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Groups ride Forest Service to set ORV policy

Trail erosion caused by off-road vehicles is common in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado.  

January 5, 2000
Web posted at: 11:52 a.m. EST (1652 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

Led by the Wilderness Society and Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, more than 90 environmental groups have filed a petition challenging the U.S. Forest Service to develop a comprehensive and uniform plan to manage off-road vehicles, or ORVs, on national forest land.

"It's not about one form of recreation being better than another. It's about an activity that occurs on public land that damages the environment and causes conflicts between users," said Bob Ekey, Northern Rockies regional director for The Wilderness Society.

Saving the environment

Off-road vehicles include motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, four-wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles and personal watercraft. Managing ORV traffic on 100,000 miles of National Forest trails falls on the shoulders of more than 130 forest supervisors across the United States.

The purpose of the petition, said Ekey, is to persuade the Forest Service, through scientific evidence, to adopt a consistent management policy for ORVs on all national forest land.

"The current management regime allows for degradation of soil, water and vegetation on national forest land. It also causes wildlife displacement and user conflicts," said Ekey.

Ekey explains that the coalition of groups isn't trying to ban ORVs from all public lands. The groups simply want implemented a policy that requires ORVs to keep to designated roads and trails. "There's a place for ORV's on the roaded portions of the national forests," he said.

Environmental degradation begins when ORVs stray from designated paths and create their own trails, said Ekey.

Part and parcel of the petition is a request to reverse a current policy that allows ORV access to all national forest areas unless otherwise designated. The groups want all national forest areas closed to ORV traffic unless otherwise designated.

Over the next three years, the groups want the Forest Service to close all lands to ORVs so that an environmental analysis can be conducted to determine which areas can support ORV use.

ORV groups such as The Off-Road Network promote the vehicles as a means of recreation that provides health, fitness, togetherness and access to nature. They also point out that ORVs allow access to the wilderness for disabled persons.

Through its web site, The Off-Road Network encourages all ORV enthusiasts to e-mail Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck as well as President Clinton and Vice President Gore in support of ORVs.

"This (ORV use) has become a problem over the last decade or two," said Ekey. "Most Forest Service plans were made 15 years ago when four-wheelers and ATVs were virtually nonexistent. Not many were used and snow machines were relegated to groomed trails," said Ekey.

If the Forest Service rejects the petition, Ekey said, the coalition will evaluate its next move and determine if legal action should be taken. The groups hope to hear from the Forest Service in the next few months, he said.

"The rule-making petition lays out the scientific basis for asking the Forest Service to change the way it manages off-road-vehicles," said Ekey. "We focused on the Forest Service because we have background information on how they manage or don't manage ORV's."

In addition to the petition, The Wilderness Society has launched a campaign to persuade all public-land agencies to create individual policies on ORV use.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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The Wilderness Society
Off-Road Network
Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads
Forest Service
National Park Service
Bureau of Land Management
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