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The Forest Service Travel Management Initiative

From the Tread Lightly! September 2006 newsletter

By Deborah L. Napier, Esq.

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My children and I were fortunate to see The Missouri Historical Society's Lewis & Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition in Denver before it moved on to Portland, Oregon. As I was considering an article for this newsletter on the Forest Service's new travel management initiative, I entered the mapping part of the exhibit. I was struck by the description of map making differences between Clark, the Europeans and the Indians (sic). One particular display, "The Measure of the Country," excerpted below, struck me for its continued relevance in public lands management issues today. It read in part:

"This is one of the greatest tasks ever undertaken by the U.S. Forest Service in a time of severely limited financial resources."

"In the winter of 1804-05 Clark drew a map of the West. It was a hybrid: based half on observations half on interviews with the Indians Indians drew maps differently [than the Europeans] They showed what people did with the land. Each Indian map was a diagram of a human-landscape interaction, a journey or battle or mythic act. Drawing it was part of the performance of the narrative. Because their maps showed information related to time and subjective experience, they were unlike the representational maps Lewis & Clark made."

As I read that, I couldn't help but think therein lies the crux of what we are facing in active outdoor recreation management: How do we create graphical depictions of what are essentially subjective experiences we enjoy when we ride our horses, all-terran vehicles, mountain bikes, and motorcycles across the landscape ?

The approach of the Europeans is the approach of today's engineers; only instead of sextents and stars, we now use GPS devices and satellites. I would assert that the explanation of Native American mapmaking in the Lewis & Clark exhibit, as diagrams of "human-landscape interaction" is the approach supported by the trails community across this country.

In its new focus on travel management the U.S. Forest Service will ask its line officers to create motor vehicle use maps. These new motor vehicle use maps are designed to show every available route, trail or area which is open for wheeled motor vehicle travel on the National Forest System. They will depict pathways open to motor vehicle travel on the forest level or on the ranger district level depending on what the Forest decides to produce. Will these maps follow the European or Native American construct ? Will they be depictions between two or more geographic way points or will they depict a good ride across a vast landscape ? In other words, will they depict what they are meant to manage, the "human-landscape interaction?"

The new Forest Service initiative will impact everyone who arrives on a Forest by any means other than mythical creatures such as J.K. Rowling's hippogriffs, used by Harry Potter and friends. If you drive your car or truck to a trailhead you will be impacted. If you manage cattle or wild horse herds, other than by horseback, you will be impacted. Similarly, if you drive your rig to the grazing permit area to unload livestock, manage a lease for minerals mining or oil and gas operations, operate a rafting outfit and drive to a put in point on the Forest you will be impacted. Unless the final rule is changed substantially, your permits will need to be revised to allow the use of a motor vehicle in any commercial operation. The exception is if you use routes, areas and trails which have been designated open for motor vehicle travel during the season you need access.

This new initiative is far-reaching. The entire myriad of Forest users, recreationists and anyone with an interest in Forest management, will not only need to be familiar with this new management tool but we will also have an opportunity to assist the Forest Service in deciding where to place these new open routes, areas and trails. This is one of the greatest tasks ever undertaken by the U.S. Forest Service in a time of severely limited financial resources.

As we honor the Centennial year of the Forest Service and the 15th Anniversary of TREAD lightly! let us remember those who came before us and their hard work. As we observe the Bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition let us also learn from their lessons in mapmaking. Our goal should be to accurately depict the human-landscape interaction in the form of a user-friendly map. That means we need to work together and acknowledge those folks who have superior knowledge and experience in the motorized recreation community. The entire trails community must come together and rally in support of recreation opportunities on the National Forest System.

With good intentions and strong commitment and through the efforts of organizations like TREAD lightly! the trails community can make a difference in building a sustainable network of trails. Contact your local Forest Service ranger district and let them know you're ready to help. Let's identify good places to ride and PLAY NICE !

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