United States Attorney Anne M. Tompkins
Western District of North Carolina
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger issued an Order and Judgment upholding the decision of the U.S. Forest Service to close the Upper Tellico Off-Road Vehicle Recreation Area in the Nantahala National Forest in Cherokee County, N.C. due to the adverse environmental effects caused by such use on the Tellico River watershed.
Today’s announcement is made jointly by Anne M. Tompkins, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina and Kristin Bail, Forest Supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina.
The case is Southern Four Wheel Drive et al. v. United States Forest Service, 2:10CV15, WDNC. According to documents on court record, the plaintiffs, comprised of three national off-road vehicle associations, sued the U.S. Forest Service in U.S. District Court complaining that the decision-making process that led to the closure violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), was arbitrary and capricious, and otherwise not supported by the evidence. In defense of the closure, the Forest Service pointed to the ten year history of environmental and scientific studies and public discussion regarding the environmental impact of off-road vehicles in this area of the national forest. The area was particularly vulnerable to severe erosion and sedimentation of the Tellico River and its tributaries due to the elevation, slope and location of the trails near streams, the erodability of the soils, and the high rate of rainfall - over 80 inches a year.
The evidence on record established that despite the installation of numerous man-made devices to stop the erosion and sedimentation of the waterways, over 50% of such devices failed on a continuous basis and visible sediment in run-off water was leaving the OHV trails at over 2,000 locations along the 39-mile long system of trails. The level of sedimentation was shown to violate state water quality standards and the forest plan itself, with measurable resultant harm to the native trout population in that area.
The Court issued a fifty-page order concluding that the closure followed proper procedures. The Court separately found that under the Travel Management Rule, a federal regulation applicable to such trails, the Forest Service was justified in closing the trails where it was shown that they could not be maintained in both an environmentally and financially sustainable manner.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins noted that, “The Court’s order makes it clear that the Forest Service’s decision to halt the off-road vehicle use at this location was the correct decision, made by a fair and open process, amply supported by the evidence, and in accordance with applicable laws. Our office is proud to partner with the U.S. Forest Service in protecting vulnerable federal lands and watersheds from environmental damage and preserving them for the enjoyment of all users.”
Kristin Bail, Forest Supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina, says she is pleased with a federal court’s decision yesterday to uphold the Forest Service’s closure of the Upper Tellico Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trails System in 2009. “After receiving input and working with a wide variety of stakeholders, the Forest Service decided to close the Upper Tellico OHV area because of the adverse effects sedimentation was having on trout and other species that call the Upper Tellico River watershed home,” said Bail. “The court’s decision reaffirms the Forest Service’s mission of providing sustainable recreational activities while also restoring degraded watersheds.”
Since the closure, the Tellico OHV area has been rehabilitated, and trout and other species are returning to the Upper Tellico River. The area is available today for fishing, hiking, and hunting opportunities. The Forest Service continues to monitor water quality following restoration of the watershed. Rehabilitation work was made possible by funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
For more information on the Forest Service’s decision to close the Upper Tellico OHV area, visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/news-events/?cid=stelprdb5194735.
This case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney and Civil Chief Paul B. Taylor and U.S. Department of Agriculture agency attorney Matthew Tilden.