PRINEVILLE, OR — Last week the U.S. Forest Service dismissed its appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of a district court order rejecting the agency’s plan to add 137 miles of off-road vehicle trails in central Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest. The plan would have expanded the Forest’s existing network of 674 miles by 20 percent, cutting new motorized trails through old-growth forest and the heart of elk country.
In January of this year, District Court Judge Marco A. Hernandez vacated the Forest Service’s environmental analysis and final decision for the trail system. Judge Hernandez’s ruling confirmed Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan’s September 2018 rejection of the new motorized trail system.
Dropping the appeal means that Judge Hernandez’s ruling remains intact, which is a win for old growth, wildlife and quiet recreation as advocated by WildEarth Guardians and our partners. If the agency wants to expand motorized use in the Ochoco National Forest, it will need to start from scratch.
WildEarth Guardians, Oregon Wild, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and the Sierra Club, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, prevailed in the case. Companion cases were also brought by Oregon Hunters Association and Central Oregon Landwatch. The Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife also opposed the plan.
“We are thrilled to get finality in this case and ensure protections for some of the last remaining wild places on the Ochoco National Forest,” said Judi Brawer, Wild Places Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “We hope this outcome marks a change in the Forest Service’s approach to future projects – the agency cannot advance special interests to the detriment of sensitive landscapes and wildlife.”
“From hunters and hikers to anglers and equestrians, people who know and love the Ochocos were united in their opposition to the Forest Service's Summit OHV plan,” said Jamie Dawson of Oregon Wild. “Oregonians who treasure elk and mule deer, and who support conservation and responsible uses of our public lands, can breathe a sigh of relief.”
“We are thrilled that critically important cold-water streams will be protected in the Ochoco National Forest,” said Shelley Silbert, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “The ruling will also guard against motorized impacts on unique and fragile scabland ecosystems, elk wallows and calving sites, and potential gray wolf habitat. It’s a boon for all who love the outdoors.
Oregon Wild wrote a report on OHVs in the Ochoco, which is available here.
Photo by Sarah Cuddy