Land Use: Time to Get Involved

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SOME PEOPLE THINK the government should ban dirtbikes and ATVs from all public lands. Author George Wuerthner is one of them. He has even come up with a supposedly derogatory term to describe the vehicles: thrillcraft. In a guest commentary posted on NewWest.Net, an online news source for the Rockies, he writes: "Would we allow thrillcraft to do wheelies in the Arlington National Cemetery, or crawl up the Lincoln Memorial? I think not. And I see no reason to permit similar antics on the rest of our public lands."

Wuerthner is also editor of a collection of essays called Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation, published in late 2007 by the Foundation for Deep Ecology. According to the description on Amazon.com, the book "exposes the lasting damage done to our land, water and air from the growing plague of jet skis, quads, dune buggies, snowmobiles and other motorized recreational craft that are penetrating the last bastions of wild America. ... Thrillcraft bears witness to the mindless destruction of our collective natural heritage and offers a vision for a future when the howl of the wind or wolf can again be heard more often than the howl of a machine."

Uh-huh. Engines are now more prevalent on public lands than strong winds? Obviously Wuerthner and the Thrillcraft contributors represent extremists, but these people have an alarming amount of power.

"There are several anti-access groups with combined budgets of over $20 million that are working very hard and very effectively to shut down OHV — motorized and mechanized — recreation on public and even private lands," says Greg Mumm, executive director of the BlueRibbon Coalition, a national organization that champions responsible land use. "Directly or indirectly, this is an outright attack on a large segment of the market for dealers. In short, anti-access groups are not only working to shut down OHV recreation, but the business side of the OHV industry as well."

A DEALER'S RESPONSIBILITY

If you sell off-road vehicles, you probably understand the importance of land access. Sales suffer after closures or restrictions. But how much do you really know about the issues, and what do you do to support the cause? Maybe you think you're too busy to get involved, or that your efforts will make little difference. Maybe you don't even have a personal interest in off-roading.

No excuse. You're in a position to help unite the front lines. Your customers are spending thousands of dollars for vehicles and accessories; most would like to know where they can ride legally. Assuming you know the answer to this question, do you know if those areas are in danger? And do you tell customers how they can help? Do you educate them on proper trail use, safety and legal sound limits? Do you offer discounts to members of your state's off-highway vehicle association?

The public lands near you probably are in danger. In the past few years the government has taken a renewed interest in off-highway vehicles on public lands. The off-road market is much larger than it was only a decade ago. Plus, more people in general are visiting public lands. Because of this higher concentration of visitors, off-roaders are getting noticed more often.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are in the process of designating roads, trails and areas for motorized recreation after decades of wide-open access in many areas. As late as January of this year, for example, 64 million acres of national forest were open to cross-country travel. If all goes as planned, by 2010 riding on this land will be restricted to the designated routes and areas. The Forest Service is mapping these lands in local processes that require public comments. You and your customers can have your say — if you show up at the meetings.

There's also a push within government to declare lands wilderness, which would outlaw all mechanized travel in these areas. Just one pending bill (H.R. 1975) would declare 23 million acres in five states wilderness. All dealers and customers in this affected area should contact their congressional representatives.

Finally, Congress held oversight hearings in March and June regarding OHV use on public lands. For two such hearings to take place within such a short time period is unusual. That lawmakers are taking closer look isn't necessarily a bad thing. It could lead to more money for trail building, upkeep and enforcement. But as the government tries to end unmanaged OHV use, we've got to tell our side of the story.

On the following pages we outline some of the key issues and tell about the many resources available to you, your staff and your customers. For the off-road market to thrive, the federal agencies must commit to active management, and Congress must provide adequate funding. To ensure this happens, the recreation community must participate and volunteer.