Broad Coalition Targets Fast-Growing Threat to America's Wild Places: Off Road Vehicles
7 December 1999Broad Coalition Targets Fast-Growing Threat to America's Wild Places: Off Road Vehicles
The Coalition, Including Groups as Diverse as the Washington Trails Association, the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, and the Wilderness Society Aims to Protect Last Remaining Roadless Areas on Public Lands. Groups Plan to File Rule-Making Petition With the U.S. Forest Service SEATTLE, Dec. 7 -- A motorized cacophony is shattering the quiet and harming both the wildlife and landscape of America's cherished public lands. From Maine to Washington, off-road vehicles (ORVs) pose one of the fastest growing environmental threats to our National Forests, National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and Bureau of Land Management-managed lands. These machines -- jeeps, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and motor bikes -- compact soil, damage vegetation, displace wildlife, cause erosion, create deep ruts in trails, and displace hikers. The result: we are losing wild country and quiet recreation opportunities at an alarming pace. "Now is the time for the Forest Service to develop strong guidelines to protect our remaining wild places and trails from the damage caused by ORVs," said Elizabeth Lunney, Executive Director for the Washington Trails Association. "Wildlife, hikers, and other muscle powered recreationists need to take back the wild places that used to be quiet and free from ORVs," added Lunney. Today, in Washington DC, more than 90 partner groups announced their intention to file a rule-making petition urging the Forest Service to utilize it's existing authority to develop a comprehensive and uniform approach to ORV management on National Forest lands. The Petition requests the adoption of five changes to the way the Forest Service manages ORV traffic: -- Motorized vehicles should only be allowed on system roads and trails designated and posted as open for specific vehicle type. Cross-country travel by motorized vehicles would be prohibited. -- Designation of ORV routes should only occur where the Forest Service can demonstrate that use of the route by ORVs will not cause adverse environmental impacts. -- Designation of ORV routes, upgrading of existing routes to accommodate new or additional ORV use, and the construction of upgrading of facilities for ORV use should be fully analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act. -- ORV use should be prohibited unless adequate monitoring and enforcement of the use and its impacts is fully implemented -- ORV use should be prohibited in legislatively or administratively proposed wilderness areas, inventoried roadless areas, and other areas with roadless values, except on roads for which their use has been formally designated. "There is a sense of urgency here. The Forest Service for too long has left ORV management up to the discretion of forest managers, and we are losing too much ground, much too quickly," said Bill Meadows, Wilderness Society President. Here in Washington, the lack of a consistent ORV policy has resulted in the expansion of ORV use in the two largest roadless areas still unprotected: the Dark Divide roadless area in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, and the Entiat roadless area in the Wenatchee National Forest. These areas used to provide excellent hiking opportunities, but increasing ORV use has forced the hiking public away. In the Entiat, the Forest Service built a two hundred-mile system of connected ORV routes without ever allowing biologists to determine the cumulative impact to wildlife. The system stretches from Lake Wenatchee to Lake Chelan. Recently, however, Federal Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ordered a halt to all new construction until the Forest Service determines the impacts of current ORV use. "The Entiat and Dark Divide are two areas important for their ecological and non-motorized recreation value," said WTA's Lunney. "Enacting this petition will help preserve the characteristics that make them special." The Washington Trails Association is a statewide non-profit organization with more than 8,000 members and volunteers working to protect and enhance hiking opportunities. WTA coordinates a volunteer trail maintenance program that annually records more than forty thousand hours of volunteer trail work.