by Sylvia Milligan
Chair, Recreation Outdoors Coalition of Northern California
North District Director of CNSA
In 2005 the US Forest Service (FS) in Washington D.C. identified unmanaged Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) use and environmental impacts as one of four serious concerns on public lands. California had 1,101,980 registered all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and OHV motorcycles in 2007, up 307% since 1997. Visitation (4,222,386 visitors in 2007) at State Vehicular Recreation Areas also increased 274% since 1997.
Many national forests have large areas where cross-country OHV riding has been legal and has resulted in environmental impacts. As a result of these impacts a plan was developed to manage OHVs. This plan, originally called ‘route designation process’ (RDP) and evolved into ‘travel management plan’ (TMP) will end cross-country OHV riding when routes and small riding areas are designated.
The process began with the forests inventorying all routes that were not already included in their system. The public was asked to be involved and to bring in all the routes which had historical use to make sure they were included in this inventory. The FS then looked at the list and began its determination of which routes could be added to the inventory. After much scrutiny by specialists on each forest, routes were then chosen by the agency for consideration of being added either as a road or trail. The public then had another opportunity to make comments on the determination of routes. The next step for the forest was to produce the Notice of Intent (NOI). The public was again asked to comment. Completion of this step results in the writing of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Alternatives can be written by the agency or any interested party. The public is again asked to comment and then the forest supervisor chooses an alternative.
There are 18 different forests in Region 5 (all in California) in varying stages of the TMP process. The Lassen, Plumas, Modoc, Tahoe and Klamath are in the DEIS stage of the process and the Shasta-T is in the NOI phase. These forests all have different amounts of unauthorized (non-system) and system routes, with varying amounts of mileage proposed for to their final designated systems.
Across the country, direction from Washington D.C., is to manage mixed use in a safe way. They also suggest no further USFS efforts are needed if existing use on a road is mixed (allows highway legal and non-highway legal), meets state law requirements and there is no mixed use crash history.
However, it appears, based upon recent Notices of Intent (NOI) and Draft Environmental Impact Statements that the USFS in California is only allowing continued OHV use on high clearance ML 2 roads. Mixed use on ML 3 and 4 roads are only sparingly being allowed and they are referred to as highways. To create the desired loops that provide quality riding opportunities requires the use of many of the level 3 and sometimes level 4 roads.
Most unauthorized or user created (non-system) roads are not being included in these first public documents. They also are portions of the loops which make up a quality OHV experience.
If the final approved Travel Management Plans reflect what has been made public to date, many miles of existing roads with historic OHV use will be closed to OHV use.
The public can be part of this process by contacting your local forest, looking at where they are in the process and making comments where appropriate. County Boards of Supervisors can also be contacted to make sure they are engaged and collaborating with the FS to make sure roads are left open and that the level 3 and 4 roads needed to create the loops for a managed system are designated for mixed use (term meaning all motorized vehicles including quads, dirt bikes, etc).
More information can be found at the Trails in Trouble website: www.TrailsinTrouble.org.