In a victory for public lands, wildlife, and native fish, Judge Marco Hernández ruled that the Forest Service failed to satisfy its legal obligation to study the environmental impacts of a major new trail system for off-road vehicles, and to ensure that sensitive habitat for elk, wolves, and native fish are protected. The decision solidifies an earlier ruling from Magistrate Patricia Sullivan, issued on August 27, 2018.
Crag represented Central Oregon LandWatch in a legal challenge in federal court over the Forest Service’s proposal to carve up the Ochoco Mountains with a new 137-mile off-road vehicle (ORV) route system. The new destination trail system posed severe threats to elk wallows and calving sites, riparian areas, and other forest visitors’ ability to hunt, fish, hike, and mountain bike in the area. LandWatch teamed up with the Oregon Hunters Association, and environmental organizations WildEarth Guardians, Oregon Wild, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and the Sierra Club. The coalition’s legal arguments were supported by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Staff Attorney Oliver Stiefel said the court took the opportunity to dig into the issues, especially with regard to the project’s adverse impacts on elk habitat, and determined that the Forest Service violated a series of federal laws. The writing is on the wall for the Forest Service: the agency must do a better job of protecting healthy wildlife habitat and high-quality recreational opportunities.
LandWatch Director Paul Dewey said, “There is unprecedented opposition to the proposed project because so many Central Oregonians have a special connection to the Ochoco Mountains. We are pleased that the court listened to the diverse voices of the local community who have been telling the Forest Service for years that a destination ORV trail system in one of the last quiet and serene forests just doesn’t make sense.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) filed a legal brief in support of LandWatch’s lawsuit because it would displace big game and reduce survival rates of the elk population by constructing trails through sensitive calving and fawning areas.