Motorized and Non-Motorized Recreation Uses July 19, 2006


Since 1987 there has been a large increase in motorized recreation use on the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests, particularly in the last decade. The largest increase has occurred in the use of ATVs (four-wheel all terrain vehicles). These ATVs have greatly expanded the ability of the recreating public to explore the forests and access new areas. They are legitimate uses of national forests and provide highly sought after recreation opportunities for ATV users. Associated with this large increase in use there has been an increase in unplanned, user created motorized trails on both national forests. In some areas use of these unplanned trails has caused resource damage to meadows and wet areas, and impacted water quality and fish habitat. In some situations conflict has arisen between non-motorized users and motorized users where user-built trails have been created.

Technological changes in recreation equipment, such as ATVs, snowmobiles, snowshoes, and cross-country skis, have made it possible for visitors to travel to previously inaccessible areas. In some areas the increase in use has created both resource and social problems where none existed before. For example, user-created trails may impact rare plant communities on open ridges and severely impact wet meadows. At the time of forest planning in the 1980’s, many of these areas were thought to be inaccessible and to have very little use or potential for recreation use.

The presence and use of ATVs and snowmobiles have created conflicts between users seeking quiet and solitude away from the more developed parts of the forests. In the fall, conflicts may arise between hunters who hike and those who use motorized machines to access areas to hunt. Use of snowmobiles is disturbing to some skiers seeking solitude and quiet in backcountry areas in the winter.

Unplanned and unmanaged uses evolve as the population increases and technology improves recreation equipment. In some dispersed areas on the two Forests, overuse and resource impacts continue due to lack of proper facilities, law enforcement and transportation systems. Various groups continue to advocate their interests and controversy is likely to continue. Expectations for some dispersed recreation users are not met.

A few of the significant changes that have occurred are:

  • Motorized and non-motorized methods of travel have diversified and use has increased. Lewiston, Moscow, the Palouse and Camas Prairies, the Clearwater River corridor, and the Spokane and Missoula metropolitan areas have seen a steady and sometimes rapid rise in population. This population growth has resulted in an increase in numbers and types of users on national forest lands, and an increased interest in access management.
  • Motorized vehicles, such as snowmobiles and ATVs, can now access areas previously thought inaccessible.
  • High-density road systems are no longer a critical factor for timber harvest activities due to changes in logging system technology and feasibility.
  • User-created motorized vehicle travel ways in some locations are causing unacceptable resource impacts or conflicts with other Forest visitors.
  • Changes in Forest road and trail maintenance budgets have limited the agency’s ability to adequately maintain the existing road and trail systems.
  • Motorized vehicle use on a significant number of roads has been restricted to meet wildlife or fish habitat needs.

Recreation access on both forests was an issue identified by the public in the February 12, 2004 Draft Analysis of the Management Situation (Draft AMS), in the April 2004 Social Assessment: Clearwater National Forest and Nez Perce National Forest, and in the May 2005 Content Analysis Report – A Summary of Public Comments about the Proposed Action for Forest Plan Revision. (The Draft Analysis of Management Situation document is located in this folder and the Content Analysis and Social Assessment documents are located in the “Social” folder). This document presents a summary of the analysis that resulted in the plan components for motorized and non-motorized recreation uses found in the proposed plans for the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests.

Travel Management Planning

It has been recognized at the national level that the trend of unmanaged recreation has the potential to affect our ability to meet sustainability goals in the National Forests. As a result, on December 5, 2005, revised regulations 36 CFR 212, 251, and 261 were issued that provide new direction for travel management on National Forests. The final rule requires designation of those roads, trails, and areas that are open to motor vehicle use. Designation will be made by type of vehicle and, if appropriate, by time of year. The final rule prohibits the use of motor vehicles off the designated system, as well as the use of motor vehicles on routes and areas that is not consistent with the applicable designation.

The site-specific types, quantities, and distribution of roads and trails designated for motorized use on the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests will be determined through the NEPA process and depicted on Motor Vehicle Use Maps. Travel management planning will make site-specific determination on motorized and non-motorized access.

Forest plan revision will not complete travel management planning and the required travel management planning NEPA. Forest plan revision will provide a landscape level strategy that sets the stage for the future travel management planning process.

Revision Strategy and Emphasis

Management direction in the proposed plans only applies to roads and trails directly under the jurisdiction and management by the forests. A summary of roads and trails available for public use on both forests is provided in the Draft AMS. Information in the AMS displays the amount of roads and trails open yearlong, open seasonally, or closed yearlong to motorized use.

Road mile totals are not static numbers because new roads are constructed, some roads are decommissioned and removed from the system, and some existing non-system roads are added. Trails miles also change as new trails are constructed, un-needed roads are converted to trails and added to the system, or un-needed trails are abandoned and removed from the system.

The program emphasis is to provide for motorized and non-motorized uses on the two forests in a balanced fashion that is integrated with other resource management direction. The forest plans will provide a strategy for maintaining and developing diverse motorized recreation opportunities in both the non-winter and winter seasons on designated routes and in areas suitable for winter motorized use off designated routes as directed in travel management regulations.

The strategy is to categorize areas on the each forest as follows:

  • Motorized – The roads are expected to serve motorized traffic at some point. There may be seasonal or yearlong restrictions to motorized travel on roads and trails to meet resource needs. The mode of travel is motorized with very few exceptions.
  • Multiple Opportunities – There are similar opportunities for both motorized and non-motorized users to experience attractions like ridges, vistas, streams, etc.
  • Motorized traffic will be prohibited on some routes to minimize the interaction between motorized and non-motorized traffic.
  • Non-motorized – These areas are available only to non-motorized traffic both summer and winter without exception.

The boundaries of these three type of recreation access areas were developed taking into consideration the following:

  • Providing a balance of recreation access opportunities for both motorized and non-motorized users.
  • Proposed access strategies on adjacent forests and ranger districts.
  • Providing for maintaining or restoring aquatic and wildlife habitat.

The areas proposed to be allocated to the three access strategies are shown on the access management maps included with the proposed forest plan.

Key Contacts

Forest Planner
Zach Peterson
Office: 208-935-4239
Fax: 208-935-4275

Jennie Fischer
Phone: (208) 983-4048
Fax: (208) 983-4099

Mike Ward
Phone: (208) 926-6413
Fax: (208) 926-6450  

RFA Coordinator
Diana Jones
Phone: (208) 476-8239
Fax: (208) 476-8329