Friends of the Bitterroot

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Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains
Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains

Managing Motorized Mayhem


By Larry Campbell



The US Forest Service is beginning a year long process of changing the rules for managing Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) on National Forests nationwide. It is crucial that sensible regulations be made and enforced to get a grip on the quickly growing problem of damage caused by ORVs. Explosive growth in the number and capabilities of the machines has overrun the ability of the FS to manage the problem.


Years of ORV anarchy in the woods,

allowed by the Forest Service,

has led to networks of user-made

roads that were not sited or

engineered to minimize damage to

soils, watersheds, wildlife or conflict

with non-motorized recreation. Finally

an effort to rein in renegade ORV use

came about a year ago (?) in the form

of the "Tri-State OHV Amendment"

which declared most cross country

ORV use illegal. Trouble is it did not

prohibit driving on existing user made

roads and it did not change the policy from the present 'open unless posted closed', where 'closed' signs are routinely torn down, to a 'closed unless posted open' policy where signs tend to stay up.



The entire notion of regulation of ORVs is bedeviled by the problematic nature of enforcement. The dispersion of machines over huge areas and too few enforcement officers makes effective enforcement impossible. The consequence of paying a small fine in the remote event of getting caught is not an effective deterrence.



We believe the following policy recommendations are sensible and overdue:


1. Protect traditional foot and horse trails from motorized use: Off-road vehicles may only travel on roads and ORV routes designated in a public planning process and engineered for motorized travel.


2. Prohibit cross country travel by requiring off-road vehicles to travel only on designated routes that are signed as "open."


3. Designate roads and routes for off-road vehicle travel through a full and public environmental analysis process under the National Environmental Policy Act. Renegade roads/routes that were created by users without authorization will be closed until full analysis is completed to determine whether they can be opened without endangering forest health, environmental values, public safety, and/or the experience of other users.


4. Permit off-road vehicle use only in a manner that protects natural resources, environmental values (e.g. quiet, landscape character), public safety and the experience of other forest users. The agency has a positive obligation to analyze new recreational technologies/activities before they are allowed, to determine whether or not those activities are appropriate and compatible with protecting resources and to what levels and where they will be permitted if allowed.


5. Prohibit the use of off-road vehicles in Wilderness Areas and other wilderness quality lands such as roadless/unroaded areas and wilderness study areas.


6. Permit off-road vehicle use only to the extent that monitoring and enforcement are annually funded, implemented and used to determine appropriate levels of continued off-road vehicle use.


7. Determine a finite timeline for implementing this plan, after which any forest that has not completed designations and closed renegade roads/routes, will allow off-road vehicle use only on previously designated roads and routes.



What you can do:


1) Monitor ORV use by taking notes and photos of damaging ORV use or trespass and take the evidence to FOB and the Forest Service.


2) Support the seven policy recommendations above by writing a letter to the FS with a copy to FOB. There will be a formal comment period this summer.




The US Forest Service is beginning a year long process of changing the rules for managing Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) on National Forests nationwide. It is crucial that sensible regulations be made and enforced to get a grip on the quickly growing problem of damage caused by ORVs. Explosive growth in the number and capabilities of the machines has overrun the ability of the FS to manage the problem.


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