Frequently Asked Questions

Travel management logoNeed for the Rule

  1. Off-highway vehicles are an increasingly popular way to enjoy outdoor recreation on National Forest System lands. Will the rule limit access to the national forests and grasslands? Why is there a change in Forest Service policy?
  2. Some OHV use damages the environment and affects the experiences of other visitors. Why does the agency allow OHV use on national forests and grasslands at all?
  3. How does the rule define an OHV? What classes of vehicles are subject to the rule?

The Designation Process

  1. When will the rule become effective? How will roads, trails, and areas be designated?
  2. How does travel management relate to land management planning? How will the agency comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in designating routes and areas for motor vehicle use?
  3. Where cross-country motor vehicle use has been allowed in the past, repeated use has often created unplanned, user-created trails. How will these user-created routes be managed under the final rule?
  4. Some national forests have long restricted motor vehicles to designated routes. Others have recently completed travel planning decisions designating roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use. Will the rule require these units to reconsider past decisions?
  5. How will the public be involved in travel management decisions?
  6. Are designations of roads, trails and areas for motor vehicle use permanent?

Special Cases

  1. Are certain uses of motor vehicles exempted from the general prohibition on motor vehicle use off designated roads and trails and outside designated areas?
  2. How does the rule affect the use of snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles on national forests and grasslands?
  3. Does the rule affect use of state highways or county roads crossing National Forest System lands?
  4. Does the rule take away valid existing rights held by federally recognized tribal governments, counties, or private individuals, including treaty rights, other statutory rights, or private rights-of-way?
  5. How does the rule address use of motor vehicles for timber harvesting, grazing, mining, ski areas, utility line maintenance, firewood collection, and other permitted uses of national forests and grasslands?
  6. The proposed rule included language on R.S. 2477 which is missing in the final rule. Why? How does the rule affect R.S. 2477 rights-of-way?
  7. How does the rule affect access to national forests and grasslands for people with disabilities?

Implementation

  1. How will the Forest Service pay for travel planning? Will other Forest Service programs be cut?
  2. Many respondents suggested including an enforceable deadline in the final rule for route and area designation. Why didn't the Forest Service adopt this suggestion? How will the agency assure that designation gets done?
  3. The final rule does not require a complete inventory of existing user-created routes. How will the Forest Service give fair consideration to user-created routes without a complete inventory?
  4. Will the agency authorize mixing ATVs and other non-highway-legal vehicles on roads open to full-sized vehicles? How will the Forest Service address state laws allowing or restricting mixed use?
  5. On many national forests, designation may not be complete for a few years. What are the rules for OHVs while designation decisions are pending?
  6. With limited law enforcement resources, how does the Forest Service expect to be able to implement a new regulation and manage OHV use?

Process Questions

  1. What are the major changes between the proposed and final rules?
  2. Does the Forest Service plan to issue directives and provide guidance on implementing the final regulation? Will directives be subject to public comment?
  3. Noise is one of the most frequently cited impacts of OHV use on other visitors. Does the Forest Service plan on regulating vehicle noise levels?

Need for the Rule

1. Off-highway vehicles are an increasingly popular way to enjoy outdoor recreation on National Forest System lands. Will the rule limit access to the national forests and grasslands? Why is there a change in Forest Service policy?

In the right places and under careful management, OHVs are a legitimate use of National Forest System lands. The final rule maintains public access to national forests and grasslands. By designating a system of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use, the rule enhances opportunities for outdoor recreation and ensures that it remains sustainable over the long term. Previous Forest Service regulations were developed before the recent increases in OHV use and advances in OHV technology and are no longer adequate to respond to growing demand.

 

2. Some OHV use damages the environment and affects the experiences of other visitors. Why does the agency allow OHV use on national forests and grasslands at all?

National forests are established for use by the American public for multiple purposes. When properly managed, OHV use is a legitimate use of National Forest System lands. The final rule provides for careful management of OHV use so that environmental impacts can be limited and the use sustained over the long term.

 

3. How does the rule define an OHV? What classes of vehicles are subject to the rule?

The final rule defines an OHV as “any motor vehicle designed for or capable of cross-country travel on or immediately over land, water, sand, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or other natural terrain.” Technological advances have enabled many classes of motor vehicle to travel off highways. The designation requirements in the final rule apply to all classes of motor vehicles (not just OHVs) except aircraft, watercraft, and over-snow vehicles.

 

The Designation Process

4. When will the rule become effective? How will roads, trails, and areas be designated?

The rule becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. However, the rule itself does not open or close any road, trail, or area. The final rule establishes national guidance for making designation decisions at the local level. Each national forest or grassland will assess its current travel management direction, involve the public, and determine whether changes are needed. The rule does not require reconsideration of past decisions. Designations will be made with public involvement, coordination with federal, state, county and other local governmental entities and tribal governments, and appropriate environmental analysis and documentation. Once an administrative unit or a ranger district completes the designation process and publishes a motor vehicle use map, the rule prohibits motor vehicle use inconsistent with those designations.

5. How does travel management relate to land management planning? How will the agency comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in designating routes and areas for motor vehicle use?

Forest Land and Resource Management Plans contain suitability determinations and guidelines that inform decisions related to motor vehicle use. However, land management plans do not designate roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use. Designation of roads, trails, and areas is a local, project-level decision separate from the applicable plan decision, which must be based on appropriate site-specific environmental analysis and documentation under the National Environmental Policy Act. Nothing in the final rule requires reconsideration of past travel management decisions authorizing motor vehicle use of specific roads, trails, and areas. The agency expects that the level and scope of National Environmental Policy Act analysis associated with route and area designation will depend on the local situation, including each unit’s history of travel planning and the particular issues involved.

6. Where cross-country motor vehicle use has been allowed in the past, repeated use has often created unplanned, user-created trails. How will these user-created routes be managed under the final rule?

Some user-created routes are well-sited, provide excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation, and would enhance the system of designated routes and areas. Other user-created routes are poorly located and are causing unacceptable environmental impacts. User-created routes are best evaluated at the local level, by officials with first-hand knowledge of the particular circumstances, uses, and environmental impacts involved, working closely with local governments, users, and other members of the public. The agency anticipates that some user-created routes will be designated for motor vehicle use and become part of the managed system of National Forest System roads and trails, after site-specific evaluation and public involvement. Those not designated will be closed to motor vehicle use.

7. Some national forests have long restricted motor vehicles to designated routes. Others have recently completed travel planning decisions designating roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use. Will the rule require these units to reconsider past decisions?

No. Each national forest will evaluate its current travel management policy with public input. Where the responsible official proposes changes to travel management decisions, we will evaluate these proposals with appropriate public involvement and environmental analysis. If the current policy is working and achieving the goals of the final rule, there is no need for new decision-making.

8. How will the public be involved in travel management decisions?

The final rule requires us to provide for public participation in the process of designating roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use. Designation decisions will be made by forest supervisors or district rangers working closely with local communities, motorized and non-motorized recreation groups, and other interested parties. Local units will notify the public of opportunities to participate in travel planning. We support collaborative travel planning involving all interested parties and a wide range of interests. Contact your local forest or ranger district office to find out how you can get involved.

9. Are designations of roads, trails and areas for motor vehicle use permanent?

No. The final rule includes a process for revising designations (36 CFR 212.54). The agency expects that over time new roads and trails will be constructed and added to the designated system. Other existing roads and trails may be closed and removed from the designated system in response to environmental impacts or changing travel management needs. Revision of designations will include public involvement and appropriate environmental analysis.

Special Cases

10. Are certain uses of motor vehicles exempted from the general prohibition on motor vehicle use off designated roads and trails and outside designated areas?

Yes. In the final rule, the following vehicles and uses are exempted from the prohibition:

  1. Aircraft;
  2. Watercraft;
  3. Over-snow vehicles; Limited administrative use by the Forest Service;
  4. Use of any fire, military, emergency, or law enforcement vehicle for emergency purposes;
  5. Authorized use of any combat or combat support vehicle for national defense purposes;
  6. Law enforcement response to violations of law, including pursuit;
  7. Motor vehicle use that is specifically authorized under a written authorization issued under federal law or regulations; and
  8. Use of a road or trail that is authorized by a legally documented right-of-way held by a state, county, or other local public road authority.

The final rule also allows the responsible official to include in the designation the limited use of motor vehicles within a specified distance of certain designated routes, and if appropriate within specified time periods, solely for the purposes of dispersed camping and retrieval of a big game animal by an individual who has legally taken that animal.

11. How does the rule affect the use of snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles on national forests and grasslands?

The rule does not require units to designate roads, trails, and areas for over-snow travel. The final rule retains current authorities to manage use of National Forest System lands by over-snow vehicles, which may be allowed, restricted or prohibited at the local level. Over-snow vehicles result in different impacts to natural resources than motor vehicles traveling over the ground. It may therefore be appropriate for snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles to travel cross-country in some places where other vehicles are restricted to designated roads, trails, and areas. The final rule expands this exemption to include other over-snow vehicles in addition to snowmobiles.

12. Does the rule affect use of state highways or county roads crossing National Forest System lands?

No. Public roads authorized by a legally documented right-of-way held by a state, county, or other local public road authority are not subject to designation under this rule.

13. Does the rule take away valid existing rights held by federally recognized tribal governments, counties, or private individuals, including treaty rights, other statutory rights, or private rights-of-way?

No. Responsible officials will recognize valid existing rights in making designations at the local level.

14. How does the rule address use of motor vehicles for timber harvesting, grazing, mining, ski areas, utility line maintenance, firewood collection, and other permitted uses of national forests and grasslands?

The final rule provides an exemption from the prohibition on motor vehicle use off designated roads and trails and outside designated areas for use specifically authorized under a written authorization issued under federal law or regulation. Motor vehicles may be used off the designated system for the above purposes when specifically authorized under a contract, permit, operating plan, or other written instrument issued under federal law or regulation.

15. The proposed rule included language on R.S. 2477 which is missing in the final rule. Why? How does the rule affect R.S. 2477 rights-of-way?

Public roads authorized by legally documented rights-of-way are not subject to designation under the final rule. The proposed rule also specifically exempted from designation a road or trail “which an authorized officer has ascertained, for administrative purposes and based on available evidence, is within a public right-of-way for a highway, such as a right-of-way for a highway pursuant to R.S. 2477.” This language has not been retained in the final rule. The definitions of “National Forest System road” and National Forest System trail” in the final rule exclude rights-of-way under R.S. 2477 that have been adjudicated or otherwise formally established. The Forest Service does not want to give the appearance of establishing the validity of unresolved R.S. 2477 right-of-way claims through this final rule.

16. How does the rule affect access to national forests and grasslands for people with disabilities?

Under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, no person with a disability can be denied participation in a federal program that is available to all other people solely because of his or her disability. In conformance with section 504, wheelchairs are welcome on all National Forest System lands that are open to foot travel and are specifically exempted from the definition of motor vehicle in §212.1 of the final rule, even if they are battery-powered. However, there is no legal requirement to allow people with disabilities to use OHVs or other motor vehicles on roads, trails, and areas closed to motor vehicle use because such an exemption could fundamentally alter the nature of our travel management program (7 CFR 15e.103).

Implementation

17. How will the Forest Service pay for travel planning? Will other Forest Service programs be cut?

We expects to complete route and area designation on all national forests by 2009, using available funds. A designated system of motor vehicle routes will benefit multiple agency programs, and funding sources will depend on the specific local circumstances. Travel planning is ongoing today on many national forests. The new rule provides a consistent national framework for these efforts. Addressing urgent needs in unmanaged recreation will sometimes delay other agency work, but this will be a local situation. Failure to complete travel planning would be even more costly, both in agency expenditures and in terms of impacts to recreational visitors and the environment.

18. Many respondents suggested including an enforceable deadline in the final rule for route and area designation. Why didn't the Forest Service adopt this suggestion? How will the agency assure that designation gets done?

An enforceable regulatory deadline would subject us to legal challenge if, despite its best efforts (perhaps due to the controversy involved in the process), the agency is unable to meet the deadline. Cooperative work by responsible officials with state, tribal, county, and municipal governments, user groups, and other interested parties offers the best hope for long-term resolution of issues involving recreational use, including use of motor vehicles. An inflexible deadline can make collaborative solutions more difficult. However, we share a strong interest in completing route and area designation quickly. The Chief expects route and area designation to be completed on all national forests and grasslands by 2009.

19. The final rule does not require a complete inventory of existing user-created routes. How will the Forest Service give fair consideration to user-created routes without a complete inventory?

User-created routes developed without planning, design, authorization, or study by the agency. Some are well-located. Others are not. Still others involve multiple braided routes in a single corridor. A complete inventory of all these routes would be very time-consuming and expensive and could delay completion of route and area designation. Local managers will use public involvement to help identify appropriate user-created routes for consideration and evaluation in the designation process.

20. Will the agency authorize mixing ATVs and other non-highway-legal vehicles on roads open to full-sized vehicles? How will the Forest Service address state laws allowing or restricting mixed use?

National Forest System roads can provide connections between OHV trails and offer important opportunities for OHV recreation. Some National Forest System roads receive only limited traffic by highway-legal vehicles. We anticipate designating some roads or sections of roads as open to both highway-legal vehicles and non-highway-legal OHVs. Designating roads for this mixed use involves safety considerations such as traffic composition, traffic volume, and road standards. Decisions affecting safety must be informed by engineering judgment. Traffic on roads is subject to state traffic laws except when in conflict with designations established under this final rule.

21. On many national forests, designation may not be complete for a few years. What are the rules for OHVs while designation decisions are pending?

Until an administrative unit or a ranger district completes the designation process, current travel management policies, restrictions, and orders remain in effect. Forest supervisors may continue to issue travel management orders pursuant to part 261, subpart B, and impose temporary, emergency closures based on a determination of considerable adverse effects pursuant to §212.52(b)(2) of the final rule.

22. With limited law enforcement resources, how does the Forest Service expect to be able to implement a new regulation and manage OHV use?

Most OHV users want to do the right thing, and the agency believes that proper education and engineering (e.g., road and trail design, signing) can focus law enforcement resources on those few users who intend to violate the law. Our law enforcement personnel play a critical role in ensuring compliance with laws and regulations, protecting public safety, and protecting National Forest System resources. We also maintains cooperative relationships with many state and local law enforcement agencies that provide mutual support across jurisdictional boundaries. The new rule provides a consistent framework for enforcing travel management regulations, including provision for a motor vehicle use map.

Process Questions

23. What are the major changes between the proposed and final rules?

In general, the final rule is very similar to the proposed rule published on July 15, 2004, although many technical edits were incorporated in response to public comment. The three most important substantive changes include:

  1. Broadening the exemption for snowmobiles to include all over-snow vehicles when operating over snow;
  2. Providing discretion to consider limited cross-country use for big game retrieval and dispersed camping, in response to local situations; and
  3. Clarifying the definitions with respect to National Forest System roads and trails to avoid the appearance that this rule might be used to establish the validity of unresolved R.S. 2477 claims.

24. Does the Forest Service plan to issue directives and provide guidance on implementing the final regulation? Will directives be subject to public comment?

Yes. We hope to issue proposed changes to the Forest Service Manual and Forest Service Handbooks later in 2006. These agency directives will provide guidance to field units in implementing the final rule. Proposed directives will be published in the Federal Register for public notice and comment.

25. Noise is one of the most frequently cited impacts of OHV use on other visitors. Does the Forest Service plan on regulating vehicle noise levels?

Respondents representing a wide range of interests, including OHV user groups and manufacturers, have asked us to consider establishing a maximum noise level for OHVs operating on National Forest System lands. Some states already regulate noise, and standards differ from state to state.





https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r3/recreation/travelmanagement/?cid=fsbdev3_022054