Feds’ Decision to Increase Motorized Use on 20,000 Acres of Kaibab National Forest Raises Risks of Fire, Fragments Wildlife Habitat
For Immediate Release, May 23, 2016
Contact: Katie Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 560-2414, firstname.lastname@example.org; Alicyn Gitlin, Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, (520) 491-9528, email@example.com; Kelly Burke, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 606-7870, firstname.lastname@example.org
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The U.S. Forest Service plans to open about 20,000 acres of the Kaibab National Forest to motorized vehicles, which will raise the risk of human-caused fires and fragment habitat for wildlife. Although the agency – responding to objections from environmental groups – has agreed to also exclude motorized vehicles from some sensitive areas, the overall plan raises troubling concerns about the long-term management and health of the forest.
The Forest Service, in its official response to the objection filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, decided to move forward with a plan that would expand areas for car and RV camping along hundreds of miles of roads and open user-created and formerly closed forest roads in the so-called “South Zone” area. A final decision explaining the new rules is expected this summer.
“Based on our objection, the Forest Service decided that opening areas to motorized use near Grand Canyon National Park and designated roadless areas was not sound management, and we’re glad to see those changes in the final plan,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. “But we have trouble understanding why the Forest Service continues to reward current illegal activities and encourage more traffic in hard-to- patrol areas given concerns about fire and resource damage.”
While the final decision will result in the closure of some unnecessary roads in the forest, the overall result is a rollback of previous measures designed to prevent damage to wildlife habitat and natural resources. Information the groups obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed only a small number of requests from members of the public to reopen a few closed areas, while many of the places that will now be open for use were never mentioned in the public comments that were used to justify the final decision.
“The extent of the changes that will occur based on this decision is strikingly excessive compared to the actual needs of the public for camping and travel in the forest,” said Alicyn Gitlin, conservation coordinator with Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “We know that motorized, off-road use comes with serious risks to forest resources, but the Forest Service has decided to look the other way.”
In response to concerns about negative impacts to wildlife habitat and grasslands raised in the groups’ objection, the Forest Service relied on assurances that monitoring and adaptive management will address and prevent potential harm. However, no additional funding or personnel have been allocated to enforce the new plan and provide that monitoring.
“Just as we are starting to see success in efforts to prevent human-caused fires and re-establish populations of species like Gunnison’s prairie dog, the Forest Service issues a decision that will encourage more off-road use without adequate protections,” said Kelly Burke, executive director of Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “This decision could have been designed to successfully balance conservation and recreation, but instead it’s likely to open the door to unsustainable and unmanageable use.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and supporters dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org
Sierra Club is one of the country’s oldest grassroots environmental organization with more than 35,000 members and supporters in Arizona as part of the Grand Canyon Chapter. Protecting forests and grasslands that provide essential wildlife habitat is a key Sierra Club priority locally, nationally and internationally. Learn more at www.sierraclub.org/arizona and www.facebook.com/Sierra-Club- Grand-Canyon-Arizona-Chapter- 182816565101809/.
Grand Canyon Wildlands Council works to provide creative, collaborative, science-based solutions for conserving the full diversity of native species and natural ecosystems across the Grand Canyon region, protecting and restoring a network of wildlands and waters. www.grandcanyonwildlands.org