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Recreation on Federal Lands

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Publication Date: April 2005

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: IB10141

Topic: Environment (Parks, nature reserves, and open spaces)

Abstract:

The growing and diverse nature of recreation on federal lands has increased the challenge of balancing recreation with other land uses, and balancing different types of recreation. Motorized recreation has been particularly controversial, with issues centering on access and environmental impacts. The 109th Congress may consider legislation and conduct oversight on issues involving recreation on federal lands, including traditional recreational pursuits and newer forms of motorized recreation. The Administration is likely to address these issues through budgetary, regulatory, and other actions. The courts also may continue to intervene. Several prominent issues are covered in this report.

Motorized Recreation in the National Forests and on BLM Land. The use of off highway vehicles (OHVs) on Forest Service (FS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands has been particularly controversial. Both agencies decide the extent of allowed OHV use through their planning processes. The FS proposed new regulations (July 15, 2004) governing OHV use that would require designation of areas open for OHV use and prohibit OHV use outside designated areas. The BLM issued a national management strategy (2001) governing motorized OHV use on BLM lands and is addressing related transportation issues through other national strategies. In some cases, OHV use is being addressed jointly through interagency plans.

Personal Watercraft and Snowmobiles. Personal watercraft (PWC) and snowmobile use in National Park Service (NPS) units has fueled debate over the balance between recreation on, and protection of, park lands and waters. Regulatory actions restricting use of these vehicles have been especially controversial. The NPS currently is evaluating PWC and snowmobile use in several areas. The 109th Congress conducted an oversight hearing on snowmobile use in the National Park System on April 11, 2005.

Aircraft Overflights. Grand Canyon National Park is at the center of a conflict over whether to limit air tours over national parks to reduce noise. The NPS and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continue to work to implement a 1987 law that sought to reduce noise at Grand Canyon as well as a 2000 law that regulates overflights at other park units. Recent regulations require air tour operators to seek authority to fly over park units; the agencies then must develop Air Tour Management Plans at those park units. Additionally, the FAA is developing regulations to provide safety standards for commercial air tours.

The National Trails System. While designation of trails is often popular, issues remain regarding funding, expansion, and quality of trails. The 109th Congress may consider a variety of trail measures, including adding routes to the National Trail System, authorizing studies of routes for possible additions to the system, authorizing land acquisitions from willing sellers, and creating new categories of trails. Legislation has been introduced to create a new category of trails, called National Discovery Trails.

Other Issues. Other federal land recreation issues of possible interest to the 109th Congress include recreational uses within the National Wildlife Refuge System, recreation at federal water sites (Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation), recreation fees, and Grand Canyon Colorado River management.