Washington, DC — A compromise agreement reached by conservation groups, off-roaders and three rural counties settles litigation going back to the 1990’s by resolving the status of contentious trails in Northern California’s Eldorado National Forest, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the agreement, some trails and dirt roads would reopen, others would remain closed and still others would begin restoration of past damage.
Forty-two routes on the Eldorado Forest were closed by court order in 2012 by a federal judge who determined designating the routes through meadows violated the forest plan, which bans roads in meadows. Subsequently, Forest managers did a new analysis resulting in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Decision (SEIS) which would reopen all but 18 of the routes.
That SEIS Decision was appealed by nine conservation organizations, including PEER, the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, and the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups contended that some of the routes opened by the SEIS are causing impacts to alder wetlands and other hydrological features protected by the Forest plan, which were not addressed in the SEIS decision. The conservation groups wanted those impacts corrected.
In the agreement reached by the nine conservation groups, eight off-road groups and individuals, as well as the three counties of Alpine, Amador and El Dorado all dropped their appeals to a plan that –
- Allows 24 routes to open immediately;
- Closes 18 routes; and
- Commits the Forest Service to review all the routes over the next three years and take corrective action to protect meadows, streams and springs.
“This settlement is not only a win for sensitive habitat and water quality, but it represents a social milestone,” stated California PEER Director Karen Schambach. “The nineteen parties, who represent the diversity of a public that is passionate about our public lands, have chosen collaboration over litigation. Nobody got all they wanted, but we have agreed to work together on this going forward, to protect our public lands and provide high quality recreation opportunities.”
Schambach was also optimistic that the agreement would continue to pay broad dividends as it is fully implemented: “Repairing or rerouting these routes will not only benefit water quality and aquatic wildlife, but will provide access to many people whose vehicles simply are not able to navigate some of these roads in their current condition.”
The Eldorado National Forest trail designation effort is part of a national effort to minimize mounting off-road vehicle damage to streams, wildlife and landscapes on federal lands by designating routes for motorized traffic.