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Broad Coalition Targets Fast-Growing Threat to America's Wild Places: Off Road Vehicles

7 December 1999

Broad 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
    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
    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.