The Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal this week of the Gila National Forest’s travel management plan because it fails to protect the wild San Francisco River, imperiled frogs, fish and birds, and potential wilderness areas from rampant off-road vehicles.
The plan will continue to allow ORVs on 3,000 miles of roads, including in sensitive riparian areas. While the new plan closes much of the San Francisco River to motorized access, it leaves open one of the most heavily trafficked areas near the river. The plan also designates motorized roads and trails near many other rivers and creeks, including those eligible for “wild and scenic river” designation.
“If we’re going to keep these river areas wild and livable for wildlife, we just can’t have off-road vehicles coming in and causing damage. They need to be completely closed to motorized recreation,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner at the Center. “By continuing to allow ORV access near the San Francisco River, the Gila plan dismissed the importance of that unique habitat.”
The Forest Service’s recent travel management decision takes several important steps toward reducing the harm from motorized trails on the Gila’s waters and wildlife but falls short of meeting all its legal obligations to the public and the millions of backpackers, hikers, birders and others seeking quiet recreation. The Lower San Francisco River is eligible for federal designation as a “wild and scenic river” and is important for bald eagles, imperiled Chiricahua leopard frogs, loach minnows, spikedace, southwestern willow flycatchers and bighorn sheep.
GR: Off-road vehicles disturb wildlife and damage habitats. According to RoadFree.org, keeping wild areas free of roads is a remarkably cost-efficient way of preventing deforestation and protecting biodiversity.