For Immediate Release, November 19, 2007
Chris Kassar, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 609-7685
Dutch Salmon, Gila Conservation Coalition, (505) 388-3763
Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, (520) 326-4300
Conservation Groups Ask Forest Service to Protect Key Southwest Rivers
San Francisco and Blue Rivers Threatened by Off-Road Vehicles
TUCSON, Ariz.— A coalition of conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Forest Service to immediately protect two ecologically critical river corridors in Arizona and New Mexico from continued damage by off-road vehicles.
The San Francisco and Blue Rivers are two crown jewels of the Southwest that are rich in cultural resources, wildlife habitat, and opportunities for quiet recreation; yet portions of these rivers that flow through the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests are threatened by ongoing and increasing abuse by off-road vehicles. The petition cites the need for immediate action based on the Forest Service’s duty to protect the area’s outstanding ecological and quiet recreational values from potentially irreparable harm. Closing the Frisco-Blue area would also help to ensure the agency’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Forest Management Act.
“If there were only one place on the forest where off-road vehicles should not be allowed, it would be in riparian areas, especially along the perennial flow of water down the San Francisco River Canyon,” said Dutch Salmon, chairman of the Gila Conservation Coalition.
The Forest Service is in the midst of a travel-planning process, set to be completed by 2009, whereby each forest is charged with designating routes, trails, and areas as open to off-road vehicle use and prohibiting such use in more sensitive areas. But conservation groups say these rivers need immediate interim protection and that anything short of a temporary closure will risk ripping up the rivers’ fragile ecologies.
“Given the fact that we’ve already lost more than 90 percent of riparian areas in Arizona and New Mexico, we can’t afford to delay safeguarding this area from further off-road damage,” noted Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The roars of motorized off-road vehicles, and the scars these vehicles tear in the landscape and the hearts of quiet users, is just not appropriate in the Frisco-Blue.”
The Frisco-Blue area’s outstanding ecological and recreational values are suffering from cumulatively significant and potentially irreparable harm . Loss of vegetation, increased bank cutting and erosion, excessive sedimentation, and the creation of multiple renegade vehicle routes have caused the degradation of habitat and water quality both in and alongside stretches of the rivers. This poses threats to endangered species like the Southwestern willow flycatcher, the loach minnow, the Chiricahua leopard frog and the Mexican wolf, that call these rivers home. Other sensitive species including mountain lion, elk, peregrine falcon, osprey, and Gila monsters, also rely on these river ecosystems for their survival.
In addition to supporting wildlife, these lands provide peace and tranquility to visitors and highly valued quiet-use recreational opportunities, including birding, angling, fishing, hiking, backpacking, and rafting.
If the Forest Service acts, the closure would not only protect the actual rivers and the adjacent corridors but also ensure protection for wilderness quality lands that are contiguous to these river corridors.
“In the desert, the health of our native waterways should be a top priority for land managers,” said Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “The roadless wild lands in this part of Arizona offer integrity of habitat, species diversity, and genetic variability that will sustain the fragile water resources flowing through them. Wilderness protection is the strongest tool we have to pass these jewels on to our children.”
Under Executive Order 11644, the Forest Service has the authority and the obligation to close an area if off-road vehicles are causing “considerable adverse effects” to resources. Said Kassar: “The Forest Service has a fantastic opportunity to implement a simple, inexpensive solution that will result in immediate improvements in water quality and ecosystem health. We are asking that the agency show that conservation is a priority by complying with the law and immediately protecting these special places.”
More information, including the conservationists’ letter, photos of the area and maps are available at: www.endangeredearth.org/orv.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Organized in 1984 to protect the free flow of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and the wilderness characteristics of the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness areas, the Gila Conservation Coalition is a partnership of local environmental and conservation groups and concerned individuals that promote conservation of the Upper Gila River Basin and surrounding lands.
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition (AWC) is an organization of groups and individuals whose mission is to permanently protect and restore Wilderness and other wild lands and waters in Arizona.