Lawsuit alleges agency didn’t analyze the impact of new motorized routes
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Conservation groups say the Pike and San Isabel National Forest erred in sanctioning hundreds of miles of motorized routes in a contentious 2009 plan that highlighted all the ongoing user conflicts on public lands.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the groups claim the Forest Service failed to consider the potential harm to forest resources that could result from motor vehicle use on some routes, many of them created illegally over the course of decades of inadequate off-road vehicle management and enforcement on the forests.
“The Forest Service is rightly required to ‘look before they leap,’” said Melanie Kay of Earthjustice, attorney for the groups. “We’re not asking the Forest Service to ban motor vehicle use on the forests or to deny anyone reasonable access or recreational opportunities. Rather, we’re protecting the interests of forest visitors and the forest itself by ensuring that the agency makes well-informed decisions and does so in accordance with laws and regulations that have been on the books for decades.”
Kay said the Forest Service has been unable to show any evidence that the impacts of motorized use on the routes have been analyzed and disclosed, as required by agency regulations and federal laws. The lawsuit cites concerns about impacts to non-motorized routes, as well as to water and air quality, and endangered species. The approval process was fatally flawed, and violated the National Environmental Protection Act, National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act, the groups allege..
The Pike and San Isabel National Forests are Colorado treasures and together are in the top 10 most visited forests in the country. The rocky pinnacles, rolling ponderosa pine forests and high peaks are recreational havens for mountain bikers, hikers and climbers.
Nineteen of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners are here, including the state’s highest, Mount Elbert, at 14,433 feet. The Forests’ abundant wildlife is a draw for sportsman and tourists. The rugged canyons and remote plateaus are also home to a number of rare species including the threatened Mexico Spotted Owl, Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse and the Greenback Cutthroat Trout.
The approval of almost 800 sections of motorized routes could threaten winter range for big game and habitat for federally listed threatened and endangered species. Some of the new routes cross semi-primitive, non-motorized areas or areas managed as winter range for big game; approximately 130 of the disputed routes are in critical habitat for federally listed endangered species.
“At the end of the day, this is about getting the forest back on track,” said Kay. “After years of lenient enforcement of motorized vehicle use, it’s time for the Forest Service to take a stand. Our public lands deserve better than a ‘throw open the doors’ approach to management.”
The public interest law firm Earthjustice is representing the Quiet Use Coalition, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Native Ecosystems, Wildlands CPR and The Wilderness Society in this matter in federal district court.