PRINEVILLE, OR -- The Oregon Hunters Association, a non-profit group ten-thousand strong, has filed a lawsuit to challenge a decision by the US Forest Service to build 137 miles of Off Highway Vehicle trails in prime elk habitat.
The OHA's Conservation Director, Jim Akenson, believes the project would displace the elk from public land, driving them onto private property, causing issues for property owners. " The problem associated with that trail development is the fact that it compromises elk security. And any additional disturbances on that piece of landscape are just going to add to a problem of elk using private land for security and leaving public land, particularly during hunting season."
Akenson says the Hunter's Association filed the lawsuit as a last resort, and they hope they can reach a compromise with the Forest Service, but they filed because they're worried about elk security, and the rights of the people who live in the area. "Primarily, this is a seasonal distribution concern. So, basically, in the summertime when these trails are in use, elk have a tendency to avoid motorized vehicles, so they're going to tend to not use that landscape so much, and where they're going to find refuge is in neighboring private land, and that's not very fair to the private landowners."
Though they have nothing against the use of ATV's, Akenson says the chapters of the hunters group have opposed the Ochoco Summit Trail Project since it's proposal in 2009. "Frankly, I can see why there would be an interest in that, it's a beautiful piece of property, but our problem is one of cumulative effects. There's already a lot of recreational activity on that forest, that area is close to a big population center and that area is a playground for those communities, so there's already a lot of disturbance of elk, and as hunters, that's our primary concern."
Akenson says the Summit Trail is the first to be designed specifically for off-road vehicles, and despite much protest, and ten years of environmental impact studies that show the elk would be adversley affected, the Forest Service is still planning to go forward.