Environmentalists slam US Forest Service for upholding controversial travel management plan in Sante Fe National Forest aimed at reducing ORV impacts to wildlife and watersheds, say plan will harm habitats
SANTA FE, New Mexico
October 5, 2012
– Responding to 25 administrative appeals, the U.S. Forest Service today upheld a controversial “travel management plan” in the Sante Fe National Forest ostensibly aimed at reducing off-road vehicle impacts to cultural resources, wildlife and watersheds. A coalition of conservation groups had asked the Forest Service in an August appeal to reevaluate roads that would continue to inflict harm on the Jemez Mountain salamander and cultural resources. The plan approved today still leaves more than 2,200 miles of roads open. The decision today also requires the Forest Service to confer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the plan’s impacts to the salamander but does not address concerns about cultural impacts.
“This plan’s going to hurt species like the Jemez Mountain salamander if it’s not changed,” said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As stewards of our public lands, the Forest Service should have done a better job of protecting wildlife and watersheds instead of pandering to narrow off-road vehicle interests. We are pleased that the Forest Service recognizes the need to take another look at the routes dissecting the salamander’s habitat”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in September proposed to list the Jemez Mountain salamander under the Endangered Species Act. Its habitat is under constant threat by off-road vehicle users and illegal motorized trails. The Center, WildEarth Guardians and allies had petitioned the Forest Service in 2009 to prohibit off-road vehicles in salamander habitat. The agency denied that petition, saying the travel management plan would protect the salamander.
“The breadth and extent of cultural resources found on the Santa Fe National Forest rival those found on any national forest in the Southwest. We appreciate the Forest Service’s consideration of some of the issues we raised regarding protection of cultural resources,” said Andy Laurenzi, Southwest field representative at Archaeology Southwest. “But too many road miles remain open that provide easy access to sensitive archaeological sites that have been and will continue to be vandalized.”
“Now that the decision has been upheld to limit where off-road vehicles can travel on the forest, we encourage the Santa Fe National Forest to move forward with strong enforcement," said Bryan Bird with WildEarth Guardians. “In the long term, our water and wildlife will benefit from this decision, but we have to be vigilant as citizens and quiet recreationists.”
Current budgets allow the Forest Service to maintain only 10 percent of the roads it approved. The plan was released after five years of analysis and 3,500 public comments.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.