New Protections for fragile Sierra Nevada meadow habitat and the threatened California red-legged frog.
Press Release from Center for Biological Diversity
Court Finds Sierra Nevada Off-road Vehicle Plan Illegal
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A federal court has rejected the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to increase off-road vehicle use in the Eldorado National Forest. The court decision, released Thursday, found the Forest Service’s “travel-management plan” violated legal protections for fragile Sierra Nevada meadow habitat and the threatened California red-legged frog.
The Forest Service’s 2008 travel-management plan authorized 1,212 miles of motorized vehicle routes across the Eldorado National Forest, including designation of 23 miles of routes created by off-road vehicle users in sensitive areas. The plan included nearly 40 miles of routes on soils susceptible to erosion, 10 miles of routes within meadows, 290 miles of routes near streamsides with 485 stream crossings, and routes in red-legged frog habitat.
“Off-road vehicle use can cause substantial damage to water, wildlife and soil resources and disturb quiet recreation,” said Karen Schambach, president of Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation. “The court recognized that the Forest Service needs to fully weigh those serious impacts before expanding off-road vehicle use on the forest.”
The court’s decision responds to a challenge brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation and Forest Issues Group. The court found the plan violated the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act by favoring off-road vehicle use over protection of sensitive forest resources, including endangered species and meadow habitats. The Eldorado National Forest contains key recovery habitat for the California red-legged frog and many other imperiled species as well as clean-water resources critical to the state.
“The court recognized that the Forest Service failed to take the steps needed to adequately protect red-legged frogs and important habitat from off-road vehicle destruction,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency adopted a route system that unnecessarily cuts through important meadow habitat, impairs riparian conservation areas, and ultimately would undermine the health of the forest.”
The California red-legged frog is famously known from Mark Twain’s story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Once so common it was a staple cuisine, California’s largest native frog has now lost 90 percent of its historic population. Remaining red-legged frog populations continue to be threatened by habitat loss in aquatic, riparian and upland areas; water-quality degradation; and pesticide use.
Plaintiffs were represented by Dave Bahr of Bahr Law Offices, Erik Schlenker-Goodrich of Western Environmental Law Center and Lisa Belenky of the Center for Biological Diversity.