South End Project on the Colville National Forest
The Forest Service wants to open to ATV riders a vast new landscape of roads in the south end of the Colville National Forest near Chewelah.
The Colville National Forest has proposed to open a vast new landscape of roads to ORV and ATV riders at the south end of the National Forest.
Conservation Northwest supports increased opportunities for safe, legal and environmentally acceptable motorized recreation. We know many ORV riders ride responsibly and we want to see meaningful routes and scenic loops available for public riding and family recreation.
But that riding cannot be associated with unlawful behavior or come at the cost of environmental damage, degradation of fish and wildlife habitat, or impacts to other public lands users such as backcountry hunters and hikers.
Conservation Northwest, Kettle Range Conservation Group, and The Lands Council have sent a joint letter to the forest supervisor and have appealed the South End Project decision.
Our appeal isn’t about ORVs legally riding on Forest Service roads already open to cars and trucks. It’s about realistically addressing existing and ongoing damage from off-road riding in the surrounding national forest environment. Numerous studies have shown that ORV riders will not stick to open forest service roads, and a large proportion of riders report they occasionally or regularly ride on illegal or unauthorized trails.
We don't have a problem with all-terrain vehicles driving on roads. But many ATV users are not satisfied with road travel and have used their increased road privileges to get into and abuse an ever-increasing amount of wild backcountry.
Earlier this year, our staff conducted numerous trail surveys during and after popular weekends including Memorial Day. They found unauthorized campsites with over a hundred people and dozens of ATVs, widespread illegal trail use, and significant environmental damage from riding and “mudding” in meadows, wetlands, streams and other sensitive areas. And no federal law enforcement officer to maintain order and protect the public domain.
Our study of closed roads in the South Fork Boulder Creek watershed in the South End showed 17 miles of closed roads regularly violated by ATVs and numerous user-created routes running through the riparian area to the creek. (See photos)
South End Project - a wrong headed decision
- It’s risky: Conservation Northwest believes increased ORV access comes with increased responsibilities. The South End Project opens up 170 miles of roads for ORVs (nearly the distance between Spokane, Washington and Missoula, Montana). Since ORVs are designed, marketed, certified, and sold for off-road use, many riders venture off the road, causing environmental damage and impacts to other lands users like hunters and hikers.
- It’s unwieldy: The Colville National Forest is already overwhelmed by illegal off-road trailblazing, and permanently lost one of two Forest law enforcement officers this year. ORV groups have made attempts at self-policing, but without substantive results. Enforcement would become even more difficult with the increased network of ATV routes and open roads.
- It’s unfair: Because the South End Project legitimizes trails that were illegally built by ORV users, it rewards the bad behavior and encourages additional illegal trail construction elsewhere in the Colville National Forest. This sends exactly the wrong message.
- It lacks teeth: The South End Project lacks accountability for riders that violate the rules. The recent off-road vehicle “rodeo” in an unauthorized area of the Colville National Forest near Ione is clear evidence that ORV riders flaunt regulations and willingly cause ecological damage that can last for months or even years. When riders leave roads or damage streams, meadows, and other parts of the forest, there should be consequences. When ATVs can’t follow the rules, they should lose the privilege of access.
- Where’s the beef? The Colville National Forest doesn’t have the funds to pay for new forest rangers and enforcement, ORV signage and information, or the closure and rehabilitation of existing illegal trails. How can they responsibly open significantly more areas of the National Forest to ORVs and dispersed camping, without the means to pay for the associated costs of additional enforcement and trail restoration?