikers and other quiet non-motorized users but also designates 3,000 miles of roads and trails for motorized vehicles, including some in sensitive riparian areas. The San Francisco River, eligible for designation as a “wild and scenic river,” remains protected in the final plan.

WELC served in an advisory role on the appeal and celebrates this win with our partners.