Bill Aims at USFS Travel Mgmt. Rule

The travel management rule had been highly polarizing on and around some National Forests, not so much on others. See the article I wrote for The Forestry Source back in June 2012. The wen site shown in the sign in the photo, www.keepourfreedom.com, is no longer operating.

 

Panel to take up bill halting Forest Service rule for off-highway vehicles

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, June 9, 2014

House lawmakers tomorrow will take up a GOP bill to overturn a major Forest Service rule that regulates off-highway vehicle use on 193 million acres of national forests.

A House Natural Resources panel will review H.R. 4272 by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), which would forbid the agency from implementing its 2005 Travel Management Rule. The rule required all national forests and grasslands to designate which trails would be available to OHVs.

Walden’s bill, which is co-sponsored by six other Republicans, would also give county commissioners the power to veto any Forest Service plans to restrict OHV access.

It will be considered along with several other public lands bills by the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

“This hearing is the first step in passing my common-sense bill to stop the misguided travel management rule on national forests in the West and promote local control over future proposals that could restrict forest access,” Walden said last week in a statement.

But the bill has drawn heavy criticism from environmental groups that argue the George W. Bush administration rule has been critical to ensuring the increasing use of all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes does not foul waterways and disrupt other forest users.

“It would be absolute insanity” to repeal the rule, said Bethanie Walder, public lands director at WildEarth Guardians, which was among 61 environmental groups last week to sign a letter to the panel opposing the bill. “It does more than stop the rule in its tracks. It stops the Forest Service from managing off-road vehicles.”

Walder said the majority of the agency’s 155 forests and 20 grasslands have implemented final travel management plans.

According to the letter from environmentalists, the bill “also endangers protections for drinking water resources, wildlife, and other key forest resources by returning our national forests to a state of lawless motorized cross country travel and by preventing the Forest Service from timely mitigation and restoration of road impacts.”

The 2005 rule by then-Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth was crafted after OHV use had more than doubled between 1982 and 2000 and the machines had become more adept at travelling off established trails.

“Soil erosion, water quality, and wildlife habitat are affected,” the rule said. “Some national forest visitors report that their ability to enjoy quiet recreational experiences is affected by visitors using motor vehicles.”

The rule requires forests to publish maps specifying what trails are open to which vehicles and when.

Walden’s bill, which is backed by the Bend Bulletin, was crafted in response to an outcry in parts of Oregon to the Forest Service’s travel management plan for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in 2012, which would have closed 4,000 miles of roads to vehicles, leaving 3,000 of them open, according to the Oregonian.

The agency within months abruptly withdrew the plan following criticism from the Oregon delegation, local officials and OHV groups.

“My bill will bring management decisions about public lands back to rural communities and force the Forest Service to listen to Oregonians,” Walden said.

Walden spokesman Andrew Malcolm said the congressman also has heard complaints about travel management planning on the Malheur and Ochoco national forests, which suggests a blanket fix to the rule is needed.

The Wallowa-Whitman now has a new supervisor and is taking its time to understand exactly how many roads and trails the forest has and who is using them, said Jodi Kramer, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

There’s no timeline for when the forest will release a new travel plan. Most of its focus is currently on revising land-use plans for the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla and Malheur forests, she said.

“People feel like we’re trying to lock up the forest,” she said. “But what we’re trying to do is provide access while maintaining the resources for future generations.”

But the 2005 rule, which implements an executive order by President Nixon, required the agency to ban off-trail or improvised travel, Kramer said.

“These plans were developed to reduce harm to public lands when vehicles created their own routes — often in sensitive or unstable areas,” said the letter from environmentalists. “Stopping implementation of these management plans means road signs will not be installed, maps showing the public where the roads and trails are located will not be printed, and roads that are eroding and causing drinking water pollution and harming fish populations will not be fixed.”

Forest supervisors say travel management plans — which often involve closing some areas to OHV recreation — are among the most difficult decisions they have to make.

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