The Gila National Forest’s new travel-management plan, developed in response to rules limiting off-road vehicles, will continue to allow ORVs on 3,000 miles of roads, including in sensitive riparian areas and critical habitat for endangered fish.
While the new plan closes much of the San Francisco River to motorized access, the plan leaves open one of the most heavily trafficked areas of the river, which could have significant impacts on endangered native fish like the loach minnow and spikedace. The plan also designates motorized roads and trails in and near numerous other rivers and creeks, including those eligible for “wild and scenic river” designation.
“River habitat for endangered species is rare, fragile and critically important in the Gila National Forest,” said Todd Schulke, senior staff at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While we applaud the Forest Service for protecting much of the San Francisco River from motorized use, we have real concerns about ongoing damage caused to critical habitat for endangered fish. In this day and age it’s ridiculous that four-wheelers and Jeeps are allowed to drive in our rivers.”
The Center and its allies also remain concerned about the number of motorized routes located in wilderness study areas and inventoried roadless areas — places specifically set aside to protect natural resources and maintain the wild quality of public lands. The Forest Service did respond to requests to limit the areas open to motorized game retrieval off authorized routes, but the total number of open roads in the new plan, combined with a limited enforcement and maintenance budget, has prompted concern about continued and future damage to forest resources.
“The new plan authorizes more than 3,000 miles of roads, many of which were illegally created by off-road riders. It doesn’t make any sense to reward these bad actors with their favorite illegal trail,” said Schulke. “The Forest Service has a responsibility to closely manage motorized travel on national forests and do what it can to recover endangered species. While some components of this plan will allow improvement in forest conditions, there is much more that the Forest Service could and should have done to fulfill its duty to the public.”