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Highlights

Off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on lands managed by the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service (Park Service) has become popular over the past few decades. Some critics have asserted that OHV use causes adverse environmental, social, and safety impacts, while proponents have voiced concerns about retaining access to federal lands. GAO examined the (1) trends in and status of OHV use on federal lands, as well as reported environmental, social, and safety impacts; (2) agencies' strategic planning for managing OHV use; (3) actions taken by agency field units to manage OHV use; and (4) current OHV management challenges. GAO collected and analyzed related executive orders and agency OHV plans, regulations, and guidance; interviewed agency and interest group officials; and conducted a Web-based survey of all three agencies' field unit officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. To help provide quality OHV recreational opportunities while protecting natural and cultural resources on federal lands, the Secretary of Agriculture should 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.
Closed - Implemented
In May 2010, the Forest Service published guidance to assist Forest Service employees responsible for managing OHV use and implementing individual forests' Motor Vehicle Use Maps. The guidance identified four key areas to be addressed: education, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation. For each of these areas, the guidance identifies desired outcomes and key tasks that can be performed to help achieve those outcomes. For example, a desired education outcome is widespread adoption of safe and responsible OHV use and key tasks that could help achieve this outcome include developing an education plan that identifies key audiences and effective delivery methods. In March 2013, the Forest Service finalized performance measures that will be tracked on a forest-by-forest basis each fiscal year beginning in FY13. For example, one performance measure is whether or not the forest has developed and implemented an education or communication strategy.
Department of the Interior 2. To help provide quality OHV recreational opportunities while protecting natural and cultural resources on federal lands, the Secretary of the Interior should 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.
Closed - Implemented
BLM's "2020 Travel and Transportation Management Vision" document, dated April 2013 includes performance measures and timeframes for conducting travel management planning for off road vehicle use. For example, as of 2012, BLM had completed 151 travel management plans on more than 36 million acres, and identified an additional 447 travel management plans that will need to be completed, covering more than 212 million acres. By 2020, BLM has a goal of completing 79% of these needed plans, covering 159 million acres. BLM's "2020 Travel and Transportation Management Vision" document acknowledges the importance of implementing these plans once they are developed by setting a goal of implementing each plan within 2 to 5 years after it is finalized. Such implementation includes signing, enforcement, monitoring, route rehabilitation or restoration, and communication of travel management decisions to OHV users through maps and responsible-use education.
Department of the Interior 3. To improve communication with the public and enhance law enforcement efforts regarding OHV use on federal lands, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Forest Service and BLM, respectively, to enhance communication with the public about OHV trails and areas through, for example, developing user-friendly signs and maps to improve visitors' experiences.
Closed - Implemented
BLM officials provided several examples of enhanced communication with the public. Specifically, BLM field offices have been directed to develop sign plans for OHV areas as travel and transportation management plans are completed. For example, the Barstow Field Office in California is planning to install up to 22 new informational kiosks in their popular OHV area to provide more information to the public. BLM officials also described using partnerships with stakeholder groups to increase awareness of responsible OHV riding among hunters, fishermen, and recreational shooters. In one such partnership with the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, BLM worked with OHV users on Montana to build new fences, install information kiosks and signs, and create a numbering system for trails in a popular OHV area.
Department of Agriculture 4. To improve communication with the public and enhance law enforcement efforts regarding OHV use on federal lands, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Forest Service and BLM, respectively, to enhance communication with the public about OHV trails and areas through, for example, developing user-friendly signs and maps to improve visitors' experiences.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service developed a web-based interactive map system which includes more features than their paper-based Motor Vehicle Use Maps. For example, the web-based maps include rivers, lakes, and topographic lines and allow users to search for trails by the type of motorized travel they plan to do. Forest Service officials voluntarily choose to input information into the web-based system. As of May 2013, Forest Service officials said that information for 29 Forests had been entered into the web-based system and information is being added for more than 50 additional forests.
Department of Agriculture 5. To improve communication with the public and enhance law enforcement efforts regarding OHV use on federal lands, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Forest Service and BLM, respectively, to 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.
Closed - Implemented
According to a Forest Service official, actions have been taken in five Forest Service regions to assess the fine amounts for OHV-related violations. Two regions determined that OHV fines were appropriate and three regions identified U.S. district courts within their regions with low fine amounts for OHV-related violations. All three of these regions petitioned the relevant U.S. district courts for increases, which were granted in some cases.
Department of the Interior 6. To improve communication with the public and enhance law enforcement efforts regarding OHV use on federal lands, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Forest Service and BLM, respectively, to 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.
Closed - Implemented
In 2010, BLM headquarters requested information from all BLM state offices about fine amounts for OHV-related violations. According to BLM officials, all state offices responded and when the data was analyzed, BLM determined that, in many cases, the fines were too low to provide an effective deterrent. In January 2012, BLM headquarters issued guidance instructing state offices to request revisions to the fine amounts. Subsequently, fine amounts in the U.S. District Courts of Alaska, Central California, Colorado, and Utah were updated as requested, and requests are pending in other District Courts around the country.

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