Extensive new motorized trail system threatens wildlife, upsets use balance

Today the U.S. Forest Service issued a final decision green-lighting an extensive motorized trail system that would add 137 miles of new off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails to the existing network of 674 miles within the Ochoco National Forest in central Oregon, including areas of old growth forest. WildEarth Guardians, Oregon Wild, and the Sierra Club, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, challenged the decision the same day.

The Ochoco Summit Trail System project would increase miles designated for OHV use on the forest by 20 percent, adding new scars to the landscape of old growth ponderosa pine and extremely fragile scabland ecosystems. Attendant OHV use will disrupt wildlife that inhabits the secluded Ochoco Mountains, including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, redband trout, and gray wolves. The Forest Service 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.

“It is clear the community values the Ochoco National Forest for its wild landscapes, wildlife, and quiet recreation, and would like to see the Forest Service manage the land to reflect those values,” said Marla Fox, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “This is about balancing uses on the forest consistent with America’s bedrock environmental laws. As the Trump Administration ramps up its attack on our public lands, defending wild places like the Ochocos is even more important.”

“Despite unprecedented public opposition, the Forest Service has chosen to move forward with a proposal that will irrevocably change the character of the forest and jeopardize fish, wildlife, and other recreational users,” said Sarah Cuddy, Ochoco Mountains Coordinator of Oregon Wild. “The Ochoco National Forest is already plagued with 700 miles of illegal trails and the accompanying destruction. As warned in our OHV report, this project will increase illegal trail problems in the Ochocos, a problem that the Forest Service is not only choosing to ignore, but actually reward.”

“The Summit Trail System causes too much harm to important natural resources, including the Ochoco’s iconic elk herds,” said John Mellgren, Staff Attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Forest Service has a legal obligation to minimize harm to these resources, and this project does not do that.”

“We are disappointed that the Forest Service chose to move forward with a decision that will develop over 137 miles of motorized trails and yet is not tied to any funding for enforcement, when there is already documented evidence of illegal use OHV use on the forest. This project will negatively impact other users of the forest, including hunters, anglers and hikers, and will jeopardize the ability for the public to use and enjoy the Ochoco National Forest,” said Meriel Darzen of the Sierra Club Juniper Group.

“As a watershed scientist, I’m very concerned that the SFEIS for the Ochoco Summit OHV Trail System inadequately and in many places inaccurately portrayed the potential impacts this proposed project would have on wetland systems, stream systems, and aquatic organisms,” said Joanne Richter of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness Bitterbrush Group. “The Forest Service has significantly downplayed the potential impacts of proposed stream crossings, particularly new crossings of Deep Creek that could cause irreparable harm to riparian vegetation, aquatic invertebrates, and redband trout habitat.”

John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, 541-359-0990, Marla Fox, WildEarth Guardians, 651-434-7737, Sarah Cuddy, Oregon Wild, 541-382-2616, Meriel Darzen, Sierra Club, 978-505-5693, Joanne Richter, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, 541-420-4861, 

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