Today, Central Oregon LandWatch filed a detailed challenge to a Forest Service decision to carve up the Ochoco National Forest by creating a 137-miles off-road vehicle (ORV) route system. The Forest Service’s final decision on this project was released at the end of June and has changed little from earlier drafts despite broad and consistent opposition from a wide variety of groups including hunters, recreationists, and biologists.
The proposed Ochoco Summit Trail System Project would cut through the heart of the Ochoco National Forest, which is east of Prineville and provides habitat for many species, including elk and redband trout. This stunning pine forest also provides for recreational activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, photography, and many more outdoor adventures that visitors and residents enjoy. The most recent data collected by the Forest Service shows that only 3.4% of visitors used an ORV for recreation, yet the proposed ORV routes will cost at least half a million dollars and cause significant disturbance to all other recreation types.
Beyond impacts to other forest visitors, the proposed ORV route system would damage riparian areas, spread invasive species, and cause stress to vulnerable wildlife. The Ochoco National Forest has already seen some of this damage from illegal user-created ORV trails. Because of the large area the ORVs would impact, there is concern that the trail system could push even more elk out of public lands.
Central Oregon LandWatch’s legal challenge to this proposal relies on expert reports and reflects the expertise of its team that includes a retired ODFW Basin Manager, hydrologists, wildlife biologists, and attorneys from the Crag Law Center. This is the next step in the advocacy group’s commitment to defending the Ochoco National Forest for future hunters, hikers, and herds of elk.