A federal court temporarily closed some of the most sensitive areas in the Salmon-Challis National Forest to off-road vehicles while the Forest Service reviews and rewrites rules governing off-road travel in the forest.
Salmon-Challis National Forest. (FWS)
As a result of the ruling that came late yesterday, six routes are now closed to motor vehicle use as a temporary measure to prevent further damage to fragile forest resources, including clean water, soils, vegetation, and wildlife.
“Once sensitive forest lands are destroyed, they are gone forever,” said Kevin Regan, an Earthjustice attorney who represented conservation groups in court. “This temporary closure keeps options on the table until the Forest Service has a chance to ensure that motorized use won’t permanently harm the Forest,” Regan explained.
The latest decision results from a February court ruling that the Forest Service had ignored evidence documenting substantial resource damage from off-road vehicle use when it drew up rules governing off-road travel. The court concluded the Forest Service travel rules violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Forest Service travel management regulations.
The February ruling came in a challenge to the forest travel rules brought by Earthjustice on behalf of The Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society seeking a better balance between motorized recreation and other forest values.
“This closure will protect wildlife in the Salmon-Challis until the Forest Service can do its job and ensure that off-road vehicle use won’t harm the ability of future generations to enjoy the Forest,” said Brad Brooks of The Wilderness Society.
“Everyone has the right to enjoy our national forests, and ATVs are a legitimate way to enjoy our public lands,” said Brad Smith, of the Idaho Conservation League. “But the Forest Service first needs to make sure that ATVs don’t damage the clean water and natural beauty that belongs to all of us.”
Documented damage included trails and meadows reduced to muddy bogs, deep tire ruts, crushed vegetation, and significant stream bank erosion. The court’s latest decision closes approximately 14.75 miles of routes to off-road vehicle use until the Forest Service completes its environmental review. The court ruled that some additional routes would remain open because the Forest Service had promised to perform needed maintenance and repair, but the Court also stated that the conservation groups could seek additional relief if the Forest Service failed to deliver on its promises.
“We hope this decision will help shape a new plan that better balances motorized recreation and other recreational uses, like hunting, hiking, and fishing” added Brooks. “Responsible use should be something all recreational forest users can agree is fair.”