Washington state lawmakers effectively banned the creation of new motorized off-road riding trails and facilities for at least a year, even though the northwestern state will continue collecting fees and taxes from those trail users.
The ban comes in the form of an amendment included within the proposed state budget, which covers the period from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. The proposed budget was approved by the full legislature March 13 and is on Gov. Christine Gregoire's desk.
The ban on new trails and facilities was contained in a single paragraph buried on page 75 of a 129-page bill by a six-member conference committee that hammered out Senate and House differences over the proposed budget before sending the document to the floors of both chambers for final approval. The conference committee members were Sens. Karen Fraser (D-Thurston County), Debbie Regala (D-Tacoma) and Dale Brandland (R-Bellingham); and House members Bill Fromhold (D-Vancouver-Clark County), Shay Schual-Berke (D-SeaTac) and Joyce McDonald (R-Puyallup).
In the section of the budget that provides funding for the Department of Natural Resources recreation renovations, those lawmakers inserted 11th-hour language that reads:
"The department shall not plan for, or construct, new or expanded facilities or trails for off-road vehicles for recreation on state lands until after June 30, 2009, unless the project is already funded, has been considered as part of a landscape-level plan for recreation that has completed State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review, which included public participation, and is the best alternative to protect environmental or trust resources and public safety from immediate risk."
The amendment to the budget bill was inserted at the last minute during a late-night conference committee meeting, leaving no chance for public input or debate, said American Motorcyclist Association Western States Representative Nick Haris.
"It's hard to say which is more outrageous: the way this language was inserted in the bill in the dark of night, or the fact that the state of Washington plans to keep taking gasoline tax money and registration fees from off-road vehicle users — money that is supposed to be used to create off-road recreation opportunities — while giving the ORV community nothing in return for at least an entire year," said Haris. "These legislators owe the OHV community an explanation for why this language was added to the bill with no opportunity for public comment. Additionally, the AMA calls on Governor Gregoire to use her line-item veto to remove this unfair amendment from the budget bill.?
Testimony in D.C.
Washington state's issue arose six days after the AMA and a handful of off-road groups told the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands that motorized recreation is a popular use of public land that needs more federal funding.
Ed Moreland, AMA VP for government relations; Russ Ehnes, executive director of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council; Larry Smith, executive director of Americans for Responsible Recreational Access; and Greg Mumm, executive director of the BlueRibbon Coalition supplied testimony to the subcommittee March 13 for a hearing titled "Impacts of Unmanaged Off-Road Vehicles on Federal Lands."
Moreland told the federal lawmakers that recreation, like any other resource, must be managed. "Too often motorized recreation has been managed by the extremes of either being ignored or prohibited," he said. "The land management agencies must recognize that they have many management tools that they can utilize to provide motorized recreation opportunities while protecting other resource values."
Moreland also made a case for more funding for federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management so that they can better manage motorized recreation. And he noted that the motorized recreation community has taken proactive steps, often in partnership with public land managers, to reinforce its land-use ethic through rider education and public awareness. "Motorized recreation enthusiasts even support stricter penalties for anyone who damages our public lands," he said.
Besides benefiting riders and the off-highway vehicle industry, motorized recreation pumps funds into local economies, Moreland added.
"One of the most dramatic cases is that of the $7.7 million impact of the Hatfield-McCoy off-highway vehicle trail system in some of the most economically challenged areas of West Virginia," Moreland said. "According to Marshall University, the expansion of motorized trails has lead to the creation of 146 new jobs and an increase of over $622,000 in state and local tax revenue."
Moreland closed his testimony by noting that the motorized recreation community has a long history of volunteerism and is ready to help public land managers by maintaining trails, promoting the ethical use of the land and advocating for appropriate funding.
"The AMA is confident that with the continued commitment of the recreation community, coupled with a commitment to manage our recreation from our land-management agencies, and with adequate funding support from Congress, the management challenges facing our public lands can be addressed."
Ehnes testified that the active management of off-highway vehicles on federal land is working, and that closing public land to the millions of Americans who enjoy motorized recreation would be a step backward.
Smith testified that the issue of "unmanaged" OHV recreation on U.S. Forest Service land was settled back in 2004 when U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth announced the Forest Service would go to a designated-route system for OHV recreation, rather than continue the policy of permitting cross-country travel on Forest Service land.
He also noted the federal Bureau of Land Management has begun active management of OHVs on BLM land.
"Some witnesses today will probably wring their hands and say that OHV recreation is a problem," Smith testified. "However, a greater problem exists that deserves this subcommittee's attention and that is the lack of adequate resources for all forms of recreation on federal lands."