The new law went into effect on July 28 and allows counties and other jurisdictions the authority to open some rural roads to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
U.S. Forest Service officials are concerned some members of the public might assume the new law authorizes ATV travel on all national forest system roads, leading to unintentional unlawful operation of ATVs.
National forest system roads are designed primarily for use by highway-legal vehicles like passenger cars or log trucks. A subset of roads are called motorized mixed-use because they allow vehicles such as ATVs to share roads with vehicles such as cars.
“Changes in state law do not automatically change how we can administer Forest Service roads,” said Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Travel Management Team Leader Aaron Pratt. “We’re required to complete motorized mixed-use analyses to support any decision about allowing ATVs on Forest Service roads.”
U.S. Forest Service officials have the authority to allow ATVs on national forest system roads. But, qualified engineers must complete an analysis that includes considerations such as traffic volume, sight distance, speeds and road surface type. A limited number of Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. roads are now open for ATV use.
Agency policy states national forest system roads designated as open to highway-legal vehicles only are open to motor vehicles licensed under state law for general operation on all public roads within the state, without exception.
House Bill 1632 does not allow general operation of wheeled ATVs on all public roads in the state even if they are licensed, but instead stipulates specific conditions for a road to be open to them. Therefore, ATVs are not highway-legal vehicles under agency policy.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. is considering allowing additional mixed ATV and highway-legal vehicle use on some open roads. Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. managers plan to release a draft environmental impact statement as required under the 2005 Travel Management Rule for public review and comment this fall that will include these considerations. All national forests must complete the process, which ultimately leads to a Motor Vehicle Use Map showing where, when and what type of motor vehicle use can occur.
Roads for ATV use that Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. managers consider in this document will continue to be managed in their current status until they make a decision on this proposal. Roads currently open for motorized mixed-use will remain open for that use, while roads closed to mixed-use will remain closed.
Current information about the types of vehicles allowed on specific national forest system roads is available by calling local Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. ranger stations.
· Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. Headquarters, 509-664-9200
· Chelan Ranger District, 509-682-4900
· Cle Elum Ranger District, 509-852-1100
· Entiat Ranger District, 509-784-4700
· Methow Valley Ranger District, 509-996-4003
· Naches Ranger Station, 509-653-1401
· Okanogan-Valley Office, 509-826-3275
· Tonasket Ranger District, 509-486-2186
· Wenatchee River Ranger District, 509-548-2550