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BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service wants to use gas tax money to hire ATV and snowmobile rangers for policing off-road recreation near wilderness areas.

The agency said more enforcement is needed to make sure motorists stay on the trails and out of off-limits areas.

The plan to increase enforcement and education efforts would be a good idea, said a motorized recreation advocate.

"In general, we support the idea of proper enforcement of all the rules," said Bob Stevenson, president of the Big Sky Country Trail Preservers.

One ATV ranger would be added to patrol the mountains near Ennis from May to November, said Jack de Golia, spokesman for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

Two snow rangers would patrol the Madison Range, from Big Sky to West Yellowstone, from December to April.

About $800,000 in federal gas tax money paid by off-road users has been sent to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks this year. The Forest Service wants about $38,000 of that money for the plan.

There has been an increase in snowmobile violations in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area in the Madison Range in recent years, according to Kimberly Schlenker, wilderness and recreation program manager for the Gallatin National Forest.

"I would say (wilderness incursion) is increasing slowly," she said.

A similar plan worked in Cooke City area, where wilderness incursions ran as high as 844 in 1994 until enforcement by a full-time snow ranger helped drop the number to 36 this year.

The rangers would also make sure wilderness boundary signs are posted, work on trails when needed and educate and assist visitors, the agency said.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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