Unmanaged Recreation

Dale Bosworth, Chief at the U.S.D.A. Forest Service has identified unmanaged recreation, especially impacts from OHVs, as one of the key concerns facing the nation's forests and grasslands today.
In a speech he delivered April 22, 2003, he said, "The issue is this: Back when we had light recreational use, we didn't need to manage it [recreation]; but now that it's heavier, we do..." "At one time, we didn't manage the use of off-highway vehicles, either. But the number of people who own OHVs has just exploded in recent years. In 2000, it reached almost 36 million. Even a tiny percentage of impacts from all those millions of users is still a lot of impact. Each year, we get hundreds of miles of what we euphemistically refer to as 'unplanned roads and trails'. So, the great issue is unmanaged recreation."
Jack Troyer, the Regional Forester for the Intermountain Region (Region 4), is heading up a National OHV Policy Team that has been tasked to implement this change. The new policy is based on three pillars that are designed to minimize or eliminate impacts from unmanaged OHV use.
1. Moving the agency to a designated use system. Travel will be allowed, restricted, or prohibited on roads, trails and specifically designated off- highway use areas. This means that wheeled OHV travel will be allowed only on designated roads, trails and in designated areas.
2. Cross-country travel by wheeled OHVs will generally be prohibited.
3. The decisions of which roads, trails and areas to designate for OHV use will be made at the field level.
For now, the policy change will be limited to wheeled OHVs, and not snowmobile use.
Is This A Bad Thing?
Not necessarily. Our analogy is this: "Everyone thinks the hen house is a mess and needs to be cleaned up. The only problem is that the Fox is in charge of the job!" I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't say that the Chief has hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. The problem is unmanaged recreation.
The plain fact of the matter is, very little of the Forest Service's recreational travel route inventory was "planned." The vast majority of routes used by recreationists today were constructed for other purposes such as logging, mining or access to grazing allotments. If the general public waited for the federal land managers to "plan" recreational travelways we would still be waiting.
OHV users; therefore, are unfairly criticized for the increase in "resource impacts," and "proliferation of new, unplanned roads and trails." Although these are important concerns that must be addressed in this planning effort, the situation is not reflective of "out of control" OHV users as much as an indication of the unmet demand for recreational infrastructure.
Compounding this situation is the way some land managers have responded to the increase in popularity in OHV recreation. Unwisely, rather than work to accommodate the increased demand for trails and trail systems, land mangers have frequently reacted by restricting OHV opportunities. More importantly, opportunities to manage OHV use by marking roads and trails, providing usable maps, identifying OHV trails and systems; and entering into cooperative management agreements with OHV user groups have, by and large, been ignored.
Although, more pro-active management is clearly permissible within the existing management plans, a quick search on most National Forest websites finds land managers more often choose to implement parts of their OHV policy associated with limitations and closures, than management.
Generally, the BlueRibbon Coalition, Stewards of the Sequoia, CORVA & other groups support the move away from allowing cross-country travel, to allowing use only on designated roads and trails. Our concern is that the new policy be implemented pursuant to lawful planning, with full public involvement, accurate inventory of roads and trails, assessment of current recreational use, and with consideration to recreational value of existing roads and trails.
What Does This Mean To You?
The change in OHV policy will require a major effort from all OHV organizations. Just because your favorite road or trail was constructed years ago and is enjoyed by thousands doesn't mean that road or trail is on the FS's inventory. As individuals, and as organizations, we're going to have to become involved, or the Fox is going to eat us out of house and home!
I cannot emphasize enough how urgent it is to get involved with your local Forest in this effort. This new policy won't go into effect tomorrow, it went into effect yesterday.
If you are concerned about trails in the Sequoia forest then contact info@stewardsofthesequoia.org to find out how you can be more involved in keeping your trails open.
If you are concerned about another forest contact the local access organization for that forest.
The easiest way to track changes to your favorite road or trail is to call the Forest Service office near you and request to be put on the mailing list for the Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA). The SOPA is the way the Forest Service informs the public about planning changes. Do not wait another minute. Call today!
Reprinted from KTM Talk