ASHEVILLE, NC (September 21, 2012) — The United States effectively walked away from its substantial investment in a sizable portion of the Nantahala National Forest as a result of a recent ruling in the U.S. Western District of North Carolina rejecting four-wheel drive enthusiast efforts to re-open some portion of the Upper Tellico OHV System. The ruling, issued on September 19, came in a lawsuit filed by Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, United Four Wheel Drive Associations, and BlueRibbon Coalition. The suit contended the U.S. Forest Service overlooked required procedures and otherwise acted illegally in closing the 39 miles of trail in the System to motorized access.
The Court ruled against the enthusiast organizations, the Court ultimately concluded “[t]he decision of the Forest Service was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion, and it was in accordance with the law. Having conducted ‘a searching and careful, but ultimately narrow and highly deferential inquiry,’ the Court concludes that the Forest Service followed the proper procedures and that there is a rational basis for its decision.” The System represented the remnants of a network of former logging roads and skid trails purchased by the United States in 1980 and officially opened as a “high challenge” area in 1986.
“We are obviously disappointed by this result, but knew that we faced long odds in this case” said Roger Theurer, Past President of Southern Four Wheel Drive Association. “We realize the agency has broad discretion, but are incredibly frustrated that they exercised that discretion to walk away from rather than find an effective management solution for the System. It should concern more than just four-wheelerswhen the federal agency would rather run for cover in the courts than craft a solution on the ground,” Theurer observed.
The System was located in a remote and difficult to access portion of the Forest which historically received little attention other than from the four-wheel drive community, who came to attach iconic significance to the Tellico System. As part of the closure decision, a Forest Service contractor has obliterated the former trails and left a maze of boulders and fallen trees in their place, making the former routes inaccessibleto all but the most determined hiker.
“We released an update to our enthusiasts during this case called ‘Tellico – Alamo’ which today seems sadly prescient” stated Greg Mumm, BlueRibbon Executive Director. “Within and beyond our land managing agencies exist strong opponents to meaningful human access and recreation, and we would be wise to learn from Tellico and heed their next project,” Mumm concluded.
The Court document can be downloaded from http://www.ufwda.org/smf/index.php?topic=3691.0
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United Four Wheel Drive Associations is an international organization comprised of four wheel drive enthusiasts, clubs, associations, and businesses dedicated to providing community services around the world, education in responsible land use and safe vehicle operation, and protection of our natural resources through conservation practices.1-800-448-3932. www.ufwda.org
The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible use of public and private lands, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. It represents over 10,000 individual members and 1,200 organization and business members, for a combined total of over 600,000 recreationists nationwide. 1-800-258-3742. www.sharetrails.org
Southern Four Wheel Drive Association (SFWDA) was founded in 1987 to promote responsible land use and to keep public lands accessible for motorized recreation. For more information on the activities and accomplishments of Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, please visit www.sfwda.org .