WildEarth Guardians

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Ken Lund

Protecting crucial elk habitat from motorized disruption

Trails Preservation Alliance v. U.S. Forest Service
Pending, We filed our final reply brief November 2019 and are awaiting oral argument and an opinion from the court.
Case No.
Date Filed
November 13, 2018
State, Venue
Colorado, Colorado Federal District Court
Marla Fox (WildEarth Guardians), John Mellgren (WELC, on behalf of WildEarth Guardians)
Public Lands
In July of 2018, the U.S. Forest Service authorized the Rico-West Dolores Travel Plan to designate motorized use on a portion of the San Juan National Forest in Colorado. The plan designates 199 miles of roads and 103 miles of trails for public motorized use, eliminates cross-country motorized travel consistent with a 2005 Forest Service travel management rule, and sets seasonal motorized use dates. The purpose was to balance the current and future recreational desires of the public, local communities, and affected private landowners with Forest Service responsibilities for wildlife and fisheries, water resources, and forest management. Unfortunately, the decision ignored public comment and the agency’s legal responsibilities by authorizing motorized use of trails through elk habitat crucial for elk reproductive success in the spring and fall, when elk are most vulnerable.

Although the agency originally proposed motorcycles on trails from July 1 until Sept. 8, the final decision expanded the seasonal dates to allow motorcycles on trails from June 1 through October 31 each year. These dates fail to protect elk calving in the spring and the elk rut during mating season in the fall.

In fall of 2018, WildEarth Guardians, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Dunton Hot Springs, Inc., and Sheep Mountain Alliance filed a petition challenging the seasonal dates for motorcycle trail use that would harm elk and other wildlife as well as quiet use. As life-long residents, local business owners, local landowners, and public lands recreationists, our coalition is very interested in protecting elk and crucial elk habitat on the San Juan National Forest. Elk are an icon on the Rico West Dolores landscape of expansive mesas and snow-covered peaks.

The petition alleges the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to take the required hard look at impacts from the project. The petition also alleges the Forest Service’s decision is inconsistent with the 2013 San Juan Forest Plan, in violation of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The groups also filed a motion to defend the U.S. Forest Service’s decision, in part, to the extent that it eliminates uncontrolled cross-country motorized use on more than 250,000 acres of the Rico-West Dolores landscape against a lawsuit filed by off-road motorcycle groups.