Off-road vehicles reined in on national forest land |

Off-road vehicles reined in on national forest land

Nicole Frey
Preston Utley/Vail DailyMark Griffin of Vail rides his all-terrain vehicle. In the future, regulations for motorized vehicles will become more strict on national forest land.

EAGLE COUNTY – Like to carve up the mountain on your all-terrain vehicle? You might have been able to do it in some parts of the country, but you haven’t had that liberty in the White River National Forest for years. Now, according to a new U.S. Forest Service regulation, you won’t be able to do it anywhere. The Forest Service recently announced it will start designating which trails across the country are suitable for off-road vehicles.”In the past, it wasn’t a huge problem, but now these motorized vehicles are having an impact on the landscape,” said Cal Wettstein, the district ranger in Eagle County.Because the local branch of the Forest Service revised its forest service plan in 2002, its regulations in the White River National Forest have been similar to the new rules for motorized vehicles. But until now, the more than 200 forests and grasslands didn’t have standardized policies. “This is going to make things more cohesive,” Wettstein said. “Everybody’s going to know that whenever they’re on national forest land it’s closed off to motor vehicles unless you’re on a specified road or trail. It will eliminate a lot of the confusion, and I think it will be a benefit.”

Despite the existing rules, Wettstein admitted the agency isn’t doing much enforcement. “Unfortunately, it’s still pretty much a free for all,” he said. “There are rules in place, but we’re having a difficult time enforcing them. We can put in a sign and just days later, someone’s torn it out. It’s a real serious problem.”Steve Pittel, one of the owners of Nova Guides, which hosts Jeep and ATV tours on national forest land, said “Education is always good for the great outdoors because we’re forever changing the things we do out there.”In other parts of the country, forest managers will choose which trails will be designated for off-road vehiclesAccording to Dale Bosworth, the Forest Service Chief, new rules were necessary to mitigate the increase in off-road vehicles on national forest land.

“Hunters us ATVs more and more to get into the back country,” Wettstein said. “And casual recreational uses are becoming more and more popular.”When these vehicles stray from designated paths, they create dangerous paths that impact wetlands and cause erosion.”I’ve never seen one that’s been correctly done,” Wettstein said. “It’s never a benefit. It needs to be engineered so that it’s sustainable.”While the Forest Service sees the new rules as a positive move, environmental groups are skeptical. Roz McClellen, with the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance, a network of conservation organizations, said the new rules are an exciting development but she worries there’s neither funding for the plans nor deadlines for their implementation.

Aaron Clark of the alliance said without these key elements, vehicles will continue to harm wildlife habitat, interfere with quieter types of recreation and frustrate private landowers. “We’re worried the Forest Service won’t be able to accomplish what otherwise would be a dramatic change,” she said. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or Vail, Colorado

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