Now that hunting season is upon us, one topic that always comes up is the use of motorized vehicles on US Forest Service lands. There are a few things that hunters need to know to avoid any issues or situations that may result in citations this fall.
First: You cannot drive anywhere you want on US Forest Service lands. The USFS has a motorized travel management program that has been in place for over a decade. Each USFS district has a travel management plan specific to its area. These plans are published annually and are free to the public in several formats. You can visit a USFS office and pick up a hard copy of the travel plan map, scan a QR code and have the map downloaded onto your smart phone, or go to the USFS website to see the plan (fs.usda.gov). Just because it may appear that there is a road or trail that can be driven on, doesn’t mean that it is legal. The USFS and Fish and Game jointly enforce motorized vehicle use on Idaho’s National Forest land through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
Second: Not all roads and trails are open to all vehicle types. Some trails may be designated as two wheeled (motor bikes) only, some may be open to off road vehicles that are 50 inches wide or less, and some may be open to all vehicles. The vehicle designations are found in the USFS travel plan maps.
Third: Not all roads and trails are open all year. Some roads and trails may have seasonal designations that make them closed for a portion of the year. Again, these dates can be located on the USFS travel plan maps.
Fourth: Do not assume that a road or trail is open just because there is not a sign present that designates the road or trail closed. Unfortunately, signs get torn down or destroyed on USFS property on a regular basis. Some individuals may think that removing signs will give them a free pass by claiming ignorance of the closure. Ignorance is not an excuse. The travel plan information is free and readily available to everyone.
To aid the public in not winding up on the wrong side of a motorized closure, the USFS has reminder signs in place on nearly all of the main roads that funnel the public onto the forest. The signs are a reminder that motor vehicles are only allowed on routes designated on the motor vehicle use maps.
Another handy tool for hunters and recreationists to use is the Avenza map app on your smart device. Avenza is a free mapping app to which the USFS publishes their motor vehicle travel maps. Download Avenza (It’s FREE!) then go to the store in the app and search for the USFS district motor vehicle use map for the area that you want to visit, download the map (It’s FREE!), and that’s it, you’re done.
One really handy feature of the Avenza app is that once you open your map, the GPS on your device will track your location on the map in real time, even if you don’t have cell service. You will appear on your map as a blue dot. This is in addition to tracking your actual GPS coordinates.
Each year when the USFS updates the travel maps, you will be able to open your map and it will give you a notification that there is an updated version available. Download the updated version, and it will replace your map with the most current version. With this app you will never have to worry about whether you are traveling somewhere that you are not supposed to be.
Enjoy your hunting season and hopefully this information helps everyone stay safe and legal!