Ravalli County Coverage

Mar 27, 2012 5:48 PM by Dennis Bragg (KPAX News)

New USFS rules draw concerns in Ravalli County

HAMILTON- Off highway vehicle (OHV) owners in the Bitterroot are bracing themselves for release of yet another version of the Bitterroot National Forest Travel Plan, a plan controlling trails and roads on the forest that's been under development for years.

Bitterroot National Forest managers have spent much of the past decade trying to iron out the maps, rules and regulations to govern motorized vehicle use on forest lands. Three years ago they were close to adopting a final version, but had to re-boot the process to match the latest court rulings.

That new version is close to being released and that has ATV, snowmobile and motorcycle riders worried about not only a loss of riding area, but what could turn into a long legal battle involving both OHV and environmental groups.

Leaders of the Ravalli County Off Road User Association took their fears in Tuesday to Ravalli County Commissioners. The group told the board they're concerns over the National Forest Travel Plan, which they say could have a devastating impact on not only the sport, but the millions of dollars it generates for the Bitterroot economy.

Club members told the board the Travel Plan could cut the available number of ATV and motorcycle trails in half, and close off a third of the roads currently available to four-wheel drive vehicles.

They're worried that will create even worse impacts by forcing more and more users, motorized and non-motorized, onto fewer trails. Dan Thompson with the Ravalli County Off Road User Association says that it's part of a bigger issue.

"Access to the National Forest, and access for everybody. Access for timber, treating our forests to reduce the risk of wildfire, access for hikers and horsemen and everybody."

Mike Jeffords with the Ravalli County Off Road User Association says there are misconceptions about OHV riders.

"It is not like a lot of people would have you believe, that we're a bunch of hillbillies out there tearing the place up, throwing our beer bottles in the ditch, leaving our trash in the campgrounds. We are responsible, ethical riders."

The riders also told the board they've been hard at work educating ATV owners to ride more "ethically", training hundreds of younger people to ride responsibly. And they say that's lead to a dramatic decrease in the number of tickets rangers have had to write.

Commissioners told the club members they shared some of their concerns, promising the county will be taking a close look at the plan as details are released by Forest Service managers.

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