Budget Amendment Opens Forests To Off Road Vehicle Abuse

Feb 16, 2011

Late Monday, amidst the ongoing budget chaos in Congress, California Representative Wally Herger (R-CA-2) quietly introduced an amendment that threatens to tie the hands of forest managers across the country trying to protect public safety and recreational experiences for everyone.  It also endangers drinking water resources, big game species, and other key forest resources. Herger’s Amendment 177 to the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution would prevent the Forest Service from using any of its budget to enforce or implement the off-road vehicle management plans recently completed for nearly every national forest in the country.

“Imagine if we stopped enforcing traffic rules in our communities and didn’t have any road signs or traffic signals. This amendment does the equivalent on our National Forests,” said Vera Smith with The Wilderness Society’s National Forest Action Center.

The Forest Service has spent the last six years intensively engaging the public to develop off-road vehicle management plans that protect resources while also providing recreational access.  The purpose of these plans is to designate access for motorized vehicles on a system of roads, trails and areas while reducing conflict and environmental damage and ensuring the safety of forest visitors. Under these plans, motorized vehicles no longer can drive off-trail except in discrete, designated areas. 

The off-road vehicle management process was started by the Bush Administration because damage and conflict from off-road vehicle use was out of control. Unmanaged off-road vehicle use was identified by the Forest Service as one of the top four threats facing America’s national forests.  Though perhaps reluctantly, many off-road vehicle riders agreed that it was time to establish some rules for motorized recreation.  

“Representative Herger’s amendment is a return to the lawless west,” said Bethanie Walder, Executive Director of Wildlands CPR. “Off-road vehicle trespass and abuse is a continuing problem in National Forests and it’s not just a few bad apples.  Multiple studies have shown that many motorized recreationists ride off the designated route even when they know it’s against the rules.  Now they’ve asked Representative Herger both to rescind the designations and to prevent the agency from enforcing the rules.”  Herger’s amendment echoes the language in H.R. 242, a bill he introduced earlier this year.

Representative Herger’s amendment prohibits the Forest Service from spending funds to enforce or implement the motorized road, trail, and area designations made in off-road vehicle management plans.  Stopping implementation of these management plans means road signs will not be installed, maps showing the public where the roads and trails are located will not be printed, and roads that are eroding and causing drinking water pollution and harming fish populations will not be fixed.  In addition, funding would no longer be available to construct trailheads that accommodate ORV trailers, or other beneficial amenities to improve the off-road vehicle recreational experience. 

Wildlands CPR, The Wilderness Society, and many other conservation organizations, recognizing the importance of having well-designed road and trail systems for recreation, have consistently advocated for increased funds for the Forest Service to implement and enforce the off-road vehicle management plans.  In the FY 2011 budget, for example, conservation groups advocated for $115 million to implement and enforce off-road vehicle plans.

“One of the smartest moves the Forest Service has made in the last few decades was to develop these off-road vehicle management plans so people can enjoy motorized recreation while providing better forest stewardship,” concluded Smith.   “It makes no sense to throw these plans out and return to the days of drive-anywhere and do-anything.”