Off-road riders told to stay on the road

  Off-road vehicles, from 4x4's to motorcycles, are under the gun. For years ORV users have been free to ride across public lands in the West unless signs designated an area closed. But concerns about erosion, damage to wildlife habitat and renegade road building could turn this policy on its head.

In November, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental impact statement covering Montana, North Dakota and parts of South Dakota. The preferred alternative permanently bans joy riding and trail blazing on nearly 16 million acres.

"This is an interim step toward creating some regulations for site specific travel," says Jerry Majerus of the BLM. Over the next few years, the agencies will develop regulations for existing roads and trails. Dave Atkins of the Forest Service says that developed ORV playgrounds would remain open, but land would otherwise be closed unless signs say it's open.

On the national level, the Wilderness Society and more than 100 other groups filed a rulemaking petition in January asking the Forest Service to reign in ORV use on all federal lands. Steve Holmer of American Lands says although the petition has no legal ramifications, he hopes it encourages Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck to take a stand.

Chris Wood, Dombeck's policy advisor, replies that the Forest Service is in the process of revising its roads policy, but specific regulations on ORVs are better dealt with on the local level.

The draft environmental impact statement for Montana and the Dakotas is posted on the web at Send comments by Feb. 24 to OHV Plan Amendment, Lewistown Field Office, P.O. Box 1160, Lewistown, MT 59457-1160, or e-mail them to [email protected]

*Robyn Morrison
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