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November 3, 2005
U.S. Forest Service Will Impose Standards for Off-Road Vehicles
By FELICITY BARRINGER
WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 - The United States Forest Service announced Wednesday that it would begin a nationwide process of designating which trails are suitable for use by off-road vehicles, a move intended to limit damage to national forests.
Until now, the nation's 155 designated forests and 20 grasslands have not had uniform policies for off-road vehicles. Some Western forests gave them virtually unlimited access; others, like the Chattahoochee-Oconee forest in Georgia, provided designated trails.
Under the final regulations announced Wednesday by the Forest Service chief, Dale Bosworth, designated trails will be the rule everywhere. Individual forest supervisors will decide which trails are available to the vehicles, whether free-form trails created in recent months or years by riders going cross-country should be included, and whether vehicles and their riders will be allowed to stray off into open country under limited circumstances.
Mr. Bosworth said in a conference call that he hoped the plans would be completed in four years.
Environmental advocates gave lukewarm praise to the decision to enforce standards to keep the vehicles on trails but criticized the lack of firm legal deadlines and of local forest supervisors' ability to include what the environmentalists call "renegade trails," paths carved willy-nilly by all-terrain vehicle users.
Sales of all-terrain vehicles have risen tenfold, to 51 million, since 1972, said Jack Troyer, a regional forester. In that period, the vehicles have become a source of conflict on public lands. They provide their users access to beautiful, remote country and an adrenaline rush. In the eyes of their detractors, they inflict a combination of noise and industrial odors, and deep scars into quiet, unspoiled landscapes.
"Some of these routes have evolved over the years, have been enjoyed by the public, don't do damage and are good routes," Mr. Troyer said. "It's our expectation that some of the user-created routes" will become part of the approved system of trails for motorized recreation.
But Jim Furnish, a former Forest Service employee who is now a consultant to the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, which seeks tighter restrictions on motorized recreation, said he worked for the service for 35 years and saw motorized recreation "on public land go from nonexistence to running amok."
Mr. Furnish said the new regulations were inadequate.
"This is a runaway fire," he said. "They needed a three-alarm response with engines. They're throwing a bucket of water on a raging inferno."
At the Idaho office of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a group of all-terrain vehicle users, the founder, Clark Collins, said he welcomed the new rules. "We feel pretty good about the final product," he said. "In fact we've worked cooperatively with the chief and his staff throughout this process."
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