A new Forest Service Rule represents a big gain for backcountry recreation. 10 years ago, the Forest Service published the “Travel Management Rule,” which governed how motorized vehicles could use backcountry roads and trails. The rule specified that motorized recreation was “prohibited unless allowed.” This meant that motorized vehicles like ATVs and motorcycles could only travel on roads and trails designated open to their use on a map, and in general, were not allowed to go cross-country.
However, there was a loophole for winter use. In practice, this meant that snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles could access backcountry trails and areas that during summer months might be designated non-motorized. For people who love to explore the winter backcountry, experiencing natural sights and sounds is an important part of why they get outside. Until now, “zoning” areas for winter motorized use was optional. Although wilderness is closed to all motorized use, many popular, closer-in destinations were open by default. This was disruptive for some skiers and snowshoers wishing to recreate under their own power.
Last week, the Forest Service published the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule in the Federal Register that will govern how motorized vehicles can access and use trails and areas in the backcountry. The Over-Snow Vehicle Rule clarifies the Travel Management Rule to account for winter use. Like the Travel Management Rule, the new Over-Snow Vehicle Rule requires that roads, trails, and larger off-trail areas where over-snow vehicle (OSV) use can occur must be specifically designated by local Forest Service managers. This is a real improvement from the old way of doing things and from earlier versions of the Rule.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Winter Wildlands Alliance, human-powered winter recreation enjoys some recognition in the Forest Service management process. For more on the implications for skiers and snowshoers, see Winter Wildlands’ blog, and for more on snow bike management, see IMBA’s blog.