Citing scores of photographs of scarred lands and eroded streams, Idaho conservationists filed suit today against the Salmon-Challis National Forest, saying the agency has failed to protect land, wildlife and water from unlimited off-road vehicles.
"The Salmon-Challis National Forest is a national treasure -- a place of beautiful mountains with rivers still wild enough to support big salmon runs, wolf packs, huge elk herds, and lynx," said Todd True, one of the Earthjustice attorneys who filed the complaint on behalf of the Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society. "This case seeks to protect that treasure from being degraded by on-going and increased dirt bike, all-terrain vehicle, and other motorized uses across most of the trials and roads in the Forest. The law doesn't allow this remarkable place to be misused and permanently damaged by these vehicles."
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, asks a judge to order the Forest Service do a better job balancing motorized access with clean water, wildlife habitat and natural peace and quiet.
Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society had interns and volunteers survey some 400 miles of roads and trails on the Salmon-Challis. They documented former hiking and meadows trails reduced to muddy bogs, tire ruts more than a foot deep and stream crossings without adequate bank protections. Trouble spots included tributaries of the Middle Fork of the Salmon such as Beaver and Winnemucca Creeks, along with Swauger Lakes in the Borah Peaks.
"Everyone has the right to enjoy our national forests, but no one has the right to abuse them," said Brad Smith, of the Idaho Conservation League. "ATVs are a legitimate way to enjoy our national forests, but should not be allowed to damage the clean water and natural beauty that belongs to all of us."
"Idaho's national forests are big enough for everyone to enjoy, but we cannot allow any one user group to ride roughshod over the land and others," said Brad Brooks, of the Wilderness Society. "Most people visit our national forests to enjoy the natural sights and sounds, not breathe exhaust and hear traffic. We get plenty of that in town."
Between 1988 and 2008, the number of registered off-road vehicles in Idaho increased from 7,200 to 135,300. Even though motorized riders are a small percentage of total visitors to national forests, they have a disproportionate impact on land, water and solitude. The suit alleges that the Salmon-Challis has failed to keep up with the increased pressure from motorized traffic.
"The managers of the Salmon-Challis National Forest let the owners of the Forest -- the American people --& down," True explained. "Some of the trails they have opened to motorized use lead directly into Wilderness Areas that are still untouched, others cross undeveloped and unspoiled places that could be permanently protected in the future. All of our national forests need to be managed with an eye for the future by striking a balance when it comes to how they are used, minimizing damage and protecting areas that are irreplaceable."
"Idaho's national forests and rivers like the Middle Fork Salmon River are important both to the people of Idaho and people across America," said Smith. "We need to keep them healthy and clean not just for today, but for generations to come."
The lawsuit aims for commonsense limits to keep motorized traffic from damaging sensitive habitat and streams, leaving large areas of quiet, non-motorized land for traditional hiking, hunting and refuge for sensitive species like elk. The plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorneys in the Northwest office of Earthjustice, a national non-profit environmental law firm.
Brad Smith, Idaho Conservation League, (208) 345-6933, ext. 21
Brad Brooks, The Wilderness Society, (208) 343-8153, ext. 6
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