ARRA Forest Service New Policy

The U.S. Forest Service is about to embark on an enormous task. Over the next few years the agency will identify and map thousands of trails and roads for off-highway vehicle use in the nation’s forests and grasslands.

When the job is completed, OHVs — all-terrain vehicles, off-road motorcycles, and 4-wheel drive vehicles — will have to keep to the marked trails.

The new travel management rule, which was adopted late last year, came about following a lengthy study and more than 80,000 responses from all 50 states during a 60-day comment period. While the rule won’t please everyone, we believe it represents a constructive step in the right direction for the millions of Americans who care about the responsible use of motorized recreation on public lands.

The Forest Service has correctly recognized it will need the help of local OHV riders and rider groups as it undertakes this massive job. After all, no one knows the trails and roads of the forests any better than OHV riders themselves. Importantly, it may well be up to individual riders to assure that their favorite trails are included on the Forest Service map.

So that the route designation process can be better understood by all and implemented successfully, several OHV organizations have teamed up to provide a series of workshops with the goal of helping riders understand the process and how they can participate. In turn, the workshops will help the Forest Service get a better idea of the kinds of trails riders want. Thus far, workshops have been scheduled in Arizona, South Dakota and Michigan, with more to be held during 2007.

The workshops are conducted by the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council in conjunction with the Motorcycle Industry Council and the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. My organization, Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA), is pleased to be involved as are the American Motorcyclist Association, Blue Ribbon Coalition and United Four Wheel Drive Associations.

Any undertaking of this size and scope, calls for good communications. Each forest will have its own process and timetable for designating routes — but there is no requirement that each forest submit its proposed actions and meeting schedule to a single clearinghouse. That’s why we created the Land Access Notification Database (LAND). This database will enable OHV enthusiasts to share information about meeting schedules and other process notifications. We hope LAND will provide maximum awareness of local issues and will help target the proper responses wherever they are needed. In effect, it will help the right hand know what the left is doing. The result, we believe, will make the route designation process smoother and more efficient.

(To learn more about LAND and the schedule for implementing the travel management rule, go to the ARRA website at www.arra-access.com Those interested in scheduling a workshop in their area should contact the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council at 800-348-6487 or email them at trailhead@nohvcc.org.)

OHV rider growth

In developing the route designation policy, the Forest Service had to balance the needs of a growing number of OHV riders with its overall objective of caring for the lands, wildlife habitat and recreational visitors. ATVs alone have jumped in sales from about 277,000 ten years ago to nearly 900,000 last year. The simple fact is that increasingly more Americans are exploring the great outdoors — and many are doing it on motorized forms of transportation.

As mentioned, the rule will require OHV riders to travel only on designated routes. While some will surely view this as more government intrusion into their right to ride, ARRA has supported the policy because we believe the spectacular growth of OHVs has brought with it some important responsibilities. Like good behaviorr. And showing respect for the trails and others who wish to enjoy them.

ARRA was formed a few years ago out of a well-founded concern that public lands were being systematically shut down to recreational pursuits. We take the position that public lands belong to all of us, not just an elite few, and that the millions of Americans who pursue outdoor recreation in all its forms have a perfect right to do so.

So we think that sticking to a designated trail while OHV riding is something we can live with. And it’s a small price to pay when compared to the alternative of not having access to public lands at all.

Once the route designation process is completed, we believe it will be the responsibility of the Forest Service to communicate to the visiting public just what routes are available for OHV use. This means that signage and educational information — as well as maps — must be readily accessible to the public. And by being accessible, we mean on the internet as well as via GPS technology.

The Forest Service trail designation and mapping process is important because it recognizes the rightful role of motorized recreation on public lands. But the other side of the coin is the need to manage its growth. If done properly and responsibly, there’s no reason why OHV riding cannot continue to be a popular recreational activity throughout the U.S.

Based in Washington, D.C., Americans for Responsible Recreational Access represents the interests of millions of Americans who enjoy the great outdoors and who believe public lands and waterways should remain open for recreational pursuits. Check out their website at www.arra-access.com.