Forest Service Roads

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Background

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Among many of the functions of the United States Forest Service (USFS) is the development and maintenance of Forest System roads that are relied upon by USFS and the public. The USFS uses these to maintain its forests, aid in fighting forest fires, allow public use, and other functions. See the Editing Resources section below for more specific map resources.

Some of these roads can be critical to local populations not just for recreation, but for regular travel. Such use is likely more common in rural and western states than it is for urban or eastern states. At times, some well-maintained dirt roads may even be considered to the local population as equivalent to streets or primary streets.

The USFS specifically issues Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) that identify specifically where USFS allows use of their roads by public motor vehicles. Some of these roads are paved and well maintained, others are dirt but used like streets, while others are dirt roads that are not well maintained and will only accommodate 4x4 wheel vehicles. Some roads are only listed for motorcycle use. Note that these maps only show roads that the USFS wants used by the public. There are other USFS roads that are closed or otherwise not authorized for public use.

Waze and Forest Service Roads

Creating accurate and properly represented USFS roads in Waze will:

  • benefit large numbers of tourists and recreational users of USFS roads,
  • allow those lost in some areas to navigate to regular roadways,
  • allow local populations appropriate use of USFS roads,
  • allow Waze editors to functionally classify roads by marking them with the appropriate Waze road type (street, 4x4, etc.),
  • allow some roads to be marked as private to the USFS,
  • allow identification of useful Waze Places on USFS land,
  • allow time-based restrictions on some roads that are closed in winter.

Motor Vehicle Use Maps

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The key point of the USFS's Travel Management Rule is that motor vehicle use on National Forest System Lands is restricted to designated routes which are shown on the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs). Only routes on the MVUMs should be entered into Waze as driveable roads. Of those roads and trails, only those accessible by passengers or 4x4 vehicles should be mapped. USFS shows trails specifically for motorcycle use only. These should not be added to the Waze map.

MVUMs can be found at the links at the end of this page via PDF maps and also an online GIS system that does not list maintenance level.

If you are able to obtain a physical MVUM or download a PDF online, you will find that it has exacting detail on road types and names you may wish to edit in Waze. The following images show an example front cover of a folded map and the internal content that can be seen on both sides of an unfolded map.

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Maintenance Levels

"USFS Guidance for Road Maintenance Levels

The US Forest Service classifies maintenance of National Forest System roads by five levels: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Maintenance level 1 roads are closed to motor vehicle use. Maintenance level 2 roads are maintained for high-clearance (4x4, off-road) vehicles. Maintenance level 3, 4, and 5 roads are maintained for passage by standard passenger cars during the normal season of use.

Picking the best road types in Waze for the Forest Service roads is suggested in the following table. Levels 5, 4, and 3 are navigable by regular automobiles, but may not always be appropriate to be streets within the Waze map.

You will only find these Maintenance Levels in source GIS data from the USFS. This information is utilized by USFS to help create the MVUMs.

Editor Discretion

Always exercise caution when mapping roads found on an MVUM, particularly through roads! MVUMs may be inaccurate or out of date, and roads may vary in quality over seasons depending on the climate (rain/snow). Particularly, some roads in Maintenance Level 3 may have attributes that are closer to Off-Road / Not Maintained than Street.

Do not map abandoned roads

Before mapping a road, compare the MVUM with recent aerial imagery (and with Street View and anecdotal visitor reports if possible) and verify that the road remains drivable. Vegetation growing not just between the tracks but in them often signifies an abandoned road. Some roads may be permanently closed with boulders or solid fencing placed at their endpoints. Don't map these, even if they appear on the MVUM! Mapping or completing abandoned roads may have severe unintended consequences. For example:

  • If the road is mapped as a through road, even one with high penalties, Waze may attempt to route emergency traffic over it when primary roads have been closed. Waze could endanger lives by offering impassable roads as escape routes!
  • Any road's presence on the Waze display could encourage Wazers to try it and potentially get stuck. Even off-road vehicles can get stuck if the terrain is bad enough.
  • Mapped roads serve to orient as well as route drivers. Drivers passing a "road" that is shown on their display but no longer looks like a road (overgrown, permanently fenced off or blocked, etc.) may be disoriented by the inconsistency.

Take better roads nearby into account

Besides considering the recommendations in this article, also take other nearby roads into account. For example, if another road nearby appears to be in much better condition and more heavily used, and it is mapped as Street type with the "Unpaved" attribute, should you use the identical type for a rough, little-used parallel road? In fact, do circumstances suggest the better nearby road may have replaced the road you are mapping? A more heavily penalized road type may be appropriate for the road you're considering, or perhaps the road should not be mapped at all.

Consider vehicle types common to the area

Consider the spectrum of vehicles Wazers may be driving in the region. Is it a heavily-touristed area where many Wazers are likely to be driving ordinary passenger vehicles or RVs? Or is it more remote, where Wazers are likely to be better prepared for rough roads? Don't map seldom-used roads that are barely drivable even by off-road vehicles in an area heavily visited by ordinary vehicles.

USFS to Waze Classification Mapping

While editing USFS roads, you'll either have (1) MVUMs or (2) more detailed GIS data or related maintenance level observations. This section provides mapping for both sources of information, but the Waze editor should always consult the MVUMs because only roads on the MVUMs should be shown as available for use. Others should be Private roads or not mapped.

MVUMs to Waze

The key point of the USFS's Travel Management Rule is that motor vehicle use on National Forest System Lands is restricted to designated routes which are shown on the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs). All routes not on the MVUMs should be marked as private.

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MVUM
Road
Legend
Suggested
Waze
Road Treatment
Roads open to Highway Legal Vehicles Street, Primary Street, or Minor Highway as appropriate.
Roads Open to All Vehicles Street
Trails Open to All Vehicles Do not map.
Trails Open to Vehicles 50" or Less in Width Do not map.
Trails Open to Motorcycles Only Do not map.
Interstate* Freeway
Highways, US, State, County* Map as appropriate to road type.
Other Public Roads* Map as appropriate to road type.

*Note that these last three non-USFS roads were included in their legend because such roads may traverse USFS lands. Treat these roads as you would regular public roads.

Mixed Type or Mapping of USFS Roads

Note that a particular Forest Service Road may be only shown on the MVUM for a part of its distance. In such cases mark part of the road per the above table and the remaining portion not on the MVUM as type Private. If a road has mixed types along its length, map them all appropriately in Waze.

Maintenance Levels to Waze

In cases where the Maintenance Level is known from GIS data or inferred from the images in this article, use this table for guidance. Note that you should also refer to the MVUMs to make sure the road is displayed.

Maintenance Level Mapping Guidance

USFS
Maintenance
Level
Short
Name
Description Suggested
Waze
Road Treatment
5 Highway High traffic and speeds, usually paved, double lane, arterial or collector, typically connected to state and county roads. There are few of these roads in the inventory. If shown on MVUM, select Minor Highway, Primary Street,or Street. If not on MVUM, Private
4 Paved Moderate speeds, often dual lane, may be paved but usually aggregate surface, usually collectors, may connect to state and county roads If shown on MVUM, Street. If not on MVUM, Private. Unpaved attribute set as appropriate.
3 Passenger
Vehicle
Low speeds, single lane, local or collectors, may have potholes or washboarding If shown on MVUM, Street. If not on MVUM, Private. Unpaved attribute set.
2 Unpaved
Off-Road
Unpaved local roads, may not be passable in inclement weather, high-clearance vehicles needed, not suitable for passenger cars. If shown on MVUM, Off-Road / Not Maintained. If not on MVUM, Private. Unpaved attribute set.
1 Closed Vehicular traffic is prohibited, might be used as a motorized trail for use by motorcycles, etc. Private for existing roads. Do not map new roads as any driveable type.

The following images, extracted from the USFS maintenance document above, provide examples from USFS for these road types. They may help illustrate differences between levels that will help you while editing. If you observe a USFS road in person, these images may help you determine the maintenance level.

Maintenance
Level
Example A Example B
Level 5 =
Minor Highway
Primary Street
Street
USFS-level5a.jpg USFS-level5b.jpg
Level 4 = Street,

Unpaved flag set if applicable

USFS-level4a.jpg USFS-level4b.jpg
Level 3 = Street

Unpaved flag set

USFS-level3a.jpg USFS-level3b.jpg
Level 2 =
Off-Road /
Not Maintained

Unpaved flag set

USFS-level2a.jpg USFS-level2b.jpg
Level 1 =
Do Not
Map
USFS-level1a.jpg USFS-level1b.jpg

Level 5 & Level 3

Note that Levels 5 and 3 may have ambiguity for Waze Editors. This is because there may be large variability in local interpretation and actual maintenance due to weather and other effect which would determine the road type that is important to Wazers. In rural or some western states, some the very same type of USFS road may be best marked as a Minor Highway or Primary Street whereas in urban areas, they may be interpreted best as streets. Local editors or any available street view should be used to help decide the best mapping. Here are some suggestions.

USFS Level 5

  • Pick the lowest level of road type that is reasonable for the surrounding area.
  • Pick "Primary Street" or "Minor Highway" when the local function of this road is equivalent to those Waze road types.


USFS Level 3

  • Preference is to always mark these roads as Waze type "Street."
  • In rare cases pick "Off-Road / Not Maintained" if you verify the road is in poor condition.
  • Set the Unpaved attribute.

Road Naming Conventions

There is wide variability in existing road names for roads on USFS land. Formal USFS road names you might see include "Forest Rd XXX," "Fire Service XXX," "F S XXX," "Nat For Dev Rd," "Forest Rte XXX," and "Forest Svc Rd." Those that have significant public or popular use may have local road names with road signs. State highways and county roads may traverse USFS land, and will be named under conventions for those types of roads.

USFS Naming Conventions

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These naming conventions may help you understand the online GIS maps and PDF maps available from USFS.

Naming is typically recursive based upon road stubs. For instance, if a main road has name "33" then stubs from that road may be, 33A, 33B, 33B1, 33B2, 33C, etc. using alternating designations (letters, numbers). The third level of “33B1” is road 33, stub B, secondary stub 1. The exact choice is of this format is picked by different road engineers. See the image to the right for a pictorial of this concept.

Waze Naming Conventions

The following convention is suggested for naming roads on USFS land:

  • Public highways and county roads should be named under conventions for the state or region. Do not use a USFS road number/name for these roads.
  • USFS roads on the MVUMs with popular names as shown on posted road signs should be named per the road signage. Note that the MVUMs do not usually show these popular names. Use street-view or drive by the location to verify before changing names from a popular name to a USFS road number/name.
  • USFS roads on the MVUMs that are not named or with an alternative naming convention should be named "FS-XXXX" where XXXX is the USFS road name on the MVUM. For example, main FS-333 road might have stub roads FS-333A through FS-333E or FS-333.1 through FS333.9.
  • In the online USFS MVUM maps you may see references to FS-XXX.0. You should not add the .0 in this case as the Forest Service does not use .0 designations in the local MVUM. In some units, the Forest Service does not use .1 designations in the local MVUM either. You should always confirm road naming with the printed MVUM maps. In any case of conflict, the MVUM PDF maps take precedence.
  • Fire Service Roads, roads designated for Forest Fire services, shall also use the "FS-XXX" designation

USFS Places for Waze

Resources at USFS websites or USFS maps may be useful at correctly naming and adding USFS Places to the Waze Map. USFS MUVMs contain names of campgrounds and other items of interest. The following convention is suggested for some Places types. Please refer to the Places Wiki page for more guidance on how now to create an Area or Point "Place" and categories to choose.

USFS Item Waze Place Type How to place Waze Place
Campground
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Campground / RV Park Create an Area Place to the border of camping area including all roads and campsites. Name the Place the specific name of the campground as seen on the MVUM.
Picnic Area
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Outdoors-Park Create an Area Place to the border of picnic area. Add the associated parking lot area as well. Name the Place the specific name of the picnic area as seen on the MVUM.
Information Site
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Professional and public-Information Point This may be a ranger station or visitor center. Create a Point Place on the associated building. Name the Point Place the specific name of the ranger station, visitor center, or other item as seen on the MVUM.
Other POIs Outdoors-Park (usually) USFS lands hold a number of other Points of Interest that might be appropriate to create Places. This information may not be shown on a MVUM, but of interest to Wazers and available through other means or observation. Create a Place as appropriate.

Editing Resources

The USFS Travel Management & Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Program website contains a number of resources that will be useful for Waze editors. Specific links follow.

Online MVUM Map

The Motor Vehicle Use Map: Roads and Trails is a GIS system for USFS roads. It shows the National Forest System roads, National Forest System trails, and areas on National Forest System lands that are designated for motor vehicle use. You can zoom into an area on a national forest or grassland, see the roads and trails in that area, and find out which ones are open to motor vehicles. To identify roads for mapping in Waze, you should expand the contents and select only the MVUM Symbology, with only Roads selected.

A TamperMonkey script is available for editors that will open this MVUM Online Map in a new window that matches the current Waze editor view.

USFS Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM)

Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) identify specifically where USFS allows use of their roads by public motor vehicles. They are available for a small fee in hard copy online, are free at USFS offices, or can be found online in PDF format.

A listing of forests that maintain MVUMs is available as a great resource for Waze editors. From this link you must select the appropriate forest listed by state. On those pages will be listed the MVUMs that are available.


Similar Road Systems

References

(1) Discussions with USFS GIS staff.
(2) USFS website.