Tag Archives: U.S. Forest Service

‘We Fought For Elk, And Won’–OHA On Judge’s Recommendation Against Ochoco OHV Expansion Plan

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters are heralding a federal judge’s recent preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest.

THE OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION AND OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE HAVE BEEN OPPOSED TO THE PROPOSED NEW OFF-HIGHWAY TRAILS THROUGH THE OCHOCO NATIONAL FOREST BECAUSE OF IMPACTS TO ELK HABITAT. DARREN ASHLEY HARVESTED THIS BULL IN THE OCHOCO UNIT A COUPLE SEASONS AGO. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

“We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, in a press release.

OHA was among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville.

They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk, according to a press release.

US District Court Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan in Pendleton recommended that the Forest Service’s record of decision on the project be set aside.

A local TV report termed it “preliminary” as Sullivan’s ruling must be reviewed by another federal arbiter, Judge Marco Hernandez in Portland, with both sides able to submit more arguments. But according to an attorney quoted by the station, it is rare for magistrate’s decisions to be overturned.

No doubt that OHVs are a good way to get around the woods and haul out big game, but according to a Northwest big game biologist’s 2013 paper summarizing the impacts of roads and traffic on elk, the vehicles cause the most disturbance for the species, leading bulls, cows and calves to react “negatively” to them at distances of even two-thirds of a mile away.

“OHA did everything they could to participate in the Forest Service planning process and raise their concerns about impacts on elk security and habitat,” said OHA Legislative Director Paul Donheffner in a press release. “We filed this lawsuit as a last resort. This was a very good day for OHA, other conservation groups that value the Ochocos, and for elk. Prevailing against the federal government is no easy match. This is a great victory for OHA and our mission.”

The main lawsuit was filed by Central Oregon Land Watch, with OHA filing a companion case. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has also opposed the new trails. We covered the issue in our September 2013 issue.

Oregon Hunters Files Suit Against USFS Over OHV Trails Through Critical Ochoco Elk Habitat

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION

The Oregon Hunters Association (OHA), a nonprofit group of more than 10,000 hunters, has filed a lawsuit challenging the June 27 Record of Decision by the U.S. Forest Service to build an additional 137 miles of off highway vehicle (OHV) trails on the Ochoco National Forest.

THE FOREST SERVICE’S OCHOCO SUMMIT OHV TRAIL WAS THE SUBJECT OF A JULY 2014 ARTICLE IN NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN NOTING BOTH THE OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION’S AND DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S OPPOSITION. (USFS)

OHA’s State Board of Directors, staff, and Central Oregon OHA chapters have opposed the Ochoco Summit Trail Project since it was proposed in 2009. OHA and others, including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, have been fully engaged in the public process to oppose adding 137 miles of OHV trails and roads in critically important elk habitat.

The lawsuit filed by OHA states that the decision to approve this project is not supported by scientific wildlife research conducted by the Forest Service on the Starkey Experimental Forest in northeast Oregon. According the Jim Akenson, OHA conservation director, the project would add significant new road and trail use, which has been shown by the Forest Service’s own scientists to have adverse impacts on elk habitat and security. Research on the Starkey Experimental Forest has found that elk avoid areas with 1.1 miles of roads or motorized trails.

“This project would displace elk and force them from public to private lands, resulting in more damage complaints and fewer elk to pursue for the public land hunter,” Akenson said.

IN THEIR FEDERAL LAWSUIT, OHA SAYS THAT THE USFS FAILED TO ANALYZE THE TRAIL’S IMPACTS ON ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK. THE ORGANIZATION FEARS IT WILL JUST MOVE MORE WAPITI TO LOWER GROUND, WHERE THERE ARE ALREADY PROBLEMS AND WHICH WOULD RESULT IN LOST HUNTING OPPORTUNITY. (OHA)

OHA filed a lawsuit in the Pendleton Division of the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. Scott Jerger, an attorney for OHA, explained that OHA’s suit alleges that the Forest Service’s decision violates the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“OHA did everything they could to participate in the Forest Service planning process and raise their concerns about impacts on elk security and habitat,” said Jerger.  “The final decision by the Ochoco National Forest left OHA with no other option but to seek relief from the Court.”

The Ochoco Mountains have historically been some of the best habitat for deer and elk in Oregon.

THE OCHOCOS ARE GOOD HABITAT FOR ELK BUT RESEARCH HAS SHOWN ROADS HAVE AN ADVERSE EFFECT ON THEIR BEHAVIOR. (OHA)

Information published on ODFW’s website reveals that hunting contributes more than $14 million to central Oregon’s tourism economy and more than $104 million to the statewide tourism economy on an annual basis.

“OHA filed this lawsuit as a last resort,” said Paul Donheffner, OHA’s Legislative Director.  “We were very frustrated that despite the objections of ODFW, OHA and others, the Forest Service disregarded their own studies and plans to approve this project. This is not about off-road vehicles, which certainly have their place. This is all about protecting the Ochocos for elk.”

OHA (oregonhunters.org) is the state’s largest Oregon-based pro-hunting organization, with 10,000 members and 26 chapters statewide. Its mission is “Protecting Oregon’s wildlife, habitat and hunting heritage.”