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Another Reminder To Comment On Proposed Over-Snow Vehicle Use

Published online: Jul 23, 2014 News
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The Snowmobile Alliance of Western States sent out a reminder for all of us to comment on the proposed Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) use as it relates to the Travel Management Rule (TMR) described in the Forest Service press release below.

If you have forgotten what this is all about or need some help with talking points, go here: http://www.snowest.com/2014/07/its-time-to-rally-for/

Just remember to personalize your comment letter.

Comment deadline: August 4, 2014

Submit comment at this link:
http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FS-2014-0004-0001

U.S.D.A Forest Service
Office of Communication
NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Forest Service Seeks Comments on Over-Snow Vehicle Proposal

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2014 – 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.

June 13, 2014- News Release— U.S. Forest Service Seeks Comments on Over-Snow Vehicle Proposal

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.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the U.S. Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

Over-Snow Vehicle Federal Register Notice
Additional Information and Question and Answers
June 13, 2014

Topic: OVER-SNOW VEHICLE FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE

Issue: The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to a portion of the Travel Management Rule that would require designation of agency roads, trails and areas where over-snow vehicle use is allowed, restricted or prohibited. The proposed change would provide consistency in how over-snow vehicle use is managed across the agency.

Background: Between 1982 and 2009, the number of people in the U.S. who operate motor vehicles off road increased more than 153.5 percent. Other types of recreational use also increased. Providing for long-term sustainable use of national forests and grasslands is essential to creating the quality of the recreation experience expected by visitors. In 2005, the agency began working on a plan for more effective management of public motor vehicle use. One section of the Travel Management Rule requires the creation of a system of routes and areas where motor vehicles are allowed (36 CFR Part 212, Subpart B). Another subpart to the rule treats over-snow vehicle use differently, giving the responsible agency official the discretion to determine whether to establish similar rules to allow, restrict, or prohibit the use of such vehicles (36 CFR Part 212, Subpart C). In 2013 a federal court ruled that the agency violated Executive Order 11644, “Use of off-road vehicles on public lands,” by allowing such discretion. The court held 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. The judge ordered the Forest Service to issue a new rule by Sept. 9, 2014.

Key Messages:

o    The U.S. Forest Service strives to balance the demands of multiple uses on public lands and develop a Travel Management Plan to more effectively manage public motor vehicle use on public lands the agency manages.

o    The proposed revision to the Travel Management Rule would provide sustainable access for all motor vehicles, including over-snow vehicles, on national forests and grasslands.

o    The proposed changes to the Travel Management Rule will provide consistency in how over-snow vehicle use is managed on agency lands across the country.

Questions and Answers:

1.  Will the proposed rule maintain over-snow vehicle access to the national forests and grasslands?

The Forest Service recognizes that in the right places and with careful management, over-snow vehicles are an appropriate use on lands managed by the agency. Consistent with other types of public motor vehicle use, the proposed rule revision maintains public access to national forests and grasslands for over-snow vehicle use but requires the designation of a system of roads, trails, and areas where over-snow vehicle use is allowed, restricted or prohibited. The proposed rule enhances opportunities for outdoor recreation for all forest and grassland visitors and ensures that the long-term health of the land is viable over the long term.

2.  Why does the agency allow over-snow vehicle use on national forests and grasslands? Can over-snow vehicles cause damage to soil and vegetation?

Sufficient snow cover enables a new set of recreational opportunities such as skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Snowmobiles in particular are dependent on sufficient winter snow so that roads and trails and areas are covered to allow wintertime access to the forest.

National forests and grasslands are established for use by the public for multiple purposes, which include a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Recreation is the most notable use of over-snow vehicles. However, for many people the over-snow vehicles are part of their everyday work life. Gathering fire wood in roadless areas and subsistence hunting in Alaska are two examples of how a person may use these vehicles.

With sufficient snow and when properly operated and managed, over-snow vehicles do not make direct contact with soil, water and vegetation and generally permanent trails are not created. That means in the Midwest and Northeast, over-snow vehicle use is largely trail-based. In the larger, wide-open powder-filled bowls in the western mountains, cross-country over-snow vehicle use could be more common. However, in addition to adequate snow cover, the Forest Service must consider other factors including impacts to winter wildlife, the soundscape and air quality.

3.  What types of vehicles are considered over-snow vehicles?

The current definition of over-snow vehicle will not change with the proposed rule revision. Over-snow vehicles are defined under the Travel Management Rule as “a motor vehicle that is designed for use over snow and that runs on a track and/or a ski or skis, while used over snow.”

4.  Why is an “area” defined differently for over-snow vehicle use under the proposed rule?

In the current rule an area is defined as a discrete, small area, which is much smaller than a Ranger District. The definition in the proposed rule recognizes that over-snow vehicle use may occur across a broader landscape, not necessarily along a specific road or trail, but potentially cross-country within designated areas larger than those anticipated for other motor vehicle use.

5.  Why is over-snow vehicles managed differently than other motor vehicles under the proposed rule?

Over the snow use for transportation or for recreation is when snow is on the ground at an adequate depth to not create damage. In contrast, users of other motor vehicles are generally not limited to a season. Other types of motor vehicles operating over snow are regulated under subpart B of the Travel Management Rule.

There is a key difference between over-snow vehicle use and other types of motor vehicles use. Most other types of motor vehicles operate directly on the ground and can have a direct effect on soil and ground vegetation. When properly operated and managed, over-snow vehicles do not make direct contact with soil, water and vegetation. However, in addition to adequate snow cover, the Forest Service must consider other factors including impacts to winter wildlife, the soundscape and air quality.

The public’s over-snow vehicle preferences and practices on lands managed by the Forest Service vary nationwide due to differences in terrain, snowfall, snowpack, recreational activities, and transportation needs.

Recreational preferences are another factor accounting for the difference in management of other types of motor vehicle use and over-snow vehicle use. The public’s desire for recreational opportunities is different in the summer and the winter. National Visitor Use Monitoring data from 2008 to 2012 show that most public use of National Forest System lands (79.5 percent) occurs during non-snow seasons. Per this data, most snow season use on National Forest System lands (69 percent) occurs at alpine ski areas and generally does not involve over-snow vehicle use, back-country skiing, snowshoeing, or any other snow-based activity.

The potential damage to the environment is different by over-snow vehicles versus other motor vehicles and should be managed in a way that sustains the public’s natural resources.

6.  Will all Forest Service units be required to designate over-snow vehicle use?

No. Because of snow patterns, national forests and grasslands vary significantly in their need to address over-snow vehicle use. Many do not experience enough snowfall to warrant use of these vehicles. Approximately 30 percent of National Forest System lands do not offer sufficient over-snow vehicle recreation opportunities to justify or require regulation of over-snow vehicle use.

7.  How is the designation of over-snow vehicle use defined in the proposed rule?

The proposed rule defines the designation of over-snow vehicle use as “designation of a national forest system road, national forest system trail, or area on National Forest System lands where over-snow vehicle use is allowed, restricted, or prohibited pursuant to §212.81 on an over-snow vehicle use map.”

8.  Does the proposed rule, if finalized, affect decisions made under the current rule?

Those decisions will not be affected. The proposed rule would maintain existing over-snow vehicle decisions made under other authorities.

9.  Does the rule take away valid existing rights held by federally recognized tribal governments, counties, or private individuals, including treaty rights, other statutory rights, or private rights-of-way?

No. Responsible officials will recognize valid existing rights in making designations at the local level.

10.  How will the public know where they can use over-snow vehicles?

The proposed rule would give agency units direction on areas where over-snow vehicle use is allowed, restricted, or prohibited on National Forest System lands on an over-snow vehicle use map. A separate use map for over-snow vehicles would eliminate confusion that could occur if over-snow vehicle use information was included on a motor vehicle use map. An over-snow use map provides a simple source of information for the public and the Forest Service official to use. Local Forest Service officials would retain the discretion to manage over-snow vehicle use to address local conditions and to establish restrictions, as appropriate, based on the season of use and other local factors.

11.  In the proposed rule are over-snow vehicle use designations made at the same time as other motor vehicle use designations?

In the proposed rule over-snow vehicle use designation-decisions are not required to be made at the same time as other motor vehicle use designations. However, decisions for over-snow use can be made independently or in conjunction with other motor vehicle use decisions.

12.  How will the Forest Service pay for over-snow travel planning?

The Forest Service expects to complete route and area designations on all national forests and grasslands through using available funds. A designated system of over-snow vehicle use routes and areas will benefit multiple agency programs, and funding sources will depend on the specific local circumstances. Over-snow travel planning is ongoing today on many national forests. The proposed rule provides a consistent national framework for these efforts. Addressing urgent needs in unmanaged recreation will sometimes delay other agency work, but this will be a local situation. Failure to complete over-snow travel planning would be even more costly in terms of agency expenditures, interruption to recreation by users and damage to the environment.

13.  Why does the proposed rule not require an enforceable deadline for route and area designations for over-snow vehicle use?

An enforceable regulatory deadline would subject the Forest Service to legal challenge if, despite its best efforts, the agency is unable to meet the deadline. Cooperative work by responsible officials with state, tribal, county, and municipal governments, user groups, and other interested parties offers the best hope for long-term resolution of issues involving recreational use, including use of over-snow vehicles. An inflexible deadline can make collaborative solutions more difficult. However, the Forest Service shares a strong interest in completing route and area designation.

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