Fish and wildlife habitat on the Colville National Forest protected as Forest Service rescinds illegal off-road vehicle designations after lawsuit
Conservation Northwest / Jun 09, 2021 / ATVs, Forest Field Program, Forest Roads, News Releases, Protecting Wildlands
In response to our lawsuit, the Colville National Forest has rescinded 2020 motor vehicle use maps and reinstated previous motorized vehicle designations that do not allow ATVs on certain roads without proper public and environmental review.
SPOKANE—Conservation groups today applauded the U.S. Forest Service for prohibiting off-road or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on 117 road miles across the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington. The Forest Service rescinded its 2020 motor vehicle use maps and reinstated previous motorized vehicle designations that do not allow ATVs on certain roads after Conservation Northwest and WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit challenging the agency’s expansion of motorized use without proper public input or required consideration for fish, wildlife, and sensitive habitats.
“ATVs have a rightful place on the Colville National Forest, but opening new motorized routes requires public vetting and environmental review to avoid impacts to important wildlife habitat, consider other recreation values, and ensure enforcement and accountability for illegal behavior,” said Tiana Luke, Colville Forest Lead for Conservation Northwest, adding “none of that was done here.”
Last year, the Forest modified its 2020 Motor Vehicle Use Map thereby expanding the amount of traffic through undeveloped land and habitat that supports imperiled fish and wildlife. The authorization to allow ATVs and other types of off-road vehicles to drive on 26 different road segments came without any meaningful public input or environmental scrutiny. The lawsuit asked the court to invalidate the Forest Service’s decision.
“In withdrawing their decision, the Colville National Forest did exactly what we had asked,” says Adam Rissien, ReWilding Advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “The result will be less noise, dust, and damage in areas crucial for the recovery and protection of several at-risk species.”
In addition to cutting out the public voice, the Forest Service’s decision failed to account for increased ATV use, impacts to other forest users and inhabitants, and the high likelihood that some ATV operators will illegally ride off-road into sensitive habitat and cause significant damage. The Colville has a long history of significant ATV abuse that persists today.
“We’re hopeful this marks a turning point for the Colville and a renewed commitment to collaboration, science, and sincerely involving the community on recreation, forestry and other projects,” said Luke.
Located between the North Cascades and the Rocky Mountains, the Colville National Forest covers the Kettle River and Selkirk mountain ranges, which provide habitat for a broad diversity of fish and wildlife, including Canada lynx, grizzly bear, elk, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, bull trout, western yellow-bellied cuckoo, and dozens of other species. Its vast tracts of wildland provide all kinds of recreation opportunities for hunters, anglers, hikers, mountain bikers, and others.
Increased and especially under-regulated ATV use can disturb and displace wildlife and degrade habitat values as well as the outdoor experiences of other recreationists. Riding off-road causes soil compaction, stream bed and wetland degradation, and destruction of fish and wildlife habitat. Meadows, bogs, and other sensitive areas can take years to recover from just a few minutes of “mudding.”
The conservation groups are represented by Paul Kampmeier of Kampmeier & Knutsen PLLC and Marla Fox of WildEarth Guardians.