An Evaluation of U.S. National Wildlife Refuge Planning for Off-Road Vehicle Use
Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management Vol. 8 (2017)
19 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2017
Date Written: 2017
Off-road vehicles (ORVs) rank high among public-land management challenges because they are popular, often impair environmental conditions, and may cause conflicts with other recreational users. Unit-level planning for federal lands increasingly translates broad, system-wide objectives, such as maintenance of ecological integrity, into place-based limitations on ORV use to minimize and mitigate adverse impacts on wildlife. We reviewed 176 planning documents covering 313 National Wildlife Refuges (hereafter, Refuges) to understand how planning supports or undermines ORV recreation management. These plans offer an important perspective on ORV management because the Refuges are a large, diverse system of conservation lands where recreation may be permitted only where it is compatible with wildlife protection. Of the plans we evaluated, 24% mentioned ORV use and 12% prescribed some action related to ORVs. The most common prescriptions banned ORV use or limited it to mobility-impaired hunters. Many plans lacked clarity or documentation of analysis in discussing ORV recreation. When analyses grouped ORV use with other activities, such as hunting or other modes of transportation, they often failed to consider the characteristic effects of ORV use. Regardless of how ORV use was categorized, evaluation of its effects seldom considered the full range of environmental impacts documented in the scientific literature. Published research recommends many best practices for managing ORV use and impacts. Though some are habitat specific, five general best-practice categories highlight where planning connects with and diverges from common recommendations. Other land management agencies offer helpful models for implementing these practices in planning. We suggest that public land managers employ tools from each of the five categories: policy formation and public participation, spatial and temporal route planning, permitting, monitoring, and enforcement. The plan prescriptions we examined were strongest in their efforts at route planning. Refuge prescriptions have the most room to improve in detailing how they can work with neighbors and external stakeholders in formulating ORV-use rules.
Keywords: public lands, planning, wildlife, refuges, conservation, recreation
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