Flagstaff — A coalition of conservation groups are asking the U.S. Forest Service to re-think plans for allowing off-road vehicles to drive into lands abutting the Grand Canyon National Park to retrieve game carcasses, according to an administrative appeal filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The groups cite habitat destruction, damage to archaeological sites, airborne dust and other negative effects that the agency has not fully considered.
At issue is a plan by the Tusayan Ranger District of Arizona’ s Kaibab National Forest to allow hunters to drive for one mile off every open road to pick up their downed elk. The effect of this plan will, in effect, open a majority of national forest land to ORV traffic.
Some of the Southwest’s most valuable elk hunting is found in the Tusayan Ranger District, which borders the Grand Canyon National Park to the south. According to conservationists, the plan will not only harm the hunting experience but also harm the habitat of sensitive species such as the northern goshawk, American pronghorn, mountain lion, and black bear.
What few environmental protections that exist in the plan are vulnerable to a chronic lack of enforcement. The Tusayan Ranger District ORV proposal contains few provisions for ensuring compliance with ORV use restrictions other than relying on riders to self-police. Consequently, the Tusayan Ranger District will not be able to prevent illegal off-road use from spilling into the Grand Canyon National Park, which could destroy wildlife habitat, ancient archeological sites and could disrupt visitors to the Grand Canyon.
“The Forest Service needs to think through the real world consequences of letting ORVs churn through some of the most important and sensitive lands in the Southwest,” stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, an ecologist who formerly worked with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “What is the point of designating routes if no one has to stay on them?”
The appeal asked the Forest Service Southwestern Regional Office to reject the plan, citing violations of the Forest Service’s own Travel Management Rule and the National Environmental Policy Act, for failure to look at more protective alternatives or fully consider impacts on wildlife, air and water quality, and climate change. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and the Sierra Club has joined PEER in filing the appeal.
While the Tusayan plan is supposed to provide convenience for hunters, ORVs can disrupt hunters who often require quiet to bag game.
“If you are trying to hunt, the last thing you want is a clueless off-roader roaring around,” added Patterson, a hunter. “Hunters should not have to drive up to their quarry.”