The Forest Service recently finalized the National Environmental Policy Act: Categorical Exclusions for Soil and Water Restoration Activities Rule which would allow for the obliteration and removal of legally-created roads and trails that many off-highway vehicle enthusiasts were promised would be reconsidered for inclusion in Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) revisions. As a result, Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA) introduced an amendment to H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, that would prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from removing or altering any legally created roads or trails unless there has been a specific decision, which included adequate and appropriate public involvement, to decommission the specific road or trail in question. This amendment passed the full House today, (September 20).
The motorized recreation community expressed serious concerns to the Forest Service, in face-to-face meetings, phone conversations, written correspondence and in formal comments that the rule as proposed would allow for the obliteration of legally-created roads and trails that many off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts were promised would be reconsidered for inclusion in Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) revisions. Unfortunately changes made to the final rule did not adequately address our concerns.
The final rule would allow any “non-system” road or trail to be obliterated via major ground disturbing activity through an expedited process that does not include environmental analysis. Other than minimal comment requirements under NEPA for Categorical Exclusions, the new rule eliminates requirements for meaningful public involvement.
McClintock’s amendment to H.R. 1526, if enacted into law, would ensure that a formal decision, including public notification, comment and involvement, must be made to decommission a legally created road or trail before it could be removed.
Further, while “non-system” roads and trails may be off limits to off-highway vehicles as a result of the MVUM they may still be open to other recreational uses, including snowmobiles, yet the final rule would allow a CE to be used to remove these roads and trails ensuring that these user groups never have an opportunity to comment at any point in the process. The agency has, with very few exceptions, failed to analyze the existing and potential future demand for continuing use of non-system routes for non-motorized uses. The McClintock amendment will ensure that all users have voice in the process.