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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

News

Sights set on OHV limits

Forest Service off-highway vehicles plan would not limit snowmobiles


To get involved:

The U.S. Forest Service is accepting comments for 60 days after its off-road vehicle proposal is published in the Federal Register. The rule text is available at www.fs.fed.us.

Written comments should be sent to: Proposed Rule for Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use, c/o Content Analysis Team, PO Box 221150, Salt Lake City, Utah 84122-1150.

Comments will also be accepted via e-mail at [email protected] or by fax at (801) 517-1014.

 

By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Federal land managers are trying to get a handle on motorized off-highway vehicle use, but the task they face is an uphill battle.

For example, over the Fourth of July weekend in the Salmon River canyon northeast of Stanley, motorcycle and four-wheeler users were observed pioneering trail spurs through the woods and, in one case, drove up a relatively pristine canyon wall, shredding the earth beneath.

Itís not the kind of use land managers believe is typical of all off-road-vehicle owners, but itís the kind of use that creates the most problems and creates negative stereotypes.

"We know, just when weíre out, we see evidence of people leaving roads and trails where theyíre not supposed to be," said Terry Clark, a recreation staff officer for the Sawtooth National Forest. "It does happen a lot, but the motorized organizations are working pretty diligently to police their own folks and get people to follow the rules."

In an attempt to rein in control of burgeoning off-road vehicle use on public lands, the U.S. Forest Service last week released a new proposal for managing the machines. The proposal is open to a 60-day comment period.

According to the agency, the new regulations will enhance recreational opportunities for the public and will do a better job of protecting natural resources by requiring designation of roads, trails and areas suitable for motorized use.

On the Sawtooth National Forest, the effort will begin in the southern forest and in parts of the Fairfield Ranger District first.

"The entire Minidoka Ranger District will be part of what we do with travel planning," Clark said.

In announcing the new rule, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworthy said a better balance needs to be struck between off-road users and resource protection.

"OHVs are a great way to experience the national forests, but because their popularity has increased in recent years, we need an approach that will sustain natural resource values through more effective management of motor vehicles use," he said.

"The benefits of improving OHV use include enhanced protection of habitat and aquatic, soil, air and cultural resources," Bosworthy continued. "The Forest Service wants to improve its management by balancing the publicís enjoyment of using OHVs with ensuring the best possible care of the land."

Of the roughly 215 million annual visits to national forests and national grasslands, off-highway vehicle users account for about 1.8 million, or about 5 percent. But off-highway vehicle use is rising dramatically. Off-highway vehicle registrations have grown from 5 million in 1972 to 36 million in 2000.

Currently, each of the 155 national forests and 21 grasslands has guidelines regarding OHV use, with some national forests managing use on a designated system of roads and trails, while others do not. As a result, the Forest Service does not have a clear, consistent policy regarding motor vehicle use.

According to the Forest Service, the proposed rule represents a nationally consistent approach to travel management by requiring each forest and grassland to designate a system of roads, trails and areas slated for motor vehicle use.

It would allow national forests to denote use of routes and areas by vehicle type and, if appropriate, by time of year.

Once the designation process is complete, off-highway vehicle use would be confined to designated routes and areas.

Snowmobile use would continue to be managed under current policies, and that is a burr in the saddle of the Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance. "Winter Wildlands Alliance is particularly disappointed that the Forest Service chose to ignore this growing conflict and the needs of 18 million cross-country skiers, snowshoers and backcountry skiers," said Sarah Michael, president of the organization and a Blaine County Commissioner.

Michael said some of the proposed changes are positive for hikers and hunters, they alone will not solve the growing conflicts.

Meanwhile, the Pocatello-based BlueRibbon Coalition gave a positive endorsement of the Forest Serviceís plan, with a few caveats.

"We are pleased to see the Forest Service elevate OHV management through this regulation process, and we will work to energize our members to engage in the process at the local level," said Bill Dart, BlueRibbon Coalition executive director. "This is a watershed moment for OHV recreation, but there is tremendous potential for loss of opportunity if the process is not thorough or the public doesnít participate."

For his part, Clark said he believes the Forest Service can get a handle on the growing off-highway vehicle use as long as groups like the BlueRibbon Coalition participate.

"I think itís enforceable if we get the help of the user groups," he said. "Will they catch everyone (who breaks the rules)? No. But they donít catch every speeder on the highway, either."


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