The lawsuit challenges the Forest Serviceís approval of the Riley Ranch Access Project, which involves building a 14 to 24 foot wide motor vehicle route through an inventoried roadless area and also a section of the Oregon Dunes that has long been closed to motor vehicle use.
"The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is something to truly behold," says Josh Laughlin of Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands. "We have a world-class treasure right here in our backyard that is being seriously damaged by reckless and illegal ORV activity. It is time to draw a line in the sand."
The groups are particularly concerned that the new road will exacerbate existing problems with unlawful ORV riding within the dunesí unique and highly sensitive habitats.
Since 2004, the Forest Service and county sheriff have documented increasing "lawlessness" and "gang-like mentality" among groups of ORV riders within the Oregon Dunes.
The Forest Service has concluded that it is unsafe for three or four armed law-enforcement officers, much less unarmed agency employees, to make courtesy or enforcement contacts, even during daylight hours.
A boy and his off-road vehicle at Oregon Dunes (Photo by Michael at NW Lens)
"Going to the Oregon Dunes is like stepping into another world," says Francis Eatherington of Roseburg-based Umpqua Watersheds. "Unfortunately, itís becoming rare to experience this incredible place without hearing the constant buzz of engines and seeing tire tracks driven through sensitive and protected areas. Things have gotten out of hand, and the Forest Service isnít doing anything about it."
The Oregon Dunes is the most extensive and unique expanse of sand dunes along the Pacific Coast. The area contains rare geologic features found nowhere else in the world, several "globally significant plant communities," five sensitive plant species, critical habitat for the snowy plover, a threatened shorebird, and amazing opportunities for hikers and bird watchers.
The Oregon Dunes was established by an act of Congress in 1972 for "public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment" and for "the conservation of scenic, scientific, historic, and other values contributing to pubic enjoyment."
"The Oregon Dunes already contain thousands of acres open to ORVs," says Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Creating a new road in the roadless area is not necessary or in the public interest."
The Forest Service encourages ORVs in the Oregon Dunes, saying on its website, "Thousands of off-highway vehicle riders come to enjoy the thrill of riding across these expansive tracks of sand."
"Three main off-highway vehicle riding areas have been set aside to provide riders with a variety of experiences," the Forest Service says. "There are sand roads and designated rides between South Jetty to the Siltcoos River, small areas with the highest and most dramatic dunes in Umpqua Riding area, and large areas with varied riding opportunities between Spinreel and Horsfall. Whether by sand rail, motorcycle, 4x4, quad or guided trip riders are in for a treat."
"The Forest Service should not expand the motorized trail system unless it is able to protect the globally rare dunes ecosystems from the unlawful ORV use that is already going on," says Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. "The Forest Service is unable to do their job now, yet they want to grow the problem by expanding the trail system in sensitive areas."
"The Forest Service needs to step up and give these serious issues the attention they deserve," says Sarah Peters of Wildlands CPR. "The Oregon Dunes should not be treated as if it is just for motorized users, but should be managed to preserve and protect wildlife habitat, as well as nonmotorized recreation opportunities."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.