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The U.S. Forest Service has published a Federal Register Notice seeking public comment on a proposal that would help standardize where and when over-snow vehicles, such as snowmobiles, are used on national forests and grasslands.
“Over-the-snow access and recreation is an appropriate use of public lands, and we strive to offer a variety of opportunities for that,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We believe it is essential that the public be engaged in decisions regarding travel management on the forests and grasslands, and we encourage the public to review the proposal and provide comments to help improve the final rule.”
Motor vehicle use on national forests and grasslands is governed by the Travel Management Rule which provides for a system of roads, trails and areas that are designated for motor vehicles. Over-snow vehicles—vehicles designed for use over snow and that run on a track and/or a ski or skis—are currently treated differently from other motor vehicles by giving forest and grassland supervisors the discretion to develop a similar system for over-snow vehicles. In 2013, a federal court ruled that this violates Executive Order 11644, “Use of off-road vehicles on public lands.” The court ordered that the Forest Service must regulate over-snow use, but does have the discretion to determine where and when over-snow vehicle use can occur on agency lands.
In response accordance with the court’s ruling, the Federal Register notice proposes amending the existing Travel Management Rule to establish consistent guidance for how forests and grasslands decide the appropriate use for over-snow vehicles. Over-snow vehicles are used for recreational purposes as well as work tasks that include gathering firewood or subsistence hunting.
The Federal Register Notice for the proposal is scheduled to be published Wednesday, June 18, 2014. The public will have 45 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register to comment on the proposed revisions. The Forest Service intends to publish the final rule change by Sept. 9, 2014.
Nationally, the Forest Service manages over 200,000 miles of roads and 47,000 miles of trails that are open to motor vehicle use. The roads and trails vary greatly, from single-track trails used by motorcycles to roads designed for high-clearance vehicles such as logging trucks.