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OHV Alliance Files Lawsuit Against Santa Fe National Forest Travel Management Decision

NMOHVALogo(Albuquerque, New Mexico – December 11th, 2012) – The New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance (NMOHVA) filed a lawsuit against the Santa Fe National Forest in federal district court on December 11th. The lawsuit contests the Forest’s Travel Management decision signed by Forest Supervisor Maria T. Garcia on June 12th and upheld by the USFS Region 3 on October 2nd.

“NMOHVA filed this lawsuit on the behalf of our members but it really is for everyone who uses a vehicle in the forest,” said NMOHVA President Jim Tyldesley. “Most of the public has no idea that this decision closed over 70% of the existing roads and trails, reduced vehicle camping nearly 95%, and virtually eliminated hunters being able to use a vehicle to retrieve game. People will be stunned next spring when they find out all of Forest Road 376 in the Jemez is closed to vehicle camping. It was the most popular camping area in the whole forest.”

NMOHVA contends the decision and environmental impact statement are illegal because they violate NEPA requirements for analysis and proper science. “The studies from the agency’s own scientists concluded that decades of motorized use have not had significant impacts on the land or animals. But the environmental analysis ignored those facts,” said Joanne Spivack, NMOHVA Special Projects Coordinator. “They ignored our comments which identified these errors in the EIS and rejected our formal appeal. This lawsuit is the only option left. NEPA is not just a minor inconvenience the agency can evade.”

“The Forest Service is breaking its own rules and the federal laws requiring them to make informed, objective decisions,” said NMOHVA President Jim Tyldesley. “We are New Mexicans supporting New Mexicans. We promote responsible recreation. NMOHVA is working to preserve access to the forests so our kids and grandkids can enjoy them. The Forest Service misled the public about Travel Management, claiming it was to ‘manage’ motor vehicles. This is not management; it’s a wholesale lock-out.”

“We have been trying to work with the Santa Fe National Forest since 2005 and they have essentially ignored us,” concluded Spivack. “Simply put, enough is enough. The place to make a stand is here. The time to fight is now!”

F.A.Qs:

Is NEPA is an Effective Tool?: Yes. NEPA requires that a full and fair analysis of environmental impact be made and disclosed to the public. NEPA is our only legal defense against route closures that are made when the Forest Service doesn’t use a full and fair analysis. NMOHVA’s lawsuit is based on facts in the agency’s documents. These facts show the agendy violated many NEPA regulations. Violations include how the scientific analysis was completed, lack of data, and failure to properly examine how the closures will affect the public.

How does The EIS Break The Law?: If the EIS had been done honestly, it would not propose massive closures, because nothing in the EIS shows that vehicle use is causing significant forest-wide resource damage. There is not a single statement, study or piece of data saying vehicle use caused any specific problem in any specific place. But the EIS is not honest. Here are some examples of what we mean by that:

  • NEPA regulations say the EIS must disclose all the science and analysis and the decision must be based only on what is included in the EIS. But letters from the Santa Fe National Forest to green extremists show the agency decided to close trails in the Jemez Mountain salamander habitat before the EIS process was even started. It is illegal under NEPA to make decisions prior to the EIS. In other words, the EIS analysis of the salamander was just a smokescreen designed to hide the fact that a decision to close trails had already been made. Those dated letters are in the Project Record. The Project Record is the collection of over 900 documents that is the official record of all the work done to prepare the EIS.
  • The EIS ignores the studies of the agency’s own scientists which concluded that motorized use isn’t causing significant damage to anything. Those studies are part of the Project Record. Under NEPA, those conclusions cannot be omitted. The EIS made conclusions that contradict its own science. NEPA requires that the EIS be rational, consistent and based on proper science; this EIS violated those rules.
  • The EIS says irrational things. It claims trails must be closed because vehicles could run over a salamander. But the science in the Project Record says the Jemez Mountain salamander lives underground in rock crevices. The only time a salamander comes to the surface is on rainy summer nights.
  • The EIS rigged the results by excluding over 1800 miles of Forest Service system roads and trails from the study.

What Comes Next?: It will probably take a year before the case is concluded and the court makes its decision.We often get asked, “What can we do that will really help keep roads and trails open?” With an active lawsuit on our hands, the answer gets really simple:

What YOU Can Do Right NOW: Donate to the NMOHVA Access Defense Fund!

Lawsuits are very expensive and only used when all other options have been exhausted and only when an issue is important enough to commit NMOHVA’s limited resources.

For more information, including how to donate, please contact NMOHVA at 505-238-5493 or 505-321-3155, or visit www.nmohva.org

About the New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance – NMOHVA is a statewide nonprofit alliance of motorized off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and organizations. Our mission is promoting, protecting, and preserving responsible OHV recreation through education, safety training, and responsible land use ethics. We cooperate with public and private interests to protect and preserve public land access and work to ensure a positive future for OHV recreation in New Mexico.

Visit us at www.nmohva.org or on Facebook.

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