The June 15 edition of The Inter-Mountain contained a letter to the editor regarding a proposal from the West Virginia Open Trails Association to open roads on the Monongahela National Forest (MNF) to ATV, UTV and snowmobile use.
The letter contained information which is not factually correct. Rather than rebutting specific points I'd like to explain to your readers the overall processes by which motor vehicle use on National Forest System Lands is determined.
The Monongahela National Forest is guided by the 2006 MNF Land and Resource Management Plan which was developed with extensive public and scientific input. The plan is a "living" document in that the Forest Service does make minor amendments and editorial changes as indicated between formal plan revisions which occur approximately every 15 years. Since a change to designate roads for ATV use would represent a major amendment to the plan it would have to go through a complete analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which would require public notice and comment.
The forest does not have the discretion to open roads to OHV recreation without completing the appropriate analysis. At the same time the forest was developing the land management plan, the forest was also implementing Travel Management Rule, which stated that each of the 175 Forest Service units throughout the country were required to designate routes open to motor vehicle use in terms of vehicle types (mode of travel) and season of use. Each unit's designated routes are required to be identified on a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) and the map must be updated annually. This process also required intensive public and scientific input.
The Monongahela National Forest MVUM clearly states, in its entirety, what allowed use is: "Roads open to Highway Legal Vehicles Only. These roads are open only to motor vehicles licensed under state law for general operation on all public roads within the state."
The Monongahela National Forest is not the only National Forest which does not allow ATV use. The Forest Service is divided into regions with the Monongahela being in the Eastern Region. There are 14 National Forests or Grasslands in this Region. Of those six do not have any areas or roads open to ATVs. Of the eight which do have some locations designated for ATV use, all have some restrictions on use, such as time of year.
I have conveyed to the West Virginia Open Trails Association in letters and in meetings, that any change from the current situation of no ATV use on the Forest would require public consensus on the topic. This consensus must come from a wide cross-section of the public to demonstrate that there is a need to address and potentially change the current ATV management policy on the Forest. That support would need to include members representing many resource areas, not just those who are currently proposing ATV use. I have encouraged the Association to seek and develop such a broadly supported proposal if they wish to see a change, and am open to considering amending the Forest Plan if there is such support.
Clyde N. Thompson
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service