Travel Management: An On-Going Process

Over the past few decades, the number and capability of off-highway vehicles has increased dramatically. As more people than ever before are enjoying National Forest roads and trails, the challenge for Forest managers is to determine the correct balance between off-road vehicle use and natural resource protection. In addition, motorized and non-motorized recreationists, frequently desire the same types of settings.

Federal land managers responded to these challenges with the Travel Rule, adopted in 2005. This travel management policy requires National Forests and National Grasslands to identify and designate those roads, trails and areas that are open to motor vehicle use. This is a change from the past, where in most cases, cross country motorized use was allowed unless expressly prohibited on the national forest.

Where we are, where we have been
Travel management planning on the Payette National Forest (PNF) has been a five year process. The PNF analyzed and used information from recreation managers, resource managers, and the public to propose which routes would be designated open to motorized use and which areas where there would be restrictions. After years of public involvement and analysis, decisions on these routes were documented in four Records of Decision (ROD) - three for snow-free (summer) travel and one for over-snow (winter) travel. All three snow-free RODs were upheld on appeal and are being implemented on the ground.

Snow-free Travel
Designated motorized routes are depicted on a snow-free Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM), which under the new travel management regulations will be the principal enforcement tool for motor vehicle regulations. The MVUM displays only those roads and trails designated for motorized use by the public, the type of vehicles, and season of use allowed. Routes not designated for public use are not shown on the map. For non-motorized information, including designated campgrounds and non-motorized trails, visitors should purchase the Forest visitor map or topographical maps from local stores. The snow free motor vehicle use map is available without charge at PNF district offices or it can be downloaded from the Forest website.

The MVUM also shows some areas where dispersed camping with a motorized vehicle is permitted. These are unimproved areas without picnic tables, fire rings, outhouses or other camping facilities. There are quite a few areas on the Forest, where, due to resource concerns, dispersed camping with a motorized vehicle is not permitted, so visitors should use the travel map in conjunction with the Forest visitor’s map to locate these areas or contact a district office

Over-snow Travel
The PNF issued a ROD for over-snow travel in November 2010. This plan designated four new areas, in addition to existing closures, that would be closed to over-snow vehicle use in order to provide non-motorized recreationists an area to enjoy backcountry winter recreation without the presence of motorized vehicles.

This decision was appealed by a number of groups. The appeal deciding officer remanded the decision based on the issue that the Forest had arbitrarily designated 2 inches as the minimum snow depth required for over-snow motorized vehicle use.

Due to this remand, the proposed over-snow travel management ROD will not be implemented and over-snow motorized travel will continue to be managed under existing regulations or special orders.

Next Steps
The snow-free MVUM will be updated and revised annually. The forest issued a special order for the 2011-2012 snow season on a trial basis to protect resources and to provide areas for backcountry skiing.  Until the forest launches a new planning effort over-snow travel is likely to be managed via special orders in the future. 

Efforts to educate the public about motorized recreation opportunities and the use of the MVUM will expand this summer as well as enforcement of the MVUM. More road and trail signs will be installed to clarify areas of use, and more information will be available at trailheads. The goal is to continue to provide great motorized opportunities while at the same time allowing for a quality non-motorized experience for those who wish it.

The Forest will continue to gather input from experts and the public to quantify the amount of snow that is needed to avoid resource damage from motorized over-snow use.

For further information please contact individual ranger districts or call Jane Cropp, PNF Recreation Manager at 208-634-0757.