(Author's Note: Much of the information in this article was taken directly from the NOHVCC Workshop PowerPoint presentations.)
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is under a mandate to complete their Travel Management Plans within the next couple of years. They are looking for public input in the process, specifically when it comes to Route Designation. But, unfortunately most of the OHV community is lost when it comes to working with the various government agencies that manage our public lands.
With this lack of knowledge and experience of OHVers the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) has stepped up to educate our community on how to become part of the process. The NOHVCC along with partners the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA), the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), the BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) and the United Four Wheel Drive Associations (UFWDA) has been holding Route Designation Workshops all over the country. The workshops are free, the enthusiast just has to supply his or her own transportation and lodging (if they are from out of town). The one on March 1-4 was held in Albuquerque, NM, just three hours from where I live, so I decided to attend. March 1st and 2nd was for Land Managers, mainly USFS employees, and the 3rd and 4th were for enthusiasts and other stakeholders.
I attended the workshop that was held on the 3rd and 4th, figuring I would get the most out of the enthusiast sessions even though I have previous experience in the process. Enthusiasts from around the state were in attendance, ATVers, dirt bikers, four wheelers and even one mountain biker. I was a bit disappointed in the turn out, there were approximately 20 people in attendance, and all but a couple of them had gray hair. This says a lot about how we as the OHV community view our role in the management of our public lands, it seems most would prefer to be part of the complaining rather than part of the process. Furthermore, there were only three in attendance representing four wheeling interests, two members of the New Mexico Four Wheelers club and myself. I prefer to be a part of the process rather than crying about it afterwards.
Tom Crimmins and Steve Uhles were the presenters, both of them have a combined experience of over 80 years in OHVs and working for the USFS, so I knew that there would be a vast amount of valuable information that we would have access to. Russ Ehnes, NOHVCC Executive Director was also there, but he let Crimmins and Uhles with their years of experience run the show. Crimmins has even written a book called "Management Guidelines for OHV Recreation", it can be obtained from NOHVCC.
This workshop was not just a couple hours and show up for a little while and leave. NOHVCC had a very full agenda consisting of almost two days of valuable information. Before the workshop started we were treated to breakfast and presented with a folder full of information, including a cd with all the presentations and other information, and a copy of Crimmins' book which normally goes for $10.
The workshop took for granted that you are an enthusiast, but it also was structured so that attendees that are totally unfamiliar with the public lands planning process would not get lost in a sea of information they don't know how to use. During the first few minutes the presenters introduced themselves, and we were each given the opportunity to tell the rest of the attendees why we were there. We then received a brief overview of NOHVCC, basically letting us know who they are and where they stand in relation to this very complicated Travel Management Process.
To get started the first presentation after the introductions gave us a brief overview of the Rule itself. At this point we were left with four very important items to keep in mind:
- Forest Service is going to designate roads, trails and areas for motor vehicle use
- Once roads, trails and areas are designated, motor vehicle use off designated routes and areas is prohibited
- The public and other government entities are encouraged to participate in designation
- Users are responsible for knowing designations.
The next step was to tell us why we were really there, the Route Designation Process itself. This step in the overall Travel Management process is where we, as OHV enthusiasts, can be most valuable to the agencies involved, it is our chance to be heard before it is too late. The process consists of six steps, and we can be involved in most of them:
- Assemble Resource and Social Data
- Compile Existing Travel Management Direction
- Use Travel Analysis to Identify Proposals for Change (to existing travel system)
- Conduct Environmental Analysis and Make a Decision
- Publish a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM)
- Implement, Monitor, and Revise
Next, we were given information about the bureaucracy we will be dealing with. "Understanding the FS Organizational Structure" gave some valuable information to those in attendance who have had limited contact with the USFS. The most important thing gained from this segment was information on who you need to talk to within the organization in order to get things done. If you are just out in the woods and a thought occurs to you on how the USFS could do something better, it won't do any good to run up to the guy in the green truck that is repairing the picnic tables in a campground and expect him to relay your message to the District Ranger. Here's what you really need to do:
- Contact Regional Office
- Identify who has oversight responsibility for the motorized travel route designation process
- Find the schedule for the planning processes in the Region
- Identify the current status for your particular area of interest
- Contact the Forest Supervisor's Office
- Identify who has oversight responsibility for the motorized travel route designation process on the Forest.
- Identify the current status of planning for your particular area of interest.
- If planning is being done at Forest level ask to be placed on the mailing list for the project.
- Ask if there is a web address for information.
- Contact Ranger District (If Necessary)
- Identify who has lead responsibility for the motorized travel route designation process on the unit.
- Identify the current status of planning for your particular area of interest and the schedule for public involvement.
- Ask to be placed on the mailing list for the project.
Going about it in any other way will just result in frustration and the very real possibility that your ideas will never be heard.
After lunch, provided by NOHVCC, we were then introduced to the Planning Process itself, and how we, as enthusiast stakeholders, fit into all of this. In order to really understand where you are in the process there are three things to remember:
- Decision authority is placed at the lowest levels of the agency
- Planning decisions are subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
- Forest Service uses a tiered system of planning.
The levels of the process are also very important, you need to understand the two levels or types of initiatives that may be encountered when working with forest planning:
- Strategic/Programmatic - Forest Land Management Plans
- Provides overall strategic guidance for the sustainable management of the National Forest
Site Specific Projects
- Trail Construction or other actions
- Analysis of the effects of a site-specific federal action
- Travel Management Plan
- Identifies and designates routes. Establishes direction for specific programs
Generally speaking, you, as a stakeholder, will have 2 stages of most processes to get involved. But, if you are not involved from the beginning, the pre NEPA scoping stage, then any input you may have may be too late depending on what it is that you want the land managers to hear. When making comments, you must be specific in what it is you want them to hear, make your comments clear and simple, provide as much information as you can, request action, and of course, STAY involved until the process is completed. When communicating with the land managers there are things that work, and things that don't. Just remember what does work:
- Personal letters or e-mail with specific references to the plan, document or issue
- Individual letters or e-mail addressing specific talking points regarding the issue
- Form letters or e-mail with personal comments added
- Form letters or post cards
- Petitions - Don't waste your time
The last session of day one introduced us to the 4 Es-Principles of Effective Travel Management; Engineering, Education, Enforcement and Evaluation. Engineering happens on the ground, the design of a good trail is everything, because without good trail design you don't have a sustainable trail. Education happens in the mind, Enforcement happens in the wallet, and Evaluation boils down to an analysis of how are we doing managing the trails.
Engineering is where it all begins. According to NOHVCC Engineering will be applied to trail management in five ways:
- Trail and facility design and construction
- Structures for resource protection or mitigation
Every one of these require proper engineering or the system breaks down. There are several ways we, as stakeholders, can get involved in the engineering of a trail system:
- We can provide input to system planning & design
- We can help with construction operations
- We can help build structures & barriers
- We can help install signs
- We can help perform maintenance
Education is something that we have always had a problem with in the OHV community. NOHVCC makes it pretty simple, but it still doesn't address the core of the problem, apathy. Here's a quick rundown of what NOHVCC has to say:
- We can become volunteer Trail Rangers
- We can apply peer pressure
- We can inform ourselves & others about responsible rider ethics
- We can help install & maintain signs
- We can help distribute maps & other educational information
As for Enforcement, from our end this is also pretty simple:
- We can apply peer pressure
- We can inform officials of problem situations
- We can educate ourselves & others of technical & legal requirements
- Where allowed, we can do ride-alongs with Law Enforcement Personnel
And finally, Evaluation, we just have to ask ourselves "How are we doing?". NOHVCC would like you to remember that all of this just boils down to one simple fact:
Effective Application of These Basic Tools =Sustainability =The Big E, Environmental Protection. That's what it's all about, if we don't build sustainable trails we won't have trails to ride and drive upon.
Day two of the workshop was when we finally got down to the nuts and bolts of how to help plan and design sustainable trails, and how to get these trails included as part of a trail system that works. This system is based upon nine basic principles, if we don't follow these principles then we stand a good chance of not having a sustainable trail system, and a trail system that is not sustainable will not fit within what the USFS can effectively manage. If they can't manage it, then it will not exist. The basic principles of System Planning and Design, according to NOHVCC are:
-- People come to public lands to have fun and THEY WILL HAVE FUN
-- A Vision Without Action is a Daydream. Action Without Vision is a Nightmare
-- Creatively Explore What We Have, But Don't Be Married to What We Have
-- The 3 D's, Dispersal, Dispersal, Dispersal. Dispersal = Sustainable
-- Create a Recreation Experience, Not a Transportation Experience
-- Motorized Trails Must Flow
Flow increases fun factor
Flow decreases tread impacts
Degree of flow affects degree of difficulty
Create flow by:
Keep trail moving
Keep trail curvilinear
Roll the grades = Sustainability
Use rolling dips, not waterbars = Sustainability
Put the trail where the rider's eye wants it to go
-- Speed is Our Enemy
Speed reduces safety
Speed increases tread impacts and mtc $$
Speed reduces time in the seat
Speed reduces fun factor
Reduce speed by:
Tighter clearing limits
Avoid one-way trails
-- Never terminate an easier trail at one that is more difficult. More difficult trails must loop off of the easier trails.
-- Don't treat the symptom, Solve the problem
If it's broken, fix it- don't bandaid it
Bandaids are temporary and costly
Bandaids generally don't offer the best resource protection
Bandaids may reduce flow and rider experience
Use the 4 E's: Can the problem be fixed with better engineering?
There is much, much more to this section, but it is in no way within the scope of this article to go into depth. For that, you will have to attend an NOHVCC workshop!
The next session of the workshop focused on Collecting and Compiling Route Data. Without this step it would be impossible for your goal of a sustainable trail system to even get off the ground. As far as the USFS is concerned in this planning process, if the trail isn't mapped at some point early in the process, then it doesn't exist. Trails that aren't on the Route Inventory map will not be included in the final Plan. There are several steps to consider when identifying and mapping the trails that volunteers will identify. These are:
- Develop agreement between user group and agency
- Identify group's "data collection leader"
- Communicate with agency and collectors
- Establish FS GIS contact
- Agree on a "data dictionary" and form
- What features do you want to record
- Keep it simple but collect what you need
- Help train volunteers to set up and use GPS units
- Help identify routes to inventory
- Look at existing FS inventory data
- Talk to riders - No single rider will have all the info
- Look at maps from the past
- Aerial and satellite photos
- Collect data in the field
- Download to Fugawi, Ozi Explorer, or DNR Garmin
- Edit excess data
- Save tracks and points as ESRI Shape Files
- Provide track, point, data dictionary form, photos, audio files, and maps to FS GIS specialist
- Be available to answer questions
Remember, if you don't identify and inventory the trails properly, then it simply won't turn out the way you, as a stakeholder, want it to.
We then turned our attention to the subject of Collaboration. We must, as an OHV Community, collaborate not only with the agencies tasked to manage our public lands, we must also collaborate within our own community. The dirt bikers must not be at odds with the four wheelers, the ATVers must not be at odds with the dirt bikers, we are all in this together, and all have a stake in working with the USFS in the Route Designation process. Basically, what it boils down to when we are working within our own community is this:
- The OHV community must have a common voice to be effective
- Make sure everyone agrees on the meanings of the terms being used
- There are times to draw the line in the sand and agree to disagree
- There must be realistic expectations of the work that can be accomplished
- Collaboration is not a cure-all
- Collaboration allows a group to identify common ground but does not guarantee consensus
The final piece of the Route Inventory puzzle involves developing resources to help with the process. We may have to get pretty creative here, the funding that the USFS has to work with is limited, and Congress doesn't seem inclined to give them a whole lot more. NOHVCC would like us to remember that Funding is Fundamental, it is needed for:
- Start-up costs
- Law enforcement
- Maps, education and other activities
There are many ways to get or enhance funding, and NOHVCC in this workshop helped familiarize us with what is available. There are funding resources available at both the national and state levels, and one of best types of funding is through the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). RTP funds are disbursed differently from state to state, so you will have to contact the state agency that has responsibility for the funds. The funds are distributed in a 30/30/40 ration, broken down as follows:
- 30% for motorized
- 30% for non-motorized
- 40% for diverse trail use
The final session on day two showed us how all that we learned over the course of the 2 day workshop can be put together to form a sustainable trail system. NOHVCC chose to highlight the Highwoods Mountain Travel Management Plan in central Montana as an example of how all the planning, engineering, construction and collaboration can work to build a trail system that is sustainable, usable and most important of all, FUN. Why did what they did in the Highwood Mountains work? Because they followed the process, worked within it rather than trying to make the process fit agendas. Specifically, this is how success was achieved:
Non-system trails were evaluated, and 3 of them adopted.
-- SYSTEM PLANNING:
41 miles of new trail construction were evaluated.
-- TRAIL DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION:
Loop trails were designed whenever possible. One destination trail.
Design standards were applied to all trails / facilities / signs.
-- ACTIVE MANAGEMENT:
Signs were improved and are effective.
Trailheads developed. Trails constructed and reconstructed.
Volunteers were involved in every projects.
Visitor map was designed and distributed.
Effectiveness of road and trail management reviewed periodically.
Volunteers monitor trails
Signs, maps, and trail layout allowed people to do the right thing.
Sure, I could have been out riding or wheeling the weekend of March 3-4. It was beautiful weather, finally, in northwestern New Mexico, but I have to say I don't regret attending this workshop. NOHVCC and its partners put on a workshop that made being cooped up in a hotel conference room for a weekend a worthwhile way to spend my time. I only wish that more people, especially younger people, would get involved in the process of keeping our public lands open to motorized recreation. We didn't delve into the effect that the radical environmentalists have on our access, but as we learned, this really isn't something that we need to consider in the planning process. If we learn to work effectively within the system that the USFS and BLM are mandated to work within we can accomplish our goals without the frustration of dealing with people and organizations that have agendas in direct opposition to ours.
I highly recommend the NOHVCC workshops. If there are still workshops to come in your area I encourage you to attend, after all, it's FREE. What can be a better and cheaper way to help with keeping our public lands open to OHV use?