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Associated Press December new target for EIS completion

BOZEMAN (AP) - Heavy public response has prompted federal officials to delay, by at least a year, the proposal to ban cross-country vehicles from millions of acres of federal land in Montana and the Dakotas.

The proposal had been on a "fast track" process that called for completion of an environmental impact statement in May or June, said Dave Atkins, project leader for the U.S. Forest Service.

"We'll take it off the fast track and put it on what would be a normal EIS schedule," Atkins said.

The concept is to ban cross-country motorized travel on 15.9 million acres of public land, mostly in Montana, but also in parts of North Dakota and South Dakota.

The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management administer those properties and are concerned about growing numbers of all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and other vehicles damaging wildlife and wildlife habitat, spreading weeds, causing erosion and interfering with other users.

The plan does not address snowmobile use and would allow continued travel on existing motorized routes, even ones that were created illegally and without any review of environmental consequences.

Environmentalists have complained that the plan legitimizes illegally created roads. Some motor enthusiasts endorse the plan, but others oppose any new limits on their sport.

Atkins said the target for completion of the EIS is now December, and he hopes to have new rules in place before the general hunting season in the fall of 2001.

More than 2,300 people commented on the proposal, meaning extra time is needed to sift through those comments and respond to them, Atkins said.

Also, BLM is working on a nationwide cross-country travel policy and planners want to make sure the Montana proposal dovetails with that one, he said.

Don Mazzola, the Bozeman representative for the Montana Wilderness Association, said his group remains unhappy with the proposal and hopes the extra time will be used to include alternatives that would place more restrictions on ATVs.

The cross-country EIS is just one of several proposals that could affect motorized use of public lands.

The Clinton Administration has proposed a ban on new roads in Forest Service roadless areas around the country, the National Park Service is "leaning" toward a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.

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