Carol Hardy Vincent Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Katie Hoover Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
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
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 113th 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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