Travel Management Planning is how Federal public land managers designate specific trails and areas for motorized use. The process can be thought of as a type of comprehensive “zoning” where some areas are designated for motorized use, and other trails and areas are set aside for human-powered recreation, or to protect wildlife and their habitat. While this is not a new concept – agencies have been required to do this type of planning since the early 1970’s – 2015 marks a huge shift in how the Forest Service manages motorized and non-motorized winter use. Up to this point, Forests have focused on developing comprehensive plans for summer use. The Forest Service’s new Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Rule makes this sort of planning mandatory for over-snow use and establishes guidelines for how it will be accomplished.
Winter Wildlands Alliance has long advocated for comprehensive winter recreation planning, and we are glad to see the OSV rule in place. Under the new rule individual Forests and Ranger Districts that do not already have winter travel plans will start developing them, and we will be there to ensure backcountry and Nordic skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers have a voice in the process. This is an exciting time for anyone who loves winter, as we have a real opportunity to bring balance to the backcountry.
History of Forest Service Travel Management Planning
Travel management planning is conducted to ensure that off-road vehicles on public lands are managed in a way that protects resources, promotes the safety of all public lands users, and minimizes conflict among uses. Because it is a means for determining where motorized use will and will not occur, travel planning has meaningful implications for non-motorized recreation as well.
In 2005, the Forest Service released new regulations for travel planning in order to better manage and address the impacts associated with off-road vehicle (ORV) use on National Forest lands, but it left management of over-snow vehicles (OSVs) as optional. The 2005 Travel Management Rule marked a fundamental shift in how the Forest Service manages motorized recreation. Those interested in more details can refer to this background handout on winter travel management planning. Following a challenge by Winter Wildlands Alliance, a Federal Court ruled that the OSV exemption in the 2005 Rule was unlawful and ordered the Forest Service to write a new rule to address this issue. This amendment to the 2005 Rule was published in January 2015 and requires all National Forests that receive snow to designate routes and areas where OSV use is allowed. Once these designations are published on an OSV Use Map, OSV use that is not in accordance with the map is prohibited.
Winter travel management is a huge opportunity to bring balance to our national forests, and will likely soon be coming to the areas where you recreate in winter. By stepping back and re-assessing where on the landscape motorized use is truly appropriate, the Forest Service and those who participate in the winter travel planning process will be able to take steps to reduce user conflicts and ensure that high quality winter recreation opportunities exist for all users.
For example, while there are abundant opportunities for quiet and solitude deep in the backcountry, fewer opportunities exist for non-motorized winter recreation closer to home. Creation of sizable and accessible winter non-motorized areas on each National Forest, with enforceable common sense boundaries, will go a long way towards meeting the public’s desire in this regard and reducing user conflict, and we will work to see these zones are created or protected so that skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and other human-powered winter recreationists can have the experience that they seek. Snowmobile trails could be located adjacent to these areas, with open play areas designated further from trailheads. While hypothetical, this is the sort of comprehensive “zoning” winter travel planning can accomplish under the new rule.
This is an opportunity for all those who value the winter backcountry to find common ground. We all want room to roam – and the backcountry is big enough for all of us – but we cannot afford a free-for-all.
The Lassen, Tahoe, Eldorado, Stanislaus, and Plumas National Forests in California are the first in the country to implement the new OSV Rule. We are working with Snowlands Network and other local backcountry skiers to advocate for designating non-motorized areas on these forests in order to protect opportunities for high quality human-powered winter recreation. You can find out more, including opportunities to comment, by visiting our California Travel Planning page.