Forest Service Challenged over Motorized Trail Expansion
A group of four conservation organizations filed suit in federal court on Wednesday, September 30, challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to expand motorized trails in the Ogden Ranger District.
Last year Forest Service officials gave final approval to a new travel plan for the Ogden District that calls for opening dozens of additional routes to off-road vehicles (ORVs). Trails that were once restricted to non-motorized use are now being opened to motor vehicles, while several new ORV trails are also being constructed. Many of these routes would connect to a major system of looping ORV trails between Brigham City and Bear Lake. A part of that system was designated as the Shoshone Trail in 2003.
The organizations challenging the plan include the Sierra Club, Save Our Canyons, the Wild Utah Project, and Western Wildlife Conservancy. The coalition is represented by attorneys from Western Resource Advocates.
“This new motorized trail plan would eliminate the last remaining opportunities for quiet trail use in major portions of the Ogden District,” said Sierra Club volunteer Dan Schroeder, adding that ORV enthusiasts already have access to hundreds of miles of routes in the district and over 12,000 miles of routes throughout Utah’s National Forests. “ORV riders are a small but highly visible minority of National Forest users, while most visitors go to the Forest seeking peace and quiet. Instead of letting one group dominate, we want to preserve a diversity of recreational opportunities for Utah’s families,” Schroeder said.
Wildlife protection is also a major concern of the conservationists. “Wildlife habitat in northern Utah has already been severely compromised by off-road vehicle use and encroaching development, so it is imperative to protect what remains,” said Kirk Robinson of Western Wildlife Conservancy. “This plan would increase conflicting ORV use in critical habitat for elk, sage grouse, sharptail grouse, and Canada lynx,” Robinson said.
Besides affecting wildlife and quiet recreationists, the ORV trail plan would impact private agricultural lands that adjoin the National Forest. Several of the newly opened routes lead onto private land, and completion of the greater Shoshone Trail system will require opening a number of private roads to public motorized use. Box Elder and Cache Counties are currently in legal disputes with landowners over these routes.
The lawsuit challenges the environmental analysis that went into the Forest Service decision. “The law requires that the government objectively analyze all reasonable alternatives before making such a far-reaching decision,” said attorney Rob Dubuc of Western Resource Advocates. “In this case, the administrative record shows that the major decisions were made before any analysis was done. Despite our repeated reminders, the Forest Service has refused to analyze the impacts of the greater Shoshone Trail system and has also refused to admit that additional impacts will occur when ORV riders don’t stay on designated routes,” Dubuc said.
A Summer 2009 survey of Utah’s six US Forest Service units by Brenton Peterson, a chapter intern, revealed that off-road vehicle users have over 5,200 miles of motorized trails and 6,800 miles of road on which ORV travel is permitted, or over 12,000 miles of motorized recreational opportunities. The circumference of the earth at the equator is approximately 24,900 miles.
For more background on problems with ORV use on national forest land in northern Utah, check out the Ogden Group’s website, http://www.utah.sierraclub.org/ogden/ORV/index.html.
ORV Damage in the Ogden Ranger District
This article largely derives from a news release produced by Dan Schroeder with the cooperation of Save Our Canyons, Western Resource Advocates, Western Wildlife Conservancy, and Wild Utah Project.
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