Angeles Volunteer Association

SOURCE:  Federal Register, November 9, 2005

USDA Forest Service:

Travel Management; Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use

Final Rule

SUMMARY: The Department of Agriculture is revising regulations regarding travel management on National Forest System lands to clarifypolicy related to motor vehicle use, including the use of off-highwayvehicles. This final rule requires designation of those roads, trails, and areas that are open to motor vehicle use. Designations will be madeby class of vehicle and, if appropriate, by time of year. The finalrule will prohibit the use of motor vehicles off the designated system,as well as use of motor vehicles on routes and in areas that is not consistent with the designations. The clear identification of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use on each National Forest will enhance management of National Forest System lands; sustain natural resource values through more effective management of motor vehicle use; enhance opportunities for motorized recreation experiences on National Forest System lands; address needs for access to National Forest System lands; and preserve areas of opportunity on each National Forest for nonmotorized travel and experiences. The final rule is consistent with provisions of Executive Order 11644 and Executive Order 11989 regarding off-road use of motor vehicles on Federal lands.

EFFECTIVE DATE: This rule is effective December 9, 2005.


Table of Contents

1. Background
Travel Management Program
Need for Revised Rule

2. Public Comments on Proposed Rule and Department Responses
General Comments
Forest Service Directives
Proposed Rule Preamble
Specific Sections by Part
Part 212--Travel Management
Part 251--Land Uses
Part 261--Prohibitions
Part 295--Use of Motor Vehicles Off National Forest System Roads
Regulatory Certifications in the Proposed Rule

3. Regulatory Certifications for Final Rule
Environmental Impact
Regulatory Impact
Regulatory Flexibility Act Analysis
No Takings Implications
Civil Justice Reform
Federalism and Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments
Energy Effects
Unfunded Mandates
Controlling Paperwork Burdens on the Public

4. Text of the Final Rule
Part 212--Travel Management
Part 251--Land Uses
Part 261--Prohibitions
Part 295--Use of Motor Vehicles Off National Forest System Roads

1. Background

Travel Management Program Forest Service regulations at 36 CFR part 212 governing administration of the forest transportation system and regulations at 36 CFR part 295 governing use of motor vehicles off National Forest System (NFS) roads are combined and clarified in this final rule as part 212, Travel Management, covering the use of motor vehicles on NFS lands. These regulations implement Executive Order (E.O.) 11644 (February 8, 1972), ``Use of Off-Road Vehicles on the Public Lands,'' as amended by E.O. 11989 (May 24, 1977). These Executive orders direct Federal agencies to ensure that the use of off-road vehicles on public lands will be controlled and directed so as to protect the resources of those lands, to promote the safety of all users of those lands, and to minimize conflicts among the various uses of those lands.

Nationally, the Forest Service manages approximately 300,000 miles of NFS roads open to motor vehicle use, and about 133,000 miles of NFS trails. Only a portion of the trails are open to motor vehicles. This transportation system ranges from paved roads designed for passenger cars to single-track trails used by dirt bikes. Many roads designed for high-clearance vehicles (such as log trucks and sport utility vehicles) also allow use by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and other off-highway vehicles (OHVs) not normally found on city streets. Almost all NFS trails serve nonmotorized users, including hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians, alone or in combination with motorized users. NFS roads often accept nonmotorized use as well.

In addition to this managed system of roads and trails, many National Forests contain user-created roads and trails. These routes are concentrated in areas where cross-country travel by motor vehicles has been allowed, and sometimes include dense, braided networks of criss-crossing trail. There has been no comprehensive national inventory of user-created routes (and continuing proliferation of such routes has made a definitive inventory difficult), but they are estimated to number in the tens of thousands of miles.

Wilderness areas are closed to motor vehicles by statute. On some National Forests, and portions of others, motor vehicles are restricted by order to the established system of roads and trails. On other Forests, cross-country travel is not currently restricted.

Need for Revised Rule

Most National Forest visitors use motor vehicles to access the National Forests, whether for recreational sightseeing; camping and hiking; hunting and fishing; commercial purposes such as logging, mining, and grazing; administration of utilities and other land uses; outfitting and guiding; or the many other multiple uses of NFS lands. For many visitors, motor vehicles also represent an integral part of their recreational experience. People come to National Forests to ride on roads and trails in pickup trucks, ATVs, motorcycles, and a variety of other conveyances. Motor vehicles are a legitimate and appropriate way for people to enjoy their National Forests--in the right places, and with proper management.

Current regulations at 36 CFR part 295, which provide for allowing, restricting, or prohibiting motor vehicle travel, were developed when OHVs were less widely available, less powerful, and less capable of cross-country travel than today's models. The growing popularity and capabilities of OHVs demand new regulations, so thatthe Forest Service can continue to provide these opportunities while sustaining the health of NFS lands and resources.

From 1982 to 2000, the number of people driving motor vehicles off road in the United States increased over 109 percent (``Outdoor Recreation for 21st Century America: A Report to the Nation, The National Survey on Recreation and the Environment,'' p. 37 (H. Cordell, 2004)). Recent decades have seen like advances in the power, range, and capabilities of OHVs. Whole new classes of vehicles have been introduced by manufacturers and are growing in popularity. From 1997 to 2001, the number of ATVs in use increased by almost 40 percent (statement by Dr. Edward J. Heiden at Consumer Products Safety Commission Field Hearing, June 5, 2003). These advances expand opportunities for Americans to enjoy Federal lands. However, the magnitude and intensity of motor vehicle use have increased to the point that the intent of E.O. 11644 and E.O. 11989 cannot be met while still allowing unrestricted cross-country travel. Soil erosion, water quality, and wildlife habitat are affected. Some National Forest visitors report that their ability to enjoy quiet recreational experiences is affected by visitors using motor vehicles. A designated and managed system of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use is needed.

Current regulations prohibit trail construction (Sec. 261.10(a)) and operation of vehicles in a manner damaging to the land, wildlife, or vegetation (Sec. 261.13(h)). However, these regulations have not proven sufficient to control proliferation of routes or environmental damage. This insufficiency is due in part to the nature of OHV travel. The first vehicle driving across a particular meadow may not harm the land. However, by the time 50 vehicles have crossed the same path, there may be a user-created trail and lasting environmental impacts. Determining which particular vehicle caused the damage can sometimes represent a challenge to law enforcement officers.

In addition, the line between highway vehicles and OHVs has blurred. Vehicles created for specialized off-road use, such as military vehicles, are now marketed and purchased as family cars. Some States have recently enacted statutes governing OHV use, including vehicle registration requirements, limits on operator age, training and licensing requirements, equipment requirements, sound restrictions, and safety requirements.

Current agency policy varies from State to State and National Forest to National Forest. Sometimes one National Forest restricts motor vehicles to roads and trails, while an adjoining National Forest allows unrestricted cross-country travel. One State may prohibit ATVs on public roads, while an adjoining State generally allows such use. Revised regulations are needed to provide national consistency and clarity on motor vehicle use within the NFS. At the same time, the Department believes that designations of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use should be made locally. The final rule provides a national framework under which designations are made at the local level.

Americans cherish the National Forests and National Grasslands for the values they provide: opportunities for healthy recreation and exercise, natural scenic beauty, important natural resources, protection of rare species, wilderness, a connection with their history, and opportunities for unparalleled outdoor adventure. The agency must strike an appropriate balance in managing all types of recreational activities. To this end, a designated system of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use, established with public involvement, will enhance public enjoyment of the National Forests while maintaining other important values and uses on NFS lands.

[webmaster's note: see Federal Register for full text of this rule] 

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