Motorized off-highway vehicle cross-country travel will be restricted on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands in Montana, according to a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released Jan. 5.
The preferred alternative in the statement restricts motorized, wheeled, cross-country travel on 16 million acres of public land previously designated as open either seasonally or year long. Access to these lands on open roads and trails remains unchanged. The EIS does not address snowmobiles. The preferred alternative will help protect riparian areas, wetlands, crucial wildlife habitat, threatened or endangered species, soils and vegetation, and reduce user conflicts, according to the joint decision by the two largest federal land management agencies.
“This EIS is the first step towards the long-term goal of designating routes that through subsequent site-specific planning will provide for both motorized and non-motorized opportunities,” said Regional Forester Dale Bosworth. The preferred alternative does not allow motorized cross-country travel for big game retrieval, but hunters may continue to use open roads and trails for retrieval.
Although the draft EIS allowed cross-country travel for game retrieval in some areas, the agencies removed this exception to reduce the potential for introducing invasive weeds and to be more consistent with the long-term goal of using vehicles on designated routes. “While I recognize the importance of retrieving game efficiently, I don’t believe the widespread use of motorized vehicles for cross-country game retrieval fits within our long-term objective of conserving the land for future generations,” said BLM State Director Mat Millenbach. “Game retrieval in the preferred alternative is consistent with many of our existing local travel plans where game retrieval is limited to designated roads and trails.”
The Forest Service put its final approval on the EIS Jan. 5, but the BLM is waiting out a 30-day protest period before doing the same. Local conservation groups are still wading through the details.
One area sure to raise the ire of anti-OHV activists is the preferred alternative’s proposal to take roads and trails created by repeated OHV traffic on a site-specific basis to determine whether they should remain open, rather than closing and reclaiming such thoroughfares. “It’s simply not possible to tell whether these roads have been in place for years or if they were just created last week,” pointed out Ronni Flannery of the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads. “The agencies should be commended for protecting these places, but we want to make sure that every site is on equal footing, and that the agencies won’t be predisposed to keeping recently made trails open.”