WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate

Press Releases

Conservation Groups Challenge Plan for Excessive Motorized Travel on Tonto National Forest

July 26, 2016
Greg Dyson, (503) 730-9242, gdyson@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands   Southwestern willow flycatcher, Yellow-billed cuckoo
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Conservation Groups Challenge Plan for Excessive Motorized Travel on Tonto National Forest

Proposed Plan Likely to Result in Death of Endangered Species, Damage to Habitat, Rivers, Streams
Contact: Greg Dyson, (503) 730-9242, gdyson@wildearthguardians.org

Additional Contacts:

Katie Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 560-2414, kdavis@biologicaldiversity.org

Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club– Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter, (602) 999-5790, sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org

Andy Laurenzi, ArchaeologySouthwest, (520) 882-6946, andy@archaeologysouthwest.org

PHOENIX— Five conservationgroups have filed a joint challenge to the Tonto National Forest TravelManagement Plan. In their administrative objection, the groups charged thatthe Tonto’s management has allowed far too much motor vehicle use across theforest, leading to reduced air quality and damage to wild and scenic rivers,Mexican and narrow-headed garter snakes, southwestern willow flycatchers,yellow-billed cuckoos, and historical resources, all in violation of federallaw.

The Tonto National ForestTravel Management Plan decision authorizes public motorized use on more than 3,600miles of roads and trails and includes more than 2,000 acres of off-roadvehicle recreation areas. In addition, the decision grants big-game huntersspecial privileges, allowing motor vehicle big game retrieval across 1,902,300acres, or approximately two-thirds of the forest.

“We can’t stand idly bywhile the Forest Service allows the continued loss of native wildlife anddamage to our public lands,” said Katie Davis, a public lands campaigner at theCenter for Biological Diversity. “Through this objection, we intend to securegreater protections for wildlife—without sacrificing theopportunity for everyone to enjoy the Tonto National Forest.”

One of the primaryreasons the Tonto National Forest was created in 1905 was to protect thewatersheds of the Salt and Verde rivers. Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) anduser-created roads have devastating long-term impacts on streams and rivers—even a single vehicle driving through these areas can destroy river banks andresult in the death of tortoises, snakes and other animals. The objectionchallenges the Forest Service’s decision to allow motorized use that willresult in the death of wildlife and undermine the purpose of the EndangeredSpecies Act, designed to allow for the recovery of species on the brink ofextinction.

“Motorized cross-countrytravel causes severe damage to watersheds and wildlife habitat,” said GregDyson of WildEarth Guardians. “The Tonto was required to close motorizedcross-country travel, which they did, but they then used the big game retrievalexception — an exception that must be used sparingly—to allow OHVs to damageand abuse two-thirds of the forest.”

Many of the roads inthe plan would also provide motorized access to fragile ancient and historicalsites. The current proposal would leave 3,600 miles of roads open before manyarchaeological sites have been properly identified, and fails to provide adequateprotections for irreplaceable cultural artifacts. . The objection challengesthe Forest Service’s decision to defer proper study and protection for thesesites. A study by ArchaeologySouthwest showed a greater risk of vandalism for rock art and habitation sitesin close proximity to roads open to motorized travel.

“The Tonto’s decisionappears to indicate that natural and cultural resource management on the Forestis secondary to motorized recreation,” said Andy Laurenzi, Southwest fieldrepresentative for Archaeology Southwest.

The objection alsoalleges violations of the Clean Air Act. Motorized use on the Tonto NationalForest directly impacts the air quality of the Phoenix metro area, whichsuffers from high levels of dust and ozone pollution. The objection highlightsconcerns for declines in both public health and the welfare of wildlife underthe proposed plan.

“The Tonto National Forest provides clean air,clean water, and opportunities for quiet recreation, as well as significant wildlifehabitat,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon(Arizona) Chapter. “Irresponsible off-road vehicle activity and the excess ofuser-created roads associated with it have devastating long-term impacts onstreams and rivers. The Forest Service travel plan fails to limit damage to theland, its waters and its wildlife.”

The groups’ objectionis here.


Other Contact
Katie Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 560-2414, kdavis@biologicaldiversity.org