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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Off-road vehicles in coastal marten habitats prompt lawsuit against US Forest Service

The Center claims that the Forest Service allows extensive off-road vehicle use in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where the endangered martens live.

EUGENE, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the United States Forest Service of failing to protect threatened coastal martens from the detrimental effects of off-road vehicle activity in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

The organization claims that despite the protection of the orange-furred coastal martens and their habitat under the Endangered Species Act, the Forest Service permits extensive off-road vehicle use in the Oregon Dunes, which is home to approximately 71 coastal martens.

It's a significant portion of the fewer than 400 martens remaining in isolated populations across Oregon and California.

The environmental group filed the suit in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division. It claims that the Forest Service has failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and its own land-management plans for the Siuslaw National Forest and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

“The Forest Service knows this population of coastal martens is incredibly fragile, but officials have done very little to protect them in the Oregon Dunes,” stated Tala DiBenedetto, a carnivore conservation staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of finding ways to limit off-road vehicle harms, the agency has doubled down by allowing even more vehicle use in precious marten habitat.”

The center seeks to compel the Forest Service to undertake measures to mitigate risks to coastal martens, such as installing fencing to keep off-road vehicles within designated areas, enforcing decibel limits and capping the number of off-road vehicles permitted in the Oregon Dunes. In March, the group warned the Forest Service that it intended to sue within 60 days if the agency didn’t take action to protect martens from off-road vehicles.

The coastal marten is a cat-sized, weasel-like carnivore with a long tail, large triangular ears and slender build. It was once thought to be extinct after losing 95% of its historical range due to logging, wildfires and other threats. In 1996, it was rediscovered — and in 2020, it was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In May 2024, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to designate 1.2 million acres of critical habitat for the coastal marten, with 1.1 million acres of that land being federal.

In its complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity highlights several risks posed by off-road vehicles, including noise disturbances, increased fire risk, habitat destruction and the danger of vehicle strikes. These risks are particularly pronounced during large-scale events like DuneFest and the UTV Takeover, which the Forest Service has permitted to continue and even expand in the Oregon Dunes.

Scientists warn that the precarious marten population in the Oregon Dunes could be irreparably harmed if just two or three of the animals are killed per year.

“The Forest Service needs to stop dragging its feet and finally step up to provide critical protections for coastal martens in the Oregon Dunes,” DiBenedetto said. “This beautiful coastal landscape is home to one of the last remaining marten populations, and these riding events are an unacceptable risk to the few martens left. These beleaguered little animals need the agency to act now.”

Categories / Environment, Government

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