A motorcyclist standing across from a hill with a road.
A motorcyclist views the trails at BLM’s Rice Canyon Off-Highway Vehicle Area in 
California.  (BLM/Marisa Williams)

Travel Management Is Everyone’s Business

By Mark Goldbach

Would BLM lands really be “public lands” without public access?  Whether you are a rancher, recreationist, oil and gas operator, surveyor, or an archaeologist, everyone needs access to public lands.  Getting to your favorite public lands destination can be half the fun or an adventure in itself.  With the tens of thousands of miles of two-track roads on public lands that provide access to a variety of destinations within many different landscapes, the public loves the freedom of travel on BLM lands. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s this freedom of travel led to an increase in unregulated motorized and nonmotorized vehicle use on public lands and soon became a detriment to achieving many resource management objectives.  Managing public access, including roads, trails, and areas for vehicle use, quickly became a significant management issue in most, if not all, resource management plans.  Accommodating the proliferation of motorized and nonmotorized vehicle use in an environmentally sensitive way became a major goal in these plans.

In Wyoming, starting in the early 1980s, we took the approach of designating (through the land use planning process) the majority of public lands as “limited” to motor vehicle use.  We closed sensitive areas, such as areas of critical environmental concern, and designated small “open” areas adjacent to population centers to accommodate the growing number of requests by the public for cross-country travel.  Many other states designated the majority of the public lands as “open,” allowing cross-country travel on vast acreage.  Regardless of which approach was used, consistency became a public issue. 

Implementing comprehensive travel management became an urgent need as well as a major opportunity and challenge for the BLM.  In 2001, the BLM prepared the “National Management Strategy for Motorized Off-Highway Vehicle Use on Public Lands,” more commonly referred to as the “OHV Strategy.”  The public wanted consistency among states not only in how public lands were designated but also in the use of common terminology for travel management.  The BLM’s Executive Leadership Team supported these concepts and an OHV specialist was established within each state.  Soon afterwards, a Bureauwide “Trails and Travel Management Team” (TTMT) was chartered.  These steps were milestones for the BLM as the agency took a much more aggressive approach to travel management.

In 2006, the Bureau’s recreation and engineering division developed a “Roads and Trails Terminology Report.”  This report provided the foundation for commonly accepted definitions for implementing travel management on public lands.  Accomplishing this task had major resource management implications and established consistency among both public land managers and users. 

The BLM’s desire for good resource management and associated travel management planning continues to be challenging.  Establishing effective partnerships at the local, state, and national levels has been crucial to the BLM’s efforts to meet this challenge.  A prime example is the collaborative partnership established between state agencies, which license all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and the BLM, which provides the on-the-ground opportunities for ATV use.  Through these partnerships and a flexible management approach, the BLM continues to remain well suited for the difficult task of implementing comprehensive travel management on public lands.

Mark Goldbach was formerly the OHV specialist for the BLM Wyoming State Office and the senior outdoor recreation planner for the Washington Office.