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Monday, February 4, 2013

Motorized Recreation on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service Lands



Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Katie Hoover
Analyst 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 on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS) has been controversial, with issues centering on access and environmental impacts. Congress, as well as the Administration, has addressed motorized recreation on these federal lands.

The use of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) on FS and BLM land is governed by a number of authorities, including law, executive orders, agency regulations and policies, land management plans, and area-specific decisions. Both agencies decide the extent of allowed OHV use in particular areas through their planning processes. Under BLM regulations, the agency has been designating public lands as open, limited, or closed to OHV use. Similarly, 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 designations for some BLM and FS lands have been contentious.

BLM also has been addressing motorized recreation as part of a broader effort to manage all modes of travel and public access, including through the issuance of a 2011 manual and a 2012 handbook on travel and transportation management. The goal of BLM’s Comprehensive Travel and Transportation Management program is to provide varied transportation routes for access to BLM lands and provide areas for a variety of motorized and non-motorized forms of recreation, while protecting sensitive areas. Travel and transportation management plans are developed for particular areas. Also, in response to recommendations of the Government Accountability Office regarding OHV use on federal lands, BLM has taken actions in areas including planning, law enforcement, and communication with the public.

The FS continues to develop motor vehicle use maps showing where motor vehicle use is allowed, based on its 2005 travel management regulations. These regulations continue to be under debate, with some asserting that they do not sufficiently protect national forest lands from damage resulting from OHVs, and others contending that motorized access is too restricted. Similarly, some of the agency’s travel management plans have been challenged for either being too restrictive or not restrictive enough.

One bill with provisions on motorized recreation on FS lands (H.R. 145) has been introduced in the 113
th Congress to date. In the 112th Congress, no general legislation on OHV activities on BLM and FS lands was introduced. However, a variety of legislative measures sought to regulate OHV use on particular lands administered by the BLM, the FS, or both agencies. For instance, some measures relating to BLM lands sought to establish recreation areas in general, or OHV areas in particular. Other bills provided for conveyance of BLM land for recreation purposes, including motorized recreation. Measures pertaining to FS lands addressed motorized recreation in areas with special designations, including wilderness. Other FS bills sought to designate other types of areas, such as special management areas and recreation management areas, and govern the use of motorized vehicles in those areas. Other bills contained varied provisions relating to motorized recreation in a particular national forest.


Date of Report: January 16, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42920
Price: $29.95

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