PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Environmental groups say the U.S. Forest Service opened three protected areas in the Columbia Gorge to horseback riding, mountain biking and off-leash dogs, “updating” its Open Space Plan without studying its environmental impacts.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Oregon Wild, the Portland chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon and nine people claim that opening federal land on Burdoin Mountain and around Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek will endanger a “unique ecological community.”
The Forest Service allegedly cut corners by issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact, instead of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The federal lawsuit focuses on the impact of the decision on the Catherine Creek Open Space area, which has “extensive occurrences of sensitive and threatened plant species.”
The plaintiffs say area contains “shallow, nutrient-poor soils draped across shallow depressions and around rock outcrops. These soils host a number of small, delicate, annual and perennial wildflowers that could not grow in deeper, nutrient-rich soils where larger plants or lush grass would out-compete smaller-growing species for sunlight and nutrients.”
The Forest Service allegedly approved new trails east of Catherine Creek without surveying for sensitive plant species. Many of these species are detectable only for a few weeks each year, the lawsuit states.
The new trails would encourage horseback riding from April through June – the peak reproductive season for wildflowers, the plaintiffs say. Horses would disrupt the Catherine Creek ecosystem adding nutrient-rich horse manure, and would trample sensitive plants and erode the thin soil. Horse manure can also introduce invasive species.
The area is accessible for hiking, camping, wildflower and wildlife viewing, photography and bird watching.
The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Scenic Area Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. They want an injunction to keep the Forest Service from implementing its decision until it prepares an Environmental Impact Statement.
The plaintiffs are represented by Jared Kahn and Gary Kahn of Reeves Kahn & Hennessy.