Monday, December 28, 2009

HCPC moves to protect wildlife in the Sled Springs area

Conservationists Sue to Protect Wildlife Habitat from Large OHV Play Area

La Grande, OR, December 23, 2009--The Hells Canyon Preservation Council today moved to protect nearly 40,000 acres of crucial wildlife habitat within the Sled Springs area of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, north of Enterprise, Oregon. The group filed a lawsuit challenging the Forest Service’s approval of the “Sled Springs OHV Project,” which would establish an extensive 144-mile trail system for Off-Highway Vehicles (“OHVs”) over much of the highest quality elk summer range remaining within the broader Sled Springs Wildlife Management Unit.

HCPC points to the Forest Service’s own scientific findings that demonstrate motorized disturbance, and OHV use in particular, is a leading threat to maintaining productive elk herds. Elk calf recruitment has already dramatically declined for the Sled Springs area in recent years, and numerous studies show that OHV use causes elk to flee from areas they would otherwise occupy. Even the state’s own wildlife management agency, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), has expressed serious concerns over this project and the potential for increased motorized disturbance to displace elk from public forest lands onto adjacent private lands. To make matters worse, adjacent private forest lands have already been heavily logged, which has eliminated much of the security habitat species like elk and deer need to persist within an area.

The Forest Service admits that the Sled Springs OHV project threatens to substantially reduce hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities in the area. “The Hells Canyon Preservation Council certainly isn’t the only entity concerned about the negative effects this project poses to local wildlife,” said Jennifer Schwartz, HCPC Staff Attorney. “In addition to ODFW, a broad coalition of sportsmen and the Nez Perce Tribe have also raised wildlife related concerns. The Forest Service is ignoring its own science and the interests of its broader constituency in this ill-conceived pursuit to expand motorized recreation.”

The Forest Service’s decision also designates OHV trails through three known Northern Goshawk nest stands, another species of concern, and allows motorized use to occur during the sensitive nesting season. Perhaps more importantly, when viewed in a broader landscape scale context, the Sled Springs area can currently serve as an important public lands connectivity corridor for wide ranging carnivores such as gray wolves and wolverine, enabling these rare species to move between distant patches of high quality remote habitat. The group warns that if the Sled Springs OHV project is allowed this regional connectivity function will be lost. “The ability of the Sled Springs area to continue functioning as important wildlife habitat has already been impaired by past and present commercial logging and livestock grazing--establishing a large OHV play area on top of all that adds insult to injury,” said Ms. Schwartz.

The Sled Springs project boundary also encompasses an Inventoried Roadless Area, which provides great opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation. Conservationists fear that creating a large OHV playground will exacerbate problems of unauthorized use within the pristine roadless area. “The Forest Service’s premise that designating an OHV route system will reign in unauthorized use is simply unfounded,” according to Ms. Schwartz. “This theory has been tested and the results indicate that OHV users did not confine themselves to designated trails. Take for instance the Winom-Frazer OHV Complex near Ukiah. ODFW found that 27 unauthorized trail segments totaling over 14 miles had originated from just one of the designated trails it surveyed.” The Forest Service plans to employ a single official to police the entire 38,283-acre Sled Springs project area

Photo: HCPC Staff Attorney, Jennifer Schwartz, surveys OHV damage on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New HCPC Blog!

Dear friends of HCPC,

It is with great pleasure that I introduce Hells Canyon Preservation Council's new blog. We will be posting here weekly, sometimes with updates from the field, sometimes with longer explanations of positions we're taking, and sometimes with guest articles.

We will use this blog to keep in better touch with our members and followers (who should be members). If you're aware of an issue that we're working on and would like to know more, please let us know and we'll write up a blog post if appropriate. We'd enjoy hearing your feedback, and if you would care to contribute to our blog let us know.

Greg Dyson,
Executive Director

Joseph Canyon sunrise - Danae Yurgel