Southern sportsmen, conservationists sue to protect native trout from ORVs

Photo by Barry Sulkin courtesy of SELC's Web site.

Located in North Carolina's Nantahala National Forest, the Tellico Off-Road Vehicle Area is one of the most heavily used ORV zones on public lands in the Southeast, with twice as many designated ORV trails as allowed by the U.S. Forest Service in addition to many illegal trails. Some of those trails lie with 100 feet of streams, which violates Forest Service rules. Many of those streams also flow into the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

Heavy use has turned some of the area's trails into ditches as deep as 7 feet, and when it rains they send muddy water into nearby creeks and streams in violation of state and federal water laws. The runoff is destroying one of the last strongholds for brook trout, a native species in decline.

Sportsmen and conservation groups have repeatedly asked the Forest Service to take steps to halt the damaging ORV traffic, to little avail. So now Trout Unlimited's North Carolina and Tennessee councils, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project have announced their intent to sue the agency to take action.

"The Forest Service has come up short in taking decisive action to fix this problem," says attorney DJ Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the groups. "We are letting them know that the law is unambiguous -- water quality and mountain trout come first."

The groups are calling on the Forest Service to permanently close the most environmentally damaging trails and to temporarily close the entire system during the wettest months. To read the groups' letter announcing their intent to sue and for other details on the case, click here.