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12Aug/04Off

Proposed Rule for Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use

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c/o Content Analysis Team
P.O. Box 221150
Salt Lake City, Utah 84122-1150

Dear members of Forest Service OHV Analysis Team:

I grew up and live in a small town in Montana.  My family has always participated in many outdoor activities throughout all seasons of the year.  Having exposure to diverse recreational opportunities has given me a broad view of what sharing the outdoors with many types of recreationists and business entities means.  My family raised gardens for food, hunted to provide meat, and fished for the pleasure of it and to taste the freshness of high mountain lake fish.  Trapping is part of my heritage as is mining and forest harvesting.  We participated in floating my father’s “Old Town” canoe on many lakes and the western river systems in Montana to fish, hunt ducks and just spend a day on the water.  We continue to enjoy many peaceful days of fishing the water resources of Montana.  Ice fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing filled many winter days and continue to be activities family and friends participate in frequently. 

Ways of life growing up and living in Montana are quite different from those of someone brought up in a city environment., Our everyday way of life was like the summer or winter vacation for someone only exposed to a city  environment.   Fortunately, I was taught by my family and, throughout my education, that there are many points of a view on how a subject can be addressed in opinion, conversation, management, or rules to govern.  My opinion regarding the OHV designated route proposal comes from experience, education, and objective views of what I have seen occur to land access in recent years.  I believe decisions made throughout this country in the past 10 years have severely limited access to many areas previously open to the public by a motorized as well as non-motorized means.

I fear that one perspective of education providing land access information only through exposure to books, movies, and social clubs will continue to severely impair many individuals from truly interacting with the varied environments I have had the luxury to experience.  Because of a protected and socially developed norm of how land is managed in our National Forests through the Forest Service and by the Bureau of Land Management, many individuals have assumed certain forms of recreation always pose conflict, destruction and havoc especially when contact with people involved in another form of recreation occurs. This is a very jaded view.  Our National Forests and public lands are a very important part of our heritage and of our future.  As technology has advanced since the 1800’s, so have the forms of economic development and recreation that take place in all environments including the forest and public lands. ”Off Highway Vehicle Use” is at the heart of many heated discussions these days. OHV use does have a place in our society for economic and recreational use.

“OHV” has come to be a very narrow definition of many and varied modes of transportation, when in fact “OHV” is a very broad term and should be considered as such.  Wheeled OHV’s and  snowmobiles are significantly different modes of transportation and what affects one mode should not necessarily affect the other. Laws requiring all OHV’s to be “street legal” should be looked at closely.  Does this just open the door for a new realm of lawsuits?  This “street legal” designation brings to mind many safety issues including use of a vehicle not meant to be street legal in it’s original design.  Please do not take what was originally designed for utility, recreation and non-highway use and include it in a class where it does not belong.

A clear definition of OHV needs to be defined in the final proposed rule.  OHV’s consist of many types of vehicles commonly assumed to be single-track  motorcycles, ATV’s, and passenger vehicles.  Most are wheeled vehicles.  Adding a snowmobile definition is appropriate.  I assume from the available information that snowmobiles will be considered in a completely separate manner because of the significantly lower impact traveling over snow has on the environment.  Open snowmobile travel off trail and routes should be allowed to snowmobiles outside of National Parks and Wildlife Winter Range areas.   Snowmobiles are exempt in the proposal from the mandatory designations in 36 CFR 212.51 and are addressed independently in 36 CFR 212.81. Although this rule is not expected to affect other Federal Land Management processes, I will offer this opinion.  Access through our National Parks should be allowed by snowmobiles on the existing vehicular routes.  Aircraft also need to be taken into consideration, although not “wheeled or tracked”, aircraft such as helicopters will be affected by decisions made that will be tied into “mechanized” access at some point.

I believe, support and appreciate the Proposed Rule's recognition of vehicle-oriented recreation as a legitimate use of our National Forests. There are many snowmobiles and\or OHV’s registered in each state in the nation which indicates there is in fact very high public support of OHV use. 

The future of our National Forests and the economic and recreational opportunities they represent are threatened at this time; not by responsible participants in utilizing OHV use to access the resource, but by the extremist preferring to eliminate or severely limit access by motorized vehicles.    I strongly encourage the Forest Service any other agency involved with this decision process to reject pressure from anti-access forces to create a deadline for the designation process or to create a specific "one size fits all" blanket management prescription through this rule making process.  Inappropriate and dictatorial management tactics should not be accepted when they are based upon false beliefs of those with a “control mentality” presenting distorted facts as reasoning.  To conform the diverse landscapes of the United States into a pigeonhole will only create further social and economic problems.

Unfortunately tunnel vision affects most anti-OHV activists.  A closed mind set does not allow for compromise or effective land management practices to be utilized.   Methodologies of the environmental extremists do not allow the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management to effectively complete the agencies duties to manage land; rather they create an embattled environment of paperwork and red tape before an effective land management practice can be put into trial stages.  If significant land impact occurs at a stage of restriction or expansion of access, the decision should be revisited and possibly an alternative option be considered. We are a civilized society and it is time that motorized and non-motorized recreationists find common ground. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management should not be expected to provide interpersonal conflict resolution skills for the various groups, they should be allowed to manage the land in their designated area in cooperation with the public.  Members of the local and general public should be allowed to offer suggestions on management techniques being considered for implementation as a “rule” or policy with regard to OHV use. Broad national policy guidance is necessary only to direct a guideline for the OHV use on public land. 

With an expanding human population, it does not make sense to further restrict access.  It is essential that the details of local decision making be made the responsibility of local Forest Service land managers who cooperatively collaborate with the public about OHV use in any area.  Decisions regarding land access should never be left to one individual.  There is plenty of land to be shared and when done in a cooperative manner, all forms of recreationists can co-exist.  More often than not, it is the “environmentalist” type person I have found violating the land, rather than OHV users.  Personally, I get tired of picking up the little garbage items left from clothing or supply remnants from the hikers.  I have come across fragile areas that someone has decided they can dig up, and place in their pack- this tree or that flower or that shrub- and take it home for a little piece of the forest in their own apartment or backyard.

Use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles has taken place in many National Forests and on public land for generations. In most unbiased studies, the Forest Service and BLM managed their responsibilities to effectively monitor the land of our nation in a very positive fashion. There have been occasions where those in charge have interpreted guidelines based on an imposed or personal environmental opinion and have limited or imposed actions to eliminate access to OHV users and in some cases even mountain bike riders.  There should be a method for such questionable decisions to be publicly reviewed and reconsidered.   Specific guidelines developed in the “Rule for Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use” must be consistently followed by all Forest Service land managers.  This will allow for the decision makers to consider the unique and diverse sectors of our country.  The land managers must in turn follow the processes to facilitate local policy, leaving subjective personal opinions out of the decision making process.  They must look at local management in an objective manner and take into consideration public input before any action is taken.  Action taken at any level with regard to OHV use must not lose sight of why or how that action is meant to represent the opinions of the entire public.  What works in one location of a state may not work in another, just as what may be an effective land management plan in one state may not be appropriate for consideration in another.   "Discretionary authority" for some forests to formally restrict snowmobile access to designated routes and areas may allow the person in authority to implement restrictions that are not justified.  In the management of Winter Wildlife Ranges it is justified to restrict access during certain dates but since a protective layer of snow exists, there exists a buffer between the snowmobile and the land and for that reason snowmobiles should not be limited to travel only on designated trails.

The agency's "emergency" closure authority must be more clearly defined and limited.  Some land managers improperly avoid the public travel planning process by instituting a patchwork of "temporary, emergency" closures that continue indefinitely preventing access to the land as it is meant for the public.  The final rule should clarify that closures without public notice and input under 36 C.F.R. section 212.52(b) must be verifiably documented and made publicly available.  The processes by which monitoring and analysis occurs must clearly identify the specific impact(s) and vehicles or uses causing those impact(s) to be addressed by the closure and cannot remain in effect for more than six months without formal analysis.  If specific impacts are identified with a specific method of access, that one specific method should be addressed and an alternative plan can be put in place.  The diverse types of vehicles should be considered individually across the spectrum of seasons and conditions unique to an area.  Factors such as weather and activity common in the area are worthy of consideration.  Emergency rescue services often need OHV’s of one type or another to complete rescue activities.  Emergency service access by OHV should not be eliminated at all and if anything, consideration to access even areas closed at this time in the event of an emergency should occur.  It may save someone’s life.

The majority of Off-road vehicle users and recreationist take pride in being responsible in their actions when driving off of a highway or 20-30 foot wide dirt road.  Narrower trails and routes which have been in existence for generations include those that lead to historic settlements, perhaps an old wagon or jeep trail which has continued to be used to access scenic vistas to be enjoyed by all and are often found away from more congested trails.  OHV users know that if our children are to experience areas only accessible by OHV use, they must respect the area they access. The Forest Service reports that more than 273,000 miles of roads and other routes are open to various off-road vehicles. In very few forests, ATVs and dirt bikes have access across open acreage.  This is quite rare and is more likely to occur on private ground.  Because of the many and varied access opportunities that do exist, the OHV users are not placing concentrated populations on limited areas.  The more areas that remain accessible, the better off the environment will be.  A greater concentration in a smaller designated area defeats the purpose of “protecting the environment”.  Access should not be limited or require “reservations” as in many wilderness areas.   

There are those who believe that OHV use dominate the landscape at the expense of almost any other activity.  This is not true.  Many OHV users do access areas beyond what some prefer to hike through but most OHV users also participate in hunting, fishing, and enjoying the natural forest environment.  There are many areas where you will not find a vehicle of any type.  There are many places where families can go for a quiet walk in the woods or a picnic, where hunters, fishermen, hikers, mountain bike riders and horseback riders can and do enjoy the forest or public lands, often in the company of other recreationists  in the same area. With the population of people who are now able to get out and enjoy the outdoors, it is only likely to expect an encounter with others who may be participating in a different activity.  No group, motorized or non-motorized, should be able to dictate that someone else does not have the right to access areas because of their personal preferences. The land belongs to the citizens of the United States. The rule is supposedly motivated by a need to address "unmanaged recreation" but good management will not flow from an action taken on paper that does not grasp the breadth of the impact of the action on the free public of this country.  “Unmanaged recreation” is an expression used loosely at the sight of any one doing something someone else does not find to his or her liking. For those who prefer a non-motorized environment, there are many existing areas to access.  As a matter of fact access to this type of environment is more prevalent in some areas than are motorized location routes.

A need also exists for flexibility in the trail and road inventory and planning process.  The rule should be modified, however, to require the agency to acknowledge and fully act upon its responsibility to complete an inventory of all existing roads and trails.  I agree that the public should be allowed to provide early input into this process; specifically including identification of legitimate but uninventoried routes, which may otherwise go unnoticed or unrecorded. I strongly oppose any national or local deadline or timetable for inventories. This is a very involved process and those that are aware of and have knowledge of location of such routes should be given ample opportunity to investigate whether or not the routes have been included or are within the inventory to date. The final rule should continue to acknowledge and further clarify the importance of user contributions to a flexible and broad-ranging inventory and scoping process before reaching the conclusion on any formal route designation.  The rule should not be designated as final and provision for modification should be in place.  Review of the rule and the impact it creates on the economy should be scheduled at certain intervals.  Allowances to expand access should be written into the rule.  Anyone acting in the actual decision making process should in no way be a past, present or future recipient of any type of monetary or material exchange by an entity strongly influencing a decision either restricting, allowing or expanding access.

As off-road vehicle use continues to provide economic support for land management, the Forest Service will have a continued budget to manage the many uses of national public lands.  Those opposed to OHV use do little to financially support the services provided by the land management entities entrusted with the responsibility to effectively manage our lands.  OHV users not only invest in equipment but also financially support OHV projects through the OHV registration process in each state.  Adequate budget, staffing, and priority to achieve critical on-the-ground goals must accompany the OHV rule.  Fees and taxes paid by OHV registrants are used in part for land management.  If budget and staffing elements do not exist, no action or rule should be implemented. 

I am concerned about the agency's commitment to effectively implement an OHV rule just for the sake of implementing “a rule”.  The processes by which this end is met must take into consideration the numbers of OHV users in this country.  The economic impact must be considered along with how restrictive measures will prevent citizens from accessing land that is meant for use by the public. Seasonal decisions and guidelines will go into the development of the OHV rule, I hope with thoughtful consideration for continued use, at least to the extent that it now exists for motorized and non-motorized modes of travel and recreation. 

There are many areas of consideration to be taken under advisement for the OHV rule development including expansion of access rather than retaining current limits or imposing further limitations.  Please take into consideration the diverse population of this country, the economic impact of the decision and how the many and varied forms of economic development and recreation will be impacted by the OHV rule.

I ask that the agency make sure the final rule clarifies that segments of any road may be designated for use by non-street legal vehicles where appropriate to avoid blanket prohibitions of non-street legal OHV use on roads such as Level 3 roads.  Off trail travel should be allowed for snowmobiles as the facts show very low environmental impact on lands accessed by snowmobile travel.  I also ask that the final rule clarifies any trail may be designated for use by street legal vehicles where appropriate to avoid blanket restrictions and or prohibitions of street legal OHVs, particularly 4x4s and SUVs, on all trails.  Emergency OHV access should be allowed and in life and death situations, areas where possible off trail and road access does not exist an emergency allowance should be authorized especially if a person’s life is at stake.

Sincerely,

J. Stewart
Montana

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