Citizens concerned about the environmental impacts of off-road vehicles (ORVs) in the national forests now can have a hand on the steering wheel.

The U.S. Forest Service has begun the process of implementing its new off-road vehicle use rule, which will end unregulated cross-country travel by All Terrain Vehicles, dirt bikes, jeeps, dune buggies and other noisy, polluting pleasure vehicles.

Under this rule, all 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands soon will begin the process of deciding which roads, trails, and areas will be open to ORV use. The discussion will be open to public input, and the national forests will work with federal, state, county and local governments. The Forest Service expects that the whole process will take four years.

When the designation process is complete, each national forest will publish a map showing the designated routes and use areas. All ORV travel will be prohibited off these routes.

The new rule, “Travel Management: Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use,” was first issued in November 2005.

Currently there are about 300,000 miles of roads on the national forests open to motor vehicle travel, and about 133,000 miles of trails. In addition to these official roads and trails there are unofficial “user-created” trails. The Forest Service has not surveyed these rogue trails, but estimates that there are “tens of thousands of miles” of them.

ORV use has been steadily growing. According to the Forest Service, from 1982 to 2000 there has been a 109-percent increase in people driving motor vehicles off-road.

The noise and exhaust from ORVs can destroy the wilderness experience. Off-road vehicle abuse increases soil erosion, pollutes streams with gas and oil, churns meadows and streams into mud bogs, and kills or scatters wildlife.


The route designating process in each national forest is open to public input. If you are concerned about the growing presence of ORVs in the national forests, this is a good time to become involved. Contact your local national forest and get your name on the list for public notification for their route designation process under the new travel management rule.

Forests Forever’s website has a list of all the national forests in California here:

Also, the Spring ‘06 edition of The Watershed has an article on ORVs in the national forests, “The road mistaken.” You can read the newsletter at:


For more information:

The Forest Service ORV pages:


The Natural Trails and Water Coalition website has a lot of information about ORVs:


Enjoy your holiday weekend!


Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places