The threat to quality hunting and fishing opportunities by ORVs is growing. The U.S. Forest Service estimates the number of ORV users has ballooned from less than 5 million in 1972 to more than 51 million in 2004, and former U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has called unmanaged motorized recreation one of the top four threats to America’s national forests. While most ORV riders are responsible, there is a visible minority of riders who intentionally damage the landscape. A conservative 2001 estimate by the Forest Service revealed some 60,000 miles of user-created “roads” in the national forest system. That number has certainly increased since then, considering that the Forest Service performs almost no enforcement specific to ORVs.
Because of the heavy impact of unmanaged motorized travel, the Forest Service instituted the Travel Management rule in 2005, which requires each forest to designate a system of roads and trails for motorized use. Under this rule, cross-country travel will be eliminated, and unauthorized user-created routes will be closed. Every national forest is required to complete a travel management plan in 2009, but as of yet, the Forest Service has not determined how it will implement those plans.
All over the West, and particularly in the Rockies, these illegal trails have multiplied in recent years, becoming permanent scars on the land. Worse, the longer these trails remain in use, the more riders consider them legitimate routes. The SCP is working with policymakers and fellow sportsmen throughout the West to rein in irresponsible riding by providing up-to-date information for land-management agency travel plans and by seeking the funds needed for ORV enforcement and infrastructure improvements.