The Government Accountability Office has released a report: Federal Lands: Enhanced Planning Could Assist Agencies in Managing Increased Use of Off-Highway Vehicles. GAO-09-509, June 30.
Glancing through the report, I see no big surprises. The report underscores increased recreation activity and planning deficiencies on part of the agencies to accommodate the increased recreation. While no one "plans to fail", it is clear that lack of planning is hindering the agencies from managing increased recreation demands on public lands.
Representatives of recreation groups have been asking for the agencies to improve their planning efforts and increase their communication with the public. This report underscores those are actions that can help the long term management of OHV recreation opportunities.
The Conclusions and Recommendations of the report are listed below.
The complete report is available from the Government Accountability Office.
Over the past 5 years, OHV use has increased on federal lands and has emerged as a national issue. Federal land management agencies have only recently begun to respond to this trend by revising their plans and how they manage OHV use, but they are having to do so in an environment of constrained budgetary and staff resources and other competing management priorities. Although they reported taking a variety of actions to manage OHV use in this environment, agency field unit officials reported that they cannot sustainably manage their OHV route systems. The likelihood that the Forest Service and BLM, in particular, will succeed in their efforts to enhance management of OHV use could be increased by improving the agencies’ planning to include key strategic planning elements. Such enhancements could also help the agencies to more effectively address and manage some of the challenges that their field unit officials reported in managing OHV use on their lands, such as insufficient staffing levels and financial resources. In addition, developing more user-friendly maps and signs for their route systems and seeking more appropriate fines to deter violations of OHV regulations could provide all federal land users, including OHV users, a more enjoyable, quality experience while also potentially lessening environmental, social, and safety impacts resulting from OHV use.
To help provide quality OHV recreational opportunities while protecting natural and cultural resources on federal lands, we recommend that:
• the Secretary of Agriculture direct the Chief of the Forest Service to identify additional strategies to achieve the agency’s goal of improving OHV management, as well as time frames for carrying out the strategies and performance measures for monitoring incremental progress; and
• the Secretary of the Interior direct the Director of BLM to enhance the agency’s existing “Priorities for Recreation and Visitor Services” by establishing performance measures and time frames for carrying out its stated goals for OHV recreation.
• Additionally, to improve communication with the public and enhance law enforcement efforts regarding OHV use on federal lands, we recommend that the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior direct the Forest Service and BLM, respectively, to take the following actions:
• enhance communication with the public about OHV trails and areas through, for example, developing user-friendly signs and maps to improve visitors’ experiences; and
• examine fine amounts across various U.S. district courts to determine the range of fines for OHV-related violations and petition appropriate judicial authorities to make modifications where warranted.