MOSCOW, Idaho (CN) - Uncle Sam illegally approved more than 3,000 miles of trails in the Clearwater National Forest for off-road vehicles that will tear up habitat and frighten animals environmentalists say in a federal lawsuit.
Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Sierra Club challenge the U.S. Forest Service's November 2011 Record of Decision (ROD) and Final Environmental Impact Statement, designating more than 3,000 miles in the Clearwater Forest for off-road vehicle (ORV) use.
"ORVs have significant, negative impacts on practically every aspect of the natural environment wherever they are used," the complaint states. "For example, ORVs degrade air and water quality; impair others' ability to enjoy natural sights, sounds and smells; and create safety hazards - for motorized travelers themselves and others."
The 3,000 miles of trails through the 1.8 million acre forest will hurt soils, watersheds and other resources, disrupt wildlife and habitat, and lead to conflicts between recreational users, the groups claim.
They cite statements from former U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, who spoke to the Izaak Walton League in July 2003. Bosworth said ORVs do not always stick to designated trails.
"Each year, the national forests and grasslands get hundreds of miles of unauthorized roads and trails due to repeated cross-country use," Bosworth said. "We're seeing more and more erosion, water degradation and habitat destruction. We're seeing more and more conflicts between users. We need a new national debate."
The Clearwater Forest provides habitat for threatened Canada lynx and more than 30 rare plant species, including the water howellia, which is also listed as threatened.
The environmentalists claim the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
They want the court to rule the ROD and FEIS are insufficient and to order interim protections, including mandating "that defendants maintain the current ROD's route closures for the protection of the environment and the prohibition on cross country travel; and enjoin the defendant and their agents from authorizing any motorized activities on the roads, routes, trails or in the areas described ... until and unless the violations of law ... have been corrected to the satisfaction of this court."
The plaintiffs are represented by Dana Johnson, in Moscow, and David Bahr, in Eugene, Ore.
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