Prineville, OR—In a preliminary ruling today, Judge Patricia Sullivan rejected a U.S. Forest Service plan to add 137 miles of off road vehicle trails in central Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest through old-growth forest. The plan would have expanded the Forest’s existing network of 674 miles by 20 percent. WildEarth Guardians, Oregon Wild, and the Sierra Club, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, were the prevailing litigants. Companion cases were also brought by the Oregon Hunters Association and Central Oregon Landwatch. The Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife also opposed the plan.
Seven hundred miles of illegal OHV trails already mar the Ochoco National Forest. This new Summit Trail System would have rewarded illegal offroad use by adding 20 percent more trails without offering any additional enforcement, scarring important wildflower meadows and old-growth ponderosa pine ecosystems. OHV use disrupts wildlife that inhabit and migrate through the secluded Ochoco Mountains, including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, redband trout, and gray wolves. The Forest Service had approved the project despite major opposition from the community and concerns from Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife about disruptions to elk calving and security areas on the forest.
“This is a big win for the Ochocos. While we are thrilled that the courts came to the rescue today, the long term solution for the Ochoco Mountains will require leadership from Oregon Senators Wyden, Merkley and Rep. Walden to craft a plan that better balances wildlife, clean water, recreation, and fuels reduction. Today’s decision by the courts was good news for Oregonians who treasure the Ochoco Mountains, from landowners to anglers to hunters and hikers,” said Sarah Cuddy, Ochoco Mountains Coordinator of Oregon Wild.
“Today’s decision provides crucial protection to the Ochoco National Forest’s wild landscapes, wildlife, and non-motorized recreation,” said Marla Fox, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “At a time when the Trump Administration continues its attacks on bedrock environmental laws, it is refreshing and hopeful to see our court system holding the line.”
“Today’s decision validates Oregonians who demand more from their government,” said John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Obfuscation of the significant environmental impacts of such a destructive project cannot be tolerated. Today’s decision is a victory for transparency, reasoned government decisionmaking, and a healthier, more climate-resilient central Oregon.”
Judge Sullivan issued findings and recommendations that still need to be reviewed by an Article III judge. That means her decision is not final, and theoretically could be changed by the Article III judge. The litigants are confident today’s decision will stand in the end.
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, 541-525-5087,
Sarah Cuddy, Oregon Wild, 541-382-2616,
Meriel Darzen, Sierra Club, 978-505-5693,
Joanne Richter, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, 541-420-4861,
Marla Fox, WildEarth Guardians, 651-434-7737,