Recreation, Heritage and Volunteer Resources Staff
1400 Independence Ave. SW, Stop 1125
Washington, DC 20250-1125
Dear Mr. Adamson:
The purpose of this letter is to offer the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on the proposed travel management rule for over-snow vehicle (OSV) use in our national forests. AQRC is a state-wide non-profit group which believes that natural quiet and natural sounds are resources of our public lands which deserve protections similar to those accorded clean air, water and scenic beauty. We believe public land managers are required to provide separate areas and trails for the non-motorized recreationist if the quiet user is to have the outdoor experience he/she deserves. AQRC’s objective is a fair and balanced allocation of local, state and federal public lands for both non-motorized and motorized recreational uses.
The purpose of the proposed rule is to satisfy the requirements of EO 11644 as amended by EO 11989 (EO). We welcome the rule for it will require the Forest Service for the first time to identify and designate for each forest what roads, trails and areas are open, closed or restricted, for OSV uses. However, we oppose the rule as written on the grounds that it:
Ignores environmental consequences of OSV travel;
Fails to require balanced designations; and,
Allows a procedure which shuts out the public from the designation process.
We recognize that cross-country travel by snowmachine tends to cause less surface resource damage than an ATV. However, it is AQRC’s position that such use can and does adversely affect the environment: air quality, damage to branches, tops of trees and to vegetation in wind-blown areas, compaction causing harm to sub-nivean life and traces of petroleum products left in the snow. Snowmachine noise destroys the soundscape for the quiet recreationist and can disturb and harass the wildlife. We believe that in all cases the environmental effects of motorized recreation must be analyzed before permitting such activity. The broad authority provided in the proposed rule, particularly adopting previous determinations, would appear to allow this requirement to be ignored.
The rule allows a forest official to make a single decision on an area basis, e.g., designate an “area” open unless closed. The proposed definition of “area” can include an entire Ranger District that could mean that non-motorized winter recreationists are effectively excluded from an entire Ranger District. We find nothing in the proposed rule which would require the official to balance or off-set that allocation with one providing opportunities for non-motorized recreationists elsewhere. Considering “effects” of conflicting uses, as stated in the proposed rule, is not the same as requiring a balanced allocation between users.
Finally, the proposed rule allows a forest official to meet the requirements of the proposed rule to regulate OSV uses by simply adopting wholesale, without additional public involvement or comment, previous administrative determinations made regarding the areas, roads or trails designated open, closed or restricted. We recognize that there are apparently two constraints on that authority- only if no changes are to be made to the original decisions and the decisions were seemingly “comprehensive”, though this term is not defined or further referenced.
AQRC strongly opposes this provision as proposed on the grounds that previous decisions may now be highly questionable, currently inappropriate or flat-out incorrect.
We suggest that adoption of previous decisions be made the exception and for particular reasons; not simply be the default option. We further recommend that the rule be amended to require forest officials to document answers to questions like the following before considering adoption of previous decisions:
When was the designation adopted;
Were environmental effects analyzed and are still applicable;
Has monitoring shown that the designation works for the user group or groups;
Have conditions changed which affect that designation;
Does the previous designation continue to fit into the conditions or designations in the surrounding areas of the forest; and
Have recreational needs changed, etc.
We note the reference on page 34679 of the June 18, 2014 Federal Register that data shows “most snow season use on NFS lands (69 percent) occurs at alpine ski areas and generally does not involve OSVs, back-country skiing, snowshoeing, or any other snow-based activity”. Clearly, management of an alpine ski area would insure that there would be no conflicts between non-motorized and motorized recreationists so adopting formerly approved decisions for these areas might not be a problem. However, the other 31 percent of use of the forests in snow season does occur in the backcountry where conflicts occur between the quiet skier or snowshoer looking for undisturbed snow and natural quiet and the snowmachiner eager to show his power, speed and noise.
AQRC was a full participant in the Chugach National Forest (CNF) planning effort in 2002 as well as involved in subsequent winter planning and permit issues and knows how difficult, and time-consuming, it is for both the FS and the public to be involved in such issues.
However, the fact remains that the two user groups have different recreational needs and they will continue to be in conflict until each side believes they have been fairly treated in the designations of areas and trails. It is our opinion that resolving these issues requires a full public process.
We also question how this proposed OSV Travel Management Rule fits into the new planning rules. If this provision, allowing the adoption of previous determinations to fulfill the requirements of Travel Management, means that new, additional winter (or summer) recreation planning does not need to occur for a revised management plan, we strongly object.
We believe that the current winter allocation of trails and areas in CNF heavily and unfairly favor motorized recreation. Therefore, its current planning, under the new planning rule, must have the opportunity, and the mandate, to re-examine the current allocations and make new, balanced designations with full public participation.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Brian Okonek, President
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
PO Box 202592
Anchorage, AK 99520