ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — Firing a legal shot in a perennial war over off-road vehicle access to national forests, a New Mexico group claims the U.S. Forest Service illegally shut it out of two-thirds of the roads in Santa Fe National Forest.
Off-road vehicle riders and snowmobilers are enmeshed in decade-long legal wars against the Forest Service and National Park Service throughout the West. Snowmobilers and ORV hobbyists say the United States has no right to deny them access to federal land; backpackers and environmentalists say the vehicles are noisy and destructive and ruin the outdoors for others.
The New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Association calls environmentalists and ORV opponents "selfish elitists" on its home web page.
The group sued the Forest Service on Thursday in Federal Court, claiming its June 2012 Record of Decision for Travel Management eliminated its members' access to up to 69 percent of roads and trails in the Santa Fe National Forest, by limiting them to certain vehicle types or by closing them to the public.
Santa Fe National Forest occupies nearly 1.6 million acres in northern New Mexico, at elevations of 5,300 to 13,103 feet.
The ORV group claims that environmental impact studies used to create the Travel Management decision were flawed, based on generalizations rather than specific studies of the environment in and around the forest.
They claim the Forest Service "made clearly improbable assumptions, such as the assumption that all motorized vehicles — motorcycles, ATVs, trucks and cars — cause similar impacts to resources and that the effects of motorized trails are the same as the effects of roads."
"Motorized recreation on the public lands of New Mexico is under attack right now and all around you," the group says on its web page. "Aligned under the guise of 'environmentalism,' selfish elitists have determined that you have no right to recreate in your chosen way and are determined to lock you out from enjoying your motorcycle, ATV, snowmobile, or 4WD on public land."
The Forest Service Record of Decision states: "The forest plan, originally written in 1987, did not contemplate the extent to which motorized use would become part of the forest's recreational landscape." It outlines five alternative travel management plans which were considered in updating the travel rules.
In the document, Forest Supervisor Maria T. Garcia, a defendant, states that she selected the plan "because, based on the public's comments, it is a compromise that balances the desires of motorized recreational users while maintaining natural and cultural resource values."
But the ORV group's attorney Karen Budd-Falen, of Cheyenne, Wyo., told Courthouse News that the Forest Service plan is inadequate because it's based on broad assumptions rather than specific data.
"The Forest Service is required to do these plans," Budd-Falen said, "but it didn't do the right kind of analysis."
The ORV group wants the plan vacated and open travel policies reinstated, plus costs of suit.
The Forest Service did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.