BLM releases proposed policy for off-road vehicle use on its lands

Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The federal Bureau of Land Management has released its proposed policy for off-road vehicle use for a 30-day comment period.

The document, released Monday, said the agency recognizes off-road vehicle use as a legitimate activity, but that its lands must be protected.

''The BLM believes that this strategy can provide guidance to promote the balance between these sometimes competing principles,'' the document said.

The policy only provides broad guidelines. Managers in each BLM region will have to apply it to their local situations.

In Alaska, protecting the resource often means preventing the expansion of tracks being cut through the permafrost, said Randy Goodwin, an outdoor recreation planner for the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks.

''As soon as you cut a trail and disturb the vegetation mats you end up with standing water and it creates a small boggy area,'' Goodwin said.

Off-road vehicle users tend to drive around these areas, and ''you get a lot of paralleling trails,'' he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''We end up with trails with long muddy and boggy sections that tend to just keep increasing in size with use.''

The agency has been monitoring off-vehicle use in the White Mountains for the past 15 years, Goodwin said. Current policy is to take action when portions of a trail reach the problem point, he said.

The agency also has split the White Mountains into three classifications for managing off-road vehicles: open, limited and closed.

Limited areas allow vehicles up to 1,500 pounds gross weight, which basically keeps out anything larger than a four-wheeler.

But it appears the proposed policy nationally is moving more toward designating off-road trails rather than designating off-road areas, Goodwin said.

Limiting traffic to designated trails would limit the widening net of parallel tracks on the tundra. It also could require some major construction on the approved routes to create the drainage necessary to maintain a usable track.

''What we're looking at here in Alaska is creating mini-roads,'' Goodwin said. ''It's very, very expensive.''

Siting trails on dry ridgelines also helps, Goodwin said, but most trails must cross a wet saddle or creek bottom at some point.

The BLM already has installed ditches, water bars and culverts on about five miles of the Quartz Creek trail in the White Mountains.

Hunters on four-wheelers are likely to have an interest in the BLM's policies. One idea for managing areas susceptible to ruts is to allow vehicles to be used only for retrieving downed animals, Goodwin said.

While the BLM manages the White Mountains area and the adjacent Steese National Recreation Area, it also is responsible for all the unreserved federal land in the state. It also manages such national wild and scenic rivers as the Fortymile, Gulkana, Birch Creek and Beaver Creek. About 90 million acres -- a quarter of the state's total land area -- is under BLM's care.

The BLM plans to issue its final strategy on the Internet on Jan. 19.


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