Press Release | May 23, 2008

Forest Service threatened with lawsuit for protecting Tellico River watershed

Three organizations that promote motorized recreation on public lands issued a press statement late Thursday threatening to sue the U.S. Forest Service for closing several miles of off-road vehicle trails in the Tellico ORV Area of the Nantahala Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. The agency announced in December limited and temporary trail closures due to ongoing deteriorating water quality in the Tellico watershed, where intensive ORV use has turned trails into massive muddy ditches, some more than seven feet deep. The sediment – some 74,000 tons over the years by the agency's own estimate – is a primary factor in decline of native brook trout in the area. Sportsmen and conservation groups last year notified the Forest Service of their intent to take legal action to force the agency to take appropriate action to restore and maintain water quality in the Tellico watershed. Subsequently, the Forest Service issued the emergency closure decision and invited all parties to discuss long-term management options to accommodate ORV use and ensure clean water.

DJ Gerken: “The Forest Service's decision to close the Tellico ORV trails this past winter – the only ORV area in the North Carolina national forests that doesn't close for winter – was absolutely necessary. They found out that water quality met state standards throughout the winter closure, but on opening day in early April, sediment in the Tellico River was more than twice the legal limit. Also, the year-long closure of four of the most heavily used miles of the 40-mile trail system was based on the agency's data revealing that each mile of the those trails sends an average of 35 tons of sediment to nearby streams each year.”

Squeak Smith: National Board of Trustees of Trout Unlimited, which supports the Tennessee and North Carolina TU state councils in this: “The USFS has diverted virtually all maintenance funding from every national forest in North Carolina to deal with the problems at Tellico. Based on USFS data, they are spending nearly $50 per ORV visit on maintenance, while only charging $10 a visit. This does not treat other national forest-user groups equitably and from my perspective, it does not make good economic sense.”

Chris Joyell: “We viewed the Forest Service's action as the bare minimum needed to address water quality problems caused by this ORV area. It is unfortunate that the four-wheel organizations are unwilling to work with the Forest Service in light of the Forest Service's modest response to our demands to clean up this problem.”

Barry Sulkin: “The Forest Service has years of data documenting that streams affected by the Tellico ORV system are clogged with sediment at levels 500-1000 times greater than nearby reference streams. The science certainly supported the modest emergency action taken by the Forest Service, and in fact supported a great deal more.”

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