Feds ponder how to curb rogue OHVs
(c)2004, The Salt Lake Tribune
Washington, D.C. - Calling off-highway vehicles one of the four
"great threats" to ecosystems, the U.S. Forest Service is
considering new rules that would clamp down on unregulated OHV use.
A special planning team of Forest Service officials met in Salt Lake
City on Wednesday to begin planning strategies to better manage the
exploding popularity of OHVs, particularly the ubiquitous all-terrain
The team -- led by Jack Troyer, the Ogden-based Intermountain regional
forester -- was organized quietly last summer at the direction of
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.
"Jack has been charged by the chief to figure out how we are
going to go about dealing with this issue," said agency spokeswoman
In the near future, the Forest Service is expected to announce proposed
changes to federal rules to virtually prohibit so-called cross-country
OHV travel, in which vehicles depart from designated routes.
The initiative is being met with cautious optimism by environmentalists
and OHV advocacy groups, which still are trying to learn more about
"There are few areas in the forest where open, cross-country
travel is really appropriate," said Brian Hawthorne, director
of the Utah Shared Access Alliance, an OHV group.
"We want to see trail systems that are manageable, sustainable
Forest Service officials say unauthorized cross-country travel has
proliferated, causing management headaches.
"Tens of millions of OHVs are now in use -- far more than even
10 years ago," Bosworth said last year in a speech on Earth Day.
"With all those millions of users, even a tiny percentage of
problem use presents us with a big and growing problem."
Bosworth said "hundreds of miles of wildcat roads and trails"
are created each year, damaging meadows, streambeds and other sensitive
Long-standing concern: Conservationists for years have complained
about the rising tide of OHV use, but they say the Forest Service,
like the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, has been slow to respond.
The federal land-manage- ment agencies say they have too few resources
to identify and mark appropriate trails or to enforce existing laws.
But the recent statements from Bosworth and the formation of the Troyer-led
team have encouraged environmental groups.
"There appears to be a commitment at all levels in the [Forest
Service] to get a handle on this problem," said Scott Kovarovics,
director of the Washington-based National Trails and Waters Coalition.
"They genuinely want to change how they've managed this situation."
To date, supervisors of the country's 175 national forests, which
cover 192 million acres, have generally been left with little national
guidance or clout in tackling OHV issues. As a result, some forests
are more strict than others in regulating OHV use.
In Utah, the Wasatch-Cache and Uinta national forests, through newly
revised management plans, restricted OHVs to designated trails only.
The Ashley National Forest recently instituted an emergency ban of
cross-country travel pending the revision of its management plan.
How to proceed: While the environmental and OHV communities agree
with the concept of cracking down on unauthorized OHV use in the forests,
they may disagree over how the Forest Service should do it.
Kovarovics said the agency needs to "start with a blank map,"
immediately closing unauthorized routes until OHV use has been determined
to be benign to the environment.
"There's never been an analysis of all the impacts of unauthorized
trails," Kovarovics said.
"If they say everything that exists now is legal and they're
just not going to add to it, then that's not real reform."
Hawthorne said he is nervous about a national rule change, arguing
that OHV issues should be dealt with on the forest's district level.
He also said he hopes reason will prevail when it comes to closing
Closing all unauthorized roads is not practical, he said. "You
are going to make a lawbreaker out of the law-abiding fisherman who
has always been driving down a certain road."
Closing all the unauthorized routes also could overly concentrate
motorized use on authorized routes, causing traffic congestion and
road damage, which leads to environmental damage, he said.
© Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune.