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Western Caucus Co-Chairs Respond to Radical Environmental Lawsuit Against the Gila National Forest

Washington, D.C. (August 8, 2014) – Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal of the Gila National Forest’s travel management plan. The CBD claimed that the plan “imperiled frogs, fish, and birds” by allowing off-road vehicles to use 3,000 miles of roads. The Gila National Forest plan sets aside 24% of its land for non-motorized use and increasing this percentage will limit public access for recreational activity.

Congressional Western Caucus Co-Chairs Steve Pearce (NM-02) and Cynthia Lummis (WY-At Large) released the following statements in response to the announcement:

“Once again, the Center for Biological Diversity is suing to restrict citizens from accessing their national forests,” said Chairman Pearce. “Just recently the Gila National Forest announced a travel management plan that closed hundreds of miles of trails and roads. The Center for Biological Diversity decided that their lawyers should have the exclusive right to dictate where citizens can go in the Gila National Forest. Their self-serving actions will jeopardize tourism in Western New Mexico, calling into question radical environmental groups’ constant declarations that sectioning off our lands will create tourism jobs. There is no tourism without access.”

“National Forests are multiple-use public lands designed to accommodate a variety of uses and Gila National Forest in New Mexico is no different,” said Chairman Lummis. “We must curtail attempts like this to undermine the multiple-use ideals upon which these lands were established. Proper public land management requires balance, including consideration of the needs of those who live near the land.”

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Grant County, NM also appealed this decision.

Grant County Commissioners vote to appeal Gila National Forest Travel Management Plan - Silver City Sun-News

The commissioners also voted to appeal the U.S. Forest Service's Gila National Forest Travel Management Plan, a document that was eight years in the making.

The travel plan, which was unveiled in early June, received mostly positive responses from a variety of organizations, including The New Mexico Wildlife Federation, the state chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the state Public Lands Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. The Center for Biological Diversity expressed some concerns about the plan when it was made public, but Todd Schulke, senior staff and cofounder of the group, said at the time he saw "positive changes," in the travel management plan.

Grant County commissioners, however, have written a 108-page appeal. According to statements from Gila National Forest supervisor, Kelly Russel, made in June, those who commented on the draft during the public comment period from January to March 2011, had 45 days to appeal the new rules. Now that the commission is appealing, a series of discussions with the Forest Service and ultimately a regional forester will take place. The regional forester will make the final decision. If a regional forester rules in favor of the Forest Service, Grant County commissioners can take the matter to the courts.

There are two main issues at stake, Robinson said after the meeting.

"The Forest Service did not cooperate with local agencies," Robinson said.

She also said roads closed by the Forest Service were not included in the travel management plan and the county considers this a grave issue.

Robinson said a large portion of roads in the Gila National Forest are not on the maps.
 
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