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AEI Special Report

OHV Travel Management Planning

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See Also: AEI Special Report:
Yellowstone Winter Use Plan


Forest Service Releases New National Travel Management Rule

The US National Forest Service has initiated a program aimed at developing new policies to regulate off-highway vehicle use. Central to the program is a move to generally prohibit cross-country travel, restricting OHV use to existing roads and trails. The policy and implementation teams aim to work with OHV enthusiasts as well as quiet users to develop a consistent national approach to the difficult task of designating routes in areas where OHV use has been effectively unregulated. Each forest will have latitude to take its own approach to creation of a network of designated roads, trails, and areas where OHV recreation is allowed. Among the likely challenges of this program are compiling inventories of unauthorized backcountry OHV trails (trails created by OHV users, some of which may be designated for continued use), and obtaining sufficient funding for each forest to both complete the planning process and monitor/enforce the resulting travel plans.

The Final Rule, announced November 2, 2005, provides a national framework for local units to use in designating a sustainable system of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use.  The rule's goal is to secure a wide range of recreation opportunities while ensuring the best possible care of the land.  The rule requires each national forest or ranger district to designate those roads, trails, and areas open to motor vehicles. Designation decisions will be made locally, with public input and in coordination with state, local, and tribal governments. Be sure to contact your local forests and/or regional advocacy organizations (fish and game organizations, OHV groups, and roadless area or wilderness advocates are all actively involved in every region) to participate in public comment periods or working groups that will be advising forests on route designation.


The Forest Service conducts annual "Visitor Use" reports, which provide data, nationwide and forest-by-forest, on how many users are participating in motorized and human-powered recreation. While the proportion of National Forest visitors who enjoy motorized reacreation varies widely by forest, overall national figures indicate that from 2000-2004, roughly 6% of National Forest visitors identified off-road riding as their primary or secondary reason for visiting; the top five recreational activites were viewing natural features, general relaxation, hiking, viewing wildlife, and driving (on roads) for pleasure. (Figures from USFS fact sheet and presentation by USFS Chief)

Collaboration Resources

On April 12 and 13, 2005, representatives of state and federal agencies, OHV manufacturers and user groups, environmental groups, and others interested in travel management gathered to discuss the potential for collaboration in managing motorized recreation. This "OHV Collaboration Summit" was co-sponsored by the Forest Service, the State of California, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Association of Counties. Highlights of the proceedings included review of case studies in travel management, and open discussions of lessons in collaborative planning. See main OHV Program website for more info.

Case Study Report - A Forest Service report on 12 collaborative planning processes, and overall perspectives submitted by three interest groups. [DOWNLOAD REPORT(pdf)]

Partnership Guide - Co-produced by the National Forest Foundation and National Forest Service, this guide introduces the structure and dynamics of government agencies and non-profit organizations. [DOWNLOAD REPORT(pdf)]

BLM Offroad Vehicle Planning

The Bureau of Land Management is also moving toward establishing better management of OHV recreation. Across the west, BLM lands are popular among both motorized users and hikers; BLM lands are often more remote, and tend to include more rangeland, dunes, and other non-forested landscapes. In general, the BLM has even funding than the Forest Service for on-the-ground presence or public maps and manuals, so recreation tends to be more primitive and unmanaged.

BLM visitation is up 80% in the past decade, with OHV use being far more common than on Forest Service lands; BLM's travel planning office estimates that of the 55 million annual visits, close to a quarter involve OHV use, with another 15% centered on driving for pleasure on back roads. Many BLM units are implementing Comprehensive Travel and Transportation Management provisions as part of their Resource Management Plans; some are releasing independent Travel Managment Plans or Route Designation documents.

BLM Travel Management Program - [WEBSITE]

News Archive (most recent first)

Example of an "existing" trail in Northern California that has not been officially designated. The new USFS Travel Management Rule allows (but does not mandate) such user-created trails to be included in the network of officially designated trails. Such trails are to remain open during the local route-designation phase.
(photo by Don Amador, courtesy Blue Ribbon Coalition)

"existing" means routes that are visible on the ground that have previously received vehicle use regardless of whether they are on the National Forest Transportation system.

10/07: Forest Service Continues Off-Road Vehicle Planning - On national forests and BLM lands across America, local land managers are continuing work on new Travel Management Plans, which aim to set clear map-based standards to manage off-road vehicle use. On many forests and most BLM land, ORV's have been permitted to travel off-trail; in the future, ORVs will be allowed only on designated roads and trails. A recently released report from the Isaac Walton League surveys land managers, and finds that most consider ORV use to have a serious impact on hunters and fishermen. Meanwhile, on forests nationwide, ORV users and quiet recreation advocates are working with land managers, and in some cases sparring with each other; we encourage you to get involved in your local forests' planning process. Source: USA Today, 10/1/07 [READ ARTICLE] [DOWNLOAD ISAAC WALTON LEAGUE REPORT]

3/05: Forest Service issues clarification about interim closures - A memo issued by the Southwest Pacific Regional Forester clarifies that interim closures are to be applied only to cross-country travel, and not to user-created trails. The closure of existing trails requires a more substantial analysis. Source: BRC Press Release, 3/27/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

11/05: National Park OHV Use Challenged - A group of environmental organizations have sued the National Park Service, claiming that the Service has allowed the use of off-road vehicles in Parks where they are not permitted. In response to a dialogue begun with the same groups in 2004, the NPS surveyed its land managers to determine whether OHV use was taking place, and whether damage was being caused. The survey confirmed the concerns of the plaintiffs, indicating that many parks have passively accepted the intrusions of OHVs, citing lack of staffing to address the problem. The Park Service maintains that illegal use is rare, and damage insignificant. Sources: Bluewater Network Press Release, 11/29/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Bluewater Network Website [WEBSITE] BlueRibbon Coalition Magazine, 1/06 [READ ARTICLE]

11/05: As States Grapple with Roadless Rule, Forest Service Moves on Off-Road Vehicles - Motorized travel in National Forests continues to be under the microscope these days, as the Forest Service releases its long-awaited plan for managing the explosion of Off-Highway Vehicle use on its lands and western states scramble to meet a federal deadline for declaring their intentions about maintaining current roadless areas in their National Forests. The FS OHV plan will generally require all forests to limit motorized recreation to designated routes (some forests now have an "open unless posted closed" approach); controversy remains about the process of designating routes (especially whether illegal user-created roads will be included in inventories of existing travel) and funding for enforcement of the new restrictions. The rule contains several passing mentions of noise impacts, including the tantalizing hint that "the Forest Service anticipates developing a national standard for OHV noise levels in a future rulemaking." Meanwhile, several western states are taking different approaches to the Bush Administrations' passing the planning buck to them on implementing the revised Roadless Rule, in the name of local control of forest use. Sources: OHV Rule: [USFS OHV WEBSITE] [DOWNLOAD RULE(pdf)] Seattle Times, 11/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Casper Star-Tribune 11/3/05 [READ ARTICLE] Missoulan 11/3/05 [READ ARTICLE] BlueRibbon Coalition Magazine, 1/06 [READ ARTICLE] [READ EDITORIAL] Roadless planning: Wyoming (Governor resists federal processs; supports ongoing federal forest planning: Casper Star-Tribune, 11/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Montana (Governor says no more roads needed; asks counties that think otherwise to let him know by the end of the year): The Missoulan, 11/1/05 [READ ARTICLE] Colorado (State task force at work; miners press for opening): Rocky Mountain News, 11/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] Washington (state petitions feds to let them adopt Clinton rule; mulling joining CA, NM, OR in suing feds over new petition process): Casper Star-Tribune 11/3/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Advocacy Organizations

Americans for Reponsible Recreational Access - Nationwide group addressing the "Crisis of Closure," with a well-organized website that highlights pending management decisions in specific forests nationwide (useful information no matter what managment priorities you favor). [WEBSITE]

BlueRibbon Coalition - Nationwide advocacy group supporting the right to motorized recreation on public lands; leaders in litigation to overturn recreation limitations and resist additional wilderness designations. [WEBSITE]

Center for Biological Diversity - A national advocacy organization, currently sponsoring collaboration workshops around the west in preparation for travel management planning on individual forests. [WEBSITE]
Report: Off-Road Vehicle Use on Public Lands
- Comprehensive history of ORV use and management, through late 2005. From Friends of the Inyo. [DOWNLOAD REPORT(pdf)]

National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Association - A national organization fosusing on ethics and encouraging family recreation. Their website features an incredibly comprehensive library of abstracts and papers on a range of key topics, including noise and environmental assessments put together by state and federal agencies and private organizations. [WEBSITE] [LIBRARY]
Report: On the Right Trail, an ethical guide -
From BLM, Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Department. [DOWNLOAD REPORT(pdf)]

Natural Trails and Waters Coalition - Detailed web site that supports reductions or elimination of motorized vehicle use on public lands. [WEBSITE]

Rangers for Responsible Recreation - Former resource management and law enforment professionals from several agencies (BLM, Park Service, Forest Service, states), advocating for limits on ORV use on public lands. [WEBSITE] [TESTIMONY TO CONGRESS, MARCH 2008]

Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads - One of the spearheads of the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, Wildlands CPR has published detailed analysis of the USFS Travel Management Plan, and a citizen's guide to controlling OHV use on public lands.
Best Management Practices Guide - In March 2008, WCPR published a comprehensive report that compiles best management practices regarding ORV use. [DOWNLOAD BMP GUIDE(pdf)]

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