Late last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico dismissed a case against the Santa Fe National Forest brought by an off-road vehicle advocacy organization. The case challenged 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.
The same organization lost a nearly identical lawsuit in April 2016, and Judge James A. Parker dismissed this case on the grounds of issue preclusion.
A coalition of environmental groups represented by the Western Environmental Law Center intervened in the original case to defend the Forest Service’s decision and had filed a motion to intervene in the more recent lawsuit as well.
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 cause 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, which is more than the mileage from Santa Fe to Portland, Maine.
“We are very pleased to see this case seeking to undo vitally important landscape protections for the Santa Fe National Forest dismissed,” said John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Santa Fe is such a special place, and preventing environmental degradation at the hands of off-road vehicle enthusiasts is an important step towards preserving the Forest and its unique values for future generations.”
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.
“This win helps protect Santa Fe National Forest for all of us,” said Greg Dyson of WildEarth Guardians. “A small group of people were trying to use the forest for their own selfish playtimes, but in doing so would’ve put the values we all hold dear – clean water, wildlife, and the ability to get away – at risk. The Santa Fe National Forest worked hard to come up with a balanced access and recreation plan, and we should honor that.”
“The key to a healthy forest is balanced use by an increasing number of people who want to visit it,” said Santa Fe area hiker Teresa Seamster, of Sierra Club. “The Santa Fe National Forest created a plan that supports careful use by the public at large and we appreciate the court upholding it in their decision.”
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.
A copy of the dismissal is available here.
Read more about WELC’s work on this case here.