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Friday, October 21, 2011

Recreation on Federal Lands

Kori Calvert
Information Research Specialist

Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The growing and diverse nature of recreation on federal lands has increased the challenge of balancing different types of recreation with each other and with other land uses. Motorized recreation has been particularly controversial, with issues centering on access and environmental impacts. The 112th Congress, as well as the Administration, is addressing recreation on federal lands, including traditional recreational pursuits and newer forms of motorized recreation. This report covers several prominent issues. 

Motorized Recreation on NPS Land, in the National Forests, and on BLM Land.
Offhighway vehicle (OHV) use on National Park Service (NPS) lands has fueled ongoing debate arising from the agency’s dual mission to provide recreational opportunities while preserving and protecting parkland resources. Only 12 park units are open to public recreational OHV use, while the extent of unauthorized OHV use is in dispute. Currently, 10 units are developing pilot education and deterrence programs to address unauthorized use, which could serve as models at other NPS sites. OHV use on Forest Service (FS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands has been controversial. Both agencies decide the extent of allowed OHV use through their planning processes. Under FS regulations governing OHVs, the FS is designating roads, trails, and areas open for OHV use and prohibiting OHV use outside the designated system. The BLM has been making similar designations and is addressing transportation issues through national strategies and other guidance. A variety of pending legislative measures seek to secure funding for recreational access to federal land; enhance hunting, fishing, and other forms of recreation on federal land; and regulate OHV use and other forms of recreation on particular lands administered by the NPS, BLM, or FS. 

Aircraft Overflights.
Grand Canyon National Park is at the center of a conflict over whether or how to limit air tours over national park units to reduce noise. NPS and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continue to work to implement a 1987 law that sought to reduce noise at Grand Canyon, and a 2000 law that regulates overflights at other park units. For instance, the agencies have developed a draft environmental impact statement on options to restore natural quiet at Grand Canyon. They also have begun to develop air tour management plans for other park units with commercial air tours. Provisions of legislation (H.R. 658) would affect commercial air tours over park units by expediting and streamlining agency actions. 

Snowmobiles on NPS Land.
Regulatory and judicial actions to allow or restrict snowmobile use have focused primarily on three Yellowstone area park units. Winter Use Plans developed by NPS to establish numerical limits on snowmobile and snowcoach entries have been the subject of repeated, and often conflicting, court challenges. On November 20, 2009, NPS issued a final rule limiting daily oversnow vehicle entries at Yellowstone to 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 winter use seasons while the agency develops a new long-term management plan. On July 5, 2011, the agency released its proposed winter-use rule allowing varying daily numbers of snowmobiles and snowcoaches into Yellowstone, beginning in 2012- 2013. The proposed rule would reinstate the 2009 rule’s snowmobile and snowcoach limits for the 2011-2012 winter season. 

Personal Watercraft (PWC) at NPS Sites.
Since 2003, NPS has completed regulations to open designated PWC areas at 13 units. On July 8, 2010, a federal judge ordered NPS to re-examine environmental assessments justifying PWC use at two of those units but did not overturn existing regulations.

Date of Report: October 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: RL33525
Price: $29.95

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