Off-highway Vehicle (OHV) Regulations

Off Road Vehicle

In late 2005, the U.S. Forest Service issued a final rule entitled “Travel Management: Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use”. The Rule was developed to address the problem of increasing damage from unmanaged motorized vehicle use. The new regulations require each national forest to develop a Motor Vehicle Use Map (“MVUM”) that identifies designated motor vehicle roads, trails, and areas, and specifies classes of vehicles and, if appropriate, times of the year when use is allowed.

In California, the Forest Service had begun conducting extensive inventories of existing routes prior to the completion of the Rule thanks to funding of the State of California to conduct preliminary inventories. The Forest Service has developed an internal schedule to complete the route designation process by the end of fiscal year 2010.

The new rules are an improvement in some respects, but are generally quite weak and fall short of the necessary actions and reforms needed to address this growing problem. Thankfully the Forest Service finally recognized that OHVs cause significant damage to the natural resources on our National Forests. Unfortunately, the new rules fail to adequately address the urgent threats that OHVs pose to the ecological health of the forests of the Sierra Nevada.

According to recent USDA surveys, the number of off-road vehicle users in the United States has increased from 5 million in 1972 to 36 million in 2000 up to 51 million in 2004. In addition to a burgeoning number of users, there is also the issue of growing and uncontrolled proliferation of trails due to repeated cross country travel by off-roaders. Unauthorized, user-created trails from motorized use are responsible for a significant amount of the natural resource damage on national forests and are a serious challenge for law enforcement and land managers.

A few issues that the regulations failed to address:

  • The Rule did not require that the Forest Service conduct comprehensive inventories of roads, trails, and routes prior to making designations.
  • The rules allow Forests to designate routes from which hunters may travel cross country to retrieve game and for dispersed camping. This would allow route proliferation to continue and could substantially undermine the concept of vehicle travel only on designated routes.
  • While the Executive Orders and previous regulations require closure of routes determined to be suffering considerable adverse affects until the damage is eliminated, the new rules use the terms eliminated or mitigated.
  • The new Rule removed a highly valuable and necessary requirement for annual monitoring of the route system and damages incurred on forest lands from OHV use
  • The new rules, contrary to the Executive Orders they are supposed to implement, did not require designated routes to “minimize” impacts, but merely to consider the impact with the “objective of minimizing.”
  • The Rule did not allow for the designating roads and routes based on a full and public analysis of the site-specific environmental impacts and user-conflicts.
  • It did not make it any easier for law enforcement officers to issue citations to users in violation of rules and regulations.
  • The Rule did not require that designated off-road vehicle routes be manageable and enforceable, minimize damage to wildlife habitat, or reduce conflicts with other forest users and neighbors.
  • It did not dedicate funds for the implementation and enforcement of trail, route, and road closures.

Sierra Nevada National Forests Route Designation Websites

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