Ruling Upholds Forest Service Plan to Protect Irreplaceable Wildlife Habitat and Minimize User Conflicts

Santa Fe, NM

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday dismissed an appeal of the U.S. Forest Service’s 2012 Santa Fe National Forest travel management plan that protected key wetland, forest and wildlife habitat from damaging, unmanaged motor vehicle use in the forest. A coalition of environmental groups represented by the Western Environmental Law Center intervened in the case to defend the Forest Service’s decision to protect wildlife and irreplaceable ecological, scenic and aesthetic values.

The 2012 travel management plan protected more than 440,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest from “cross-country” motorized vehicle use, and removed motor vehicles and the damage they can incur from more than 5,000 miles of routes, paths and trails. The plan allows motorized vehicle use to continue on more than 2,400 miles of routes in the forest.

“Allowing motorized travel throughout the forest meant off-highway vehicle operators could gain access to and destroy some of the most remote and sensitive habitat in the Santa Fe National Forest,” said John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Containing the damage done by OHVs to designated areas is the right decision, and we were happy to successfully defend the Forest Service for making the right call.”

The decision protects habitat for threatened Jemez Mountain salamanders, Mexican spotted owls, goshawks, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, southwestern willow flycatchers and New Mexico meadow jumping mice.

“We’re happy to see the court acknowledge that general complaints by some motorized recreationists are not sufficient to put a stop to common-sense plans to protect species like the threatened Jemez Mountain salamander,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting our wildlife, rivers and natural areas benefits everyone.” 

“This ruling affirms that motorized recreation does not belong in many places on our national forests,” said Greg Dyson of WildEarth Guardians. “Off road vehicles are fragmenting wild forests, ripping up fragile streams and wildlife habitat and depriving us of the ability to enjoy the quiet that is one of the great values of the national forests that are our common heritage,” he added.

The Santa Fe National Forest comprises about 1.6 million acres in northern New Mexico, including four wilderness areas and two wild and scenic rivers – the Pecos and the Jemez – prized for their hunting and fishing.

“This ruling vindicates the important conservation purpose behind the nation’s national forests,” said Nicholas Jimenez with Sierra Club.

A copy of the decision is available here.

Read more about the case on our website here.

John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, 541-359-0990, Katie Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, 801-560-2414, Greg Dyson, WildEarth Guardians, 503-730-9242, 

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