SEATTLE (CN) – Environmentalists sued the U.S. Forest Service to try to stop it from opening 350 miles of trails in the North Cascades Mountains to off-road vehicles.
Three nonprofits claim in Federal Court that the Forest Service opened up potential wilderness bordering on North Cascades National Park to ORVs use without proper environmental review.
The June 30 lawsuit asks the court to set aside the plan that would, for the first time, allow wheeled all-terrain vehicles in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Lead plaintiff Alpine Lakes Protection Society is joined by the Kittitas Audubon Society and the Sierra Club. It’s the latest lawsuit in a perennial battle between environmentalists and off-road motorized vehicle enthusiasts.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, next to North Cascades National Park, contains more than 4 million acres and is habitat for bears, lynx, mountain goats and wolves. It includes the heavily used Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area near Seattle.
The environmentalists say ORVs damage the forest and the new routes will affect areas that could be designated as wilderness.
“We’re concerned about agency capacity to deal with illegal and harmful off-road riding,” Alpine Lakes Protection Society president Karl Forsgaard said in a statement.
“We need law enforcement’s presence out on the land, but the Forest Service is already stretched thin.”
The Sierra Club is “offended by the last-minute exclusion” of the proposed routes from public comment, member Harry Romberg said in a statement.
Forest Service spokeswoman Cathy Dowd said officials are reviewing the suit and it would be premature to comment.
“ORVs have significant, negative impacts on practically every aspect of the natural environment wherever they are used,” the complaint states. “ORV use degrades air and water quality. ORV use impairs others’ ability to enjoy natural sights, sounds and smells. ORV use creates safety hazards for motorized travelers, ORV users, and others. Most natural areas sustain damage due to the impacts of ORVs. These impacts include, but are not limited to, damage to soils and vegetation; harm to wildlife and wildlife habitat; degraded water quality and riparian health; spread of invasive weeds; starting wildfires; and harm to cultural resources.
“During his presentation to the Izaak Walton League in July 2003, Dale Bosworth, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service, described the harm ORVs can inflict on forest resources: ‘Each year, the national forests and grasslands get hundreds of miles of unauthorized roads and trails due to repeated cross-country use. We’re seeing more and more erosion, water degradation, and habitat destruction. We’re seeing more and more conflicts between users.'”
The Forest Service failed to comply with the Travel Management Rule and National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct proper analysis of the new routes and identify potential environmental impacts, the complaint states.
The groups want the new routes suspended until the Forest Service has a “legally sufficient” travel management plan.
They are represented by Paul Kampmeier with Kampmeier & Knutsen of Seattle, and David Bahr of Eugene, Ore.
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