Forest Service uses Tahoe as example, moves to restrict OHV use
Tahoe basin already has restrictions in place
Staff and wire reports
Following Lake Tahoe’s lead, ATVs, motorized trail bikes and other off-road vehicles would be restricted to designated roads, trails and areas in federal forests and grasslands under a proposed national policy unveiled Wednesday by the U.S. Forest Service.
If finalized, the proposal – parts of which are already used in the Lake Tahoe Basin – would help stitch together a patchwork of off-road motorized travel restrictions that vary from forest to forest. It would provide more consistent guidelines for setting restrictions, though final designations would be made by forest supervisors.
Snowmobile use would not be affected by the proposed policy as is the case in the Lake Tahoe Basin, said Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman.
The plan comes as more people are visiting national forests for activities ranging from camping and hiking to ATV riding, posing a threat to the ecosystem and creating conflicts between users.
Environmentalists and hunting and recreation groups said the proposal would be a good start but that it should include such things as more effective enforcement and the money to pay for it, and a public analysis of environmental impacts and user-conflicts.
Under current regulations, national forests have diverse restrictions for off-road motorized vehicles.
In the Lake Tahoe Basin forest, off-highway vehicle use such as motorized OHV is already restricted to designated routes, as has been the case for some time, Norman said.
Under the proposal, each forest and grasslands district would work with the public to draft a plan identifying routes, trails and areas suitable for off-road vehicles. An environmental analysis would be required on each proposed site to determine potential impact.
The result would be a “use map” to create a clear idea of what activity is allowed in what area. However, it will be different in the basin because routes have already been established, Norman said.
The use map would cause considerable difficulty in managing an effective trail system, not only for effective route management, but also causes unacceptable levels of erosion and water quality impacts, Norman said.
“For these reasons, and the unique sensitivity of the Tahoe Basin, designated routes have already been established,” he said.
If the draft becomes final, it could take up to four years for the designated policies to take effect across the nation, but they could be implemented in some areas more quickly.
Between 1976 and 2000, the number of off-road vehicle users increased from 5 million to 36 million, causing conflicts with other users such as horseback riders as well as with the growing number of homeowners who live adjacent to national forests. The increase also has led to problems with illegal off-road vehicle use that can compound the potential threat to the ecosystem.