News | October 14, 2009

Forest Service Closes NC Off-Road Vehicle Area To Protect Water Quality

The U.S. Forest Service announced today it will close the Tellico River area in North Carolina to future ORV use to protect water quality in the watershed, one of the last, best strongholds for native brook trout in the region.

The move brings to a close a years-long process that began when SELC and our conservation groups in North Carolina and Tennessee took steps to sue the agency in 2007 for failing to meet federal law and its own standards to protect the watershed from pollution caused by excessive ORV use in the area. We negotiated repeatedly with the agency to get the result we sought – restoration and long-term protection of this vital watershed.

In an environmental assessment issued in February, the agency found that excessive, and illegal ORV use has caused extensive damage to water quality throughout the Tellico River watershed, with muddy water from the trails visibly running into the Tellico and its tributaries in hundreds of locations. Some of the trails in Tellico – one of the most heavily used ORV areas on public lands in the South – have turned into huge ditches, some seven feet deep.  

The agency will decommission many of the trails and restore the lands to a natural state, and convert others to forest roads for public access for other types of recreation.