Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
The five national forests involved in this project currently have different management direction for cross-country use of OHVs. This diversity of approaches has led to confusion by the public as to where they may use OHVs. The growing numbers of OHVs used on national forests has impacted land and resources. Popularity of this use has created conflicts with other forest uses and prompted many individuals and groups to express concerns over this matter.
Many types of OHVs are common in Arizona's National Forests. Pickup trucks, motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles have all become more prevalent and now are beyond the scope considered for their use in forest plans. According to industry experts more than half of all vehicles sold in Arizona are sport utility vehicles (SUVs) or light trucks. Additionally, all-terrain vehicles have increased in sales between 1995 and 1998 an average of 29% per year. Improper use of such vehicles on national forests has been a concern of government agencies, organized
Cross-country travel is defined as travel off of or away from open roads or trails. Where cross country travel is permitted under land management plans, these roads and trails are often products of repeated cross country use and not trespass per se. Where cross-country travel is prohibited, trails and roads created by repeated use are not legal additions to a designated transportation system. Agency personnel and the public note new user created trails on many national forests and roads almost every week. National forests in Arizona are experiencing noticeable impacts from improper OHV use.
Communities adjacent to national forests and popular recreation destinations have become focal points for development of a large amount of unapproved roads and trails created by OHV users. These user created trails lack engineering and environmental elements of design. The EIS will contain substantial information on what constitutes an open road or trail.
Even greater concerns occur in environmentally sensitive areas. Specially designated wildlife protection areas are becoming crisscrossed with OHV tracks. Wilderness areas have frequently been impacted by OHV tracks, often immediately adjacent to closure signs. Riparian areas also attract a large number of people and provide key habitat elements to wildlife. OHV tracks and use areas have strongly impacted many of these ecological communities.
The EIS will deal with alternative strategies for cross-country OHV travel. While it was once envisioned that this process would standardize the convention for signing open roads and trails, that has been dropped from the project because that is an administrative matter that is not subject to the documentation in an EIS or other environmental document. Forest supervisors will seek public input on their administrative decision for road signs. This EIS and that administrative process will over lap in time frames and may use common meetings to facilitate public input to both projects.
Off highway vehicles allow many people to enjoy the national forests and contribute significantly to the economy of communities when used properly. OHVs have become very popular because of high quality recreational experiences they provide and the amount of national forest land they can access on them.
Preliminary issues include:
•Law enforcement efficiency.
• Ability to access resources by persons of diverse cultures and abilities. An interdisciplinary team has been appointed by the Responsibilities Officials. They have examined documents of other agencies and Forest Service Regions to develop preliminary alternatives for analysis in an environmental impact statement. Comments on these preliminary alternatives during the initial scoping helped the team analyze reasonableness of the alternatives and the appropriateness of the range of alternatives. Our approach is to ensure a complete analysis of reasonable and feasible strategies to provide opportunities for OHV recreationists.
The preliminary alternatives include: “No Action” which would keep the existing forest plan direction on all five forests. The alternatives outlined in the table below have been developed to reflect the outcomes of multi-agency coordination and input from people and organizations during scoping contacts. The five Forest Supervisors have selected a proposed action alternative to facilitate public participation in the process.
Significant information has been obtained from “Arizona Trails 2000, State Motorized and Non-motorized Trails Plan” in determining preliminary issues and possible alternatives. Cooperation with Arizona State agencies who have OHV management roles has been and remains excellent.
It is anticipated that environmental analysis and preparation of the draft and final environmental impact statements will take about eight months. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement can be expected in the spring of 2002 and the Final EIS in the late summer. A 45-day comment period will be provided for the public to make comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The intention of the EIS is to programmatically preserve options for local transportation planning including OHV consideration while reducing existing and potential impacts to resources. Subsequent to adoption of an alternative from this EIS, Forest officers will issue Forest Orders implementing the selected alternative. Site specific planning at the ranger district or national forest level will examine the need for additional facilities to provide for motorized recreation. This process is described in 36 CFR part 212.
The Forest Service believes at this early stage, it is important to give reviewers notice of several court rulings related to public participation in the environmental review process. To be the most helpful, comments on the draft environmental impact statement should be as specific as possible and may address the adequacy of the statement or the merits of the alternatives discussed (see Council of Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of the National
In addition, Federal court decisions have established that reviewers of draft environmental impact statements must structure their participation in the environmental review of the proposal so that it is meaningful and alerts an agency to the reviewers' position and contentions.