Trail Project Endangers Habitat, Groups Say

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – California park officials need to consider how plans for a “major expansion” of off-road vehicle trails in the Eldorado National Forest will affect the area’s wildlife, two environmental groups claim in Alameda County Court.

     The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation say the planned development in the Rock Creek recreation area of the forest endangers the habitats of several threatened plant and animal species, including the California red-legged frog, the Western pond turtle, the great grey owl, the Sierra Nevada red fox and the Eldorado manzanita, a native California shrub.
     The Department of Parks and Recreation plans to add 8.9 miles of off-road vehicle (ORV) trails that would “involve construction of three new bridges, blasting of rock outcroppings, excavation, construction of retaining walls and new restrooms, and other ‘improvements’ that will result in a significant increase in the use of the Rock Creek area by ORVs,” the groups claim.
     They say the increased use of off-road vehicles will cause erosion and air pollution, and the destruction of endangered species by “physical crushing by ORV tires.”
     The groups call the department’s short-term analysis of the project’s impact “woefully inadequate,” claiming a more detailed report is required under state environmental law.
     They say the agency’s narrow study “ignores entirely the project’s noise, odor and visual impacts, providing only the bare conclusion that these impacts are less than significant,” noting that the department has argued that “the environment in the area is already degraded.”
     “Under [the California Environmental Quality Act], it is not acceptable to add further insult to an existing environmental injury,” the lawsuit states. “Rather, the question is whether any additional environmental harm should be allowed at all given the extent of the existing degradation.”
     The groups demand an order forcing the agency to prepare a full environmental analysis and postponing the expansion until it has done so.
     They are represented by Michael Lozeau with Lozeau and Drury.

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