Bitterroot National Forest Travel Management Plan

by Dan Thompson, Ravalli County Off Road User Association

Long, long ago when we were all much younger, the Bitterroot National Forest initiated their Travel Management Plan.  Those of us who still retain some fragment of our memory of this event will recall being contacted by the Forest Service asking RCORA members to tell them where we pursue our interests in the Forest.  After many late night group sessions we produced a map as requested with color-coded motorcycle and ATV routes showing the approximate locations of routes that have been historically used by RCORUA’s membership.

This map was delivered as requested to the Forest Service. We still have a copy of this map somewhere.  Many of these routes were subsequently included, directly or indirectly, in RCORUA’s Scoping comments and again in RCORUA’s comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and still again in RCORUA’s comments on the Draft of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  So what ever happened to these user-identified routes?  For most of us, they seem to have gone into a black hole, never to be seen again.  For sure, most of these routes are not shown on the maps for the FEIS.

In order to attempt to answer the often-asked question “Where did all those trails go?” I turned to Appendix L of the FEIS.  This appendix lists all of the non-system roads and trails identified by public comment and BNF Districts throughout the Travel Management process.  Considering only trails identified by the public, the result is shown in the following table.

  #Trails #Miles Miles-Months
Total User Identified Routes (open Yearlong) 134 208 2,495
Trails Closed by FEIS 112 181 0
Trails Open by FEIS Yearlong 2 2 21.5
Trails Open by FEIS Seasonally 17 18 125
Trails Identified by FEIS Yet To Be Considered 3 7 27

Altogether, 134 trails totaling 208 miles were identified by the public to the Agency as trails existing on the ground and in use.  Most of these trails were identified by RCORUA through their mapping exercise and subsequent comments.  Most of these trails were rejected during the Scoping process without justification.  Most of the remaining trails that were considered and rejected in the DEIS were closed for a wide variety of reasons including resource and wildlife concerns, soil or water issues, user conflict, and the Agency’s perceived need to provide more space for quiet users.  Out of the 134 user identified trails, only 18 trails totaling 20 miles will appear on the MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Map) maps.

The Agency has apparently digitized these user-identified trails, assigned a Route ID and description, and in every case arbitrarily labeled them as “unauthorized” routes (MVUM code -1).  That means that none of these trails appear on the Existing Condition (Alternative 2) maps nor are they included in the Alternative 2 statistics.  If a given user-identified trail is accepted through the process, it shows up as an addition to the trail system in the Preferred Alternative:  If a given user-identified trail is rejected, it shows up as nothing; it never existed; it will be closed for use by the Travel Plan, quietly and without public awareness.

But we know, and the Agency knows, that most of the user-identified trails are currently authorized for use under the 2001 Tri-State Agreement.  So they are not “unauthorized” at all.  By arbitrarily listing these user identified trails as “unauthorized” trails, the Agency has not accurately described the Existing Condition and severely compromised the FEIS analysis.

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