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John Stewart

Planning Could Assist

The Government Accountability Office has released a report:  Federal Lands:  Enhanced Planning Could Assist Agencies in Managing Increased Use of Off-Highway Vehicles. GAO-09-509, June 30.

Glancing through the report, I see no big surprises.  The report underscores increased recreation activity and planning deficiencies on part of the agencies to accommodate the increased recreation. While no one "plans to fail", it is clear that lack of planning is hindering the agencies from managing increased recreation demands on public lands.

Representatives of recreation groups have been asking for the agencies to improve their planning efforts and increase their communication with the public.  This report underscores those are actions that can help the long term management of OHV recreation opportunities.

The Conclusions and Recommendations of the report are listed below.

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John Stewart

ROC Speaks Out

Recreation Outdoors Coalition Speaks Out - Cites flaws in Forest Service Travel Management Planning

In November 2005, the Forest Service (FS) issued final travel management regulations, which require all national forests to designate roads, trails, and areas where motor vehicle travel will be allowed.  Upon designation, cross-country travel off these routes and areas will be prohibited.  The Travel Management Rule applies to all motor vehicles.  It is not just an off-highway vehicle (OHV) Rule for managing the use of non-highway legal vehicles.  Whether you hunt, fish, camp, hike, cut firewood, sight-see or enjoy riding your all-terrain vehicle or dirt bike, the Rule is going to affect your access to your national forests.  The Recreation Outdoors Coalition (ROC), in general, supports the Rule and the need to designate routes for motor vehicle use to reduce the environmental impacts from off-road travel.

The Forest Service is currently preparing travel management plans for motor vehicle travel on all national forests.  The majority of these plans for the national forests in California will be completed in 2009.  In California, this planning process is also known as the route designation process.  The travel management planning process in California’s national forests has raised three key concerns to members of the Recreation Outdoors Coalition.  They are:

1.  Planning for Successful Travel Management Programs.  California has the highest level of OHV use of any state in the nation with 4.99 million OHV users.  The Regional Forester for California has adopted restrictive policies regarding motorized mixed use (defined as the use of the same FS roadway by both highway legal and non-highway legal vehicles).  The Regional Forester cites the California Vehicle Code and public safety as the reasons for prohibiting non-highway legal OHVs on FS passenger car roads with a maintenance level (ML) of 3, 4 or 5.  There are 8,903 miles of ML 3, 4 and 5 roads in California, most of which are unpaved.  This represents 21.5 percent of all FS road miles in the State.  Many of these roads have been safely used by OHVers for decades.  The FS will continue to allow non-highway vehicles to operate on their high clearance (or ML 2) road system.  These roads are generally short, dead-end spurs and provide no services.  Motorized mixed use on passenger car roads will only be sparingly allowed.  Creating contiguous travel loops to provide quality riding opportunities requires the use of many passenger car roads.  Without these roads, there will be large gaps in the road system where non-highway legal vehicle travel currently occurs.
National-level FS direction is to manage mixed use traffic in a safe manner on forest roads.  National direction states no further FS studies are needed if existing mixed use on a road complies with State traffic law and there is no mixed use crash history.  Motorized mixed use on unpaved FS roads is allowed under the California Vehicle Code (CVC) according to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), but the Forest Service continues to cite the CVC to support proposed OHV prohibitions.  The Forest Service should accept CHP’s decision that the CVC does not apply to forest “highways” (unpaved passenger car roads).  The Regional Forester’s current policy is a major barrier to developing quality OHV systems for non-highway legal vehicles.  Many route options have already been eliminated by prohibiting non-highway legal vehicles on unpaved passenger car roads.  

Mixed use accident information does not support the Agency’s concern about public safety.  In the past 15 years, there have been 11 mixed use accidents on 41,501 miles of FS roads in California.  Three accidents involved a FS employee running into an OHV; 1 involved a County Deputy Sheriff hitting an OHV.  ROC asserts unpaved ML 3-5 roads should be open to all vehicle classes unless an exception exists for some road segments due to public safety, past accidents, resource concerns, user conflicts or other considerations that cannot be mitigated.  The Regional Forester should follow Forest Service national direction and the agency’s own guidebook for analyzing mixed use on FS passenger car roads.

2.  Collaboration with the Public.  The Forest Service in California completed an inventory of “unauthorized” roads and trails in the national forests.  “Unauthorized” roads and trails are routes that exist on the ground, but have not been officially designated as part of the Forest Service’s transportation system.  This inventory found over 10,000 miles of routes with current evidence of some motor vehicle use.  During the route designation process, California national forests will determine if these routes should be added to their road system or closed to motor vehicles.  The public submitted many miles of routes for designation.  To date, several national forests in northeastern California are proposing to close 75 to 97 percent of them.  There is insufficient rationale on why routes were dropped from consideration.  The scale of these closures does not reflect a reasonable balance between access and environmental protection.  While the FS promised a transparent planning process, opportunities for the public to fully engage in travel management have been limited.  Unlike the Inyo NF, most national forests have not established collaborative working groups to draft travel management plans that would be more responsive to the public’s desire for access to their national forests.  There are proven principles for creating successful travel management programs, but these are not reflected in the draft travel management plans ROC has reviewed to date.

3. Interface with County Road Systems.  There are miles of maintained, unpaved county roads within the national forests in northern California.  Motorized mixed use is a long-standing accepted practice on many unpaved county roads.  Many unpaved county roads link with FS passenger car roads.  Several northern California counties already allow or will be designating their unpaved roads into and through the national forests for motorized mixed use.  They are designating county roads at the same time the Forest Service is prohibiting mixed use on the majority of their unpaved passenger car roads.  Without integrated planning and agreement on road management strategies, there will be major inconsistencies in how each agency provides for OHV recreation. The riding public will be confused.  The Forest Service should coordinate with County Boards of Supervisors and Public Works Departments to ensure a seamless transportation system for the public to enjoy.  

ROC’s objective is to develop sensible travel management solutions that also provide environmentally sustainable recreation opportunities.  These are not mutually exclusive goals.  Several national forests have already issued or will be issuing Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) for their Travel Management Plans in a few months.  The Inyo National Forest’s comment period on their DEIS ends on March 31.  Unless, the public and elected officials attend their meetings and provide comments on the draft Plans, the Forest Service will close a significant number of roads and trails to motor vehicle travel.  Those who enjoy riding non-highway legal vehicles in the national forests such as an ATV, RUV, or dirt bike stand to lose the most miles.

Summary:  The Recreation Outdoors Coalition (ROC) believes the Forest Service’s (FS) travel management planning:

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Off Roading, What’s That?

Off Roading, What’s That?
by: Scott D. Heiser

Read the title of this article. Now, read it again. This is what our children are going to be saying to us if we keep doing things at the pace we are going. I live in a great area, with plenty of trails in just my backyard to go wheeling on. It saddens me to see what has been done to these trails, and what I see other people doing while “four wheeling”. I have the pleasure of having some fun trails, lined with rocks and trees, and GREAT scenery all within about 10 minutes of me.

The problem is, all the “locals” decide that they should tear the entire area up, crawling up trees to take pictures of their rigs flexing, and running over the dead trees, that are a good fifty feet off the trail. Most, if not ALL of these people also feel that it is necessary to drink WHILE wheeling, and then proceed to throw the empty cans out of their rigs, into the forest. While I know that this is not the case for everyone, I have seen it countless times, in countless locations.

With actions like this, it won’t be long before this hobby of ours will become extinct. It’s pretty sad, that this day in age, it seems that people can’t go out into the wooded trails, or the desert and have a good time without a beer in hand. If we want to continue to see the hobby of four wheeling grow, and want it to be around for our kids to enjoy, we really need to crack down on those that trash our trails, and get drunk and tear things up while “four wheeling”.

I know many of you have seen this countless times. I can’t be the only one. There isn’t much we can do to STOP these activities, but we can sure voice our opinions to A LOT of different organizations, and if you see someone drinking excessively and wheeling, say something to them.

Sure, you may not be the “popular” guy, but I for one would rather be unpopular now, and save the trails for my future children, instead of seeing all the trails closed off to the public, so my kids can’t enjoy what I love to do. My hope is that one day I will be able to help a son of mine build a rig of his own to wheel out here in our national forest, but the way things are going, its not looking like that is going to happen. I see more and more trails get shut down to public use every year. It is usually for a variety of reasons, not all of them related to belligerent four wheelers, but we can sure help the cause by straightening up our act.

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John Stewart

Inevitable Wilderness?

by: Mike Swenson
Executive Director, Utah Shared Access Alliance

Imagine nearly 40% of the approximately 22 million acres managed by BLM in our state designated as Wilderness. Along with almost all the roads imagine the loss of access to historical places, resources, and you favorite camp sites, trails, or riding areas.

 A Wilderness designation would make much of  these things inaccessible to most Americans and we find this unacceptable. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) thinks over 9 million acres of Wilderness in Utah is not only acceptable but a great idea. Of course they do. Then they and their out of state supporters would have a monopoly on public land. The huge foundations that give millions to SUWA and whose parent companies pillaged the land in the east can now buy themselves a clear path to heaven and a good nights sleep. Sure SUWA and their supporters claim to protect the environment, but really is it about anything other than control and power? If they're so concerned about the environment why don't they put more money into service projects and education and less into suing taxpayers and governments?
SUWA has been pushing for their Wilderness bill for over a decade. Amazingly the bill grew by millions of acres over a few short years. Apparently they had missed a few million acres of untouched pristine land. It easy to do when you travel roads and trails inventorying "roadless" areas. Funny you also encounter vehicles on roads and trails, no wonder why they think the land is overrun with them. Maybe they should try hiking off road once in a while.
So far we have been fortunate. But I am afraid our luck has run out. Now it's time to roll up ourselves, take of the gloves and really get ready to rumble. The political climate has prevented them from making too much progress, but they have been tenacious in pushing for the closure of public land in Utah. With the recent elections and inevitable change coming to Washington D.C. SUWA sees a much anticipated opportunity, and they will capitalize on it with all due haste. This is evidenced by the recent posts on their website. You MUST read this post SUWA Message.
Now folks, I am not a conspiracy theorist nor do I cry the sky is falling when it isn't, but you must believe me when I say this is serious. This is very serious. SUWA will have the best shot they have ever had of taking away your ability to visit those favorite place you and your family enjoy. Well I take that back, you can walk to them if you want.
This harms all of us on a personal level, it harms us on an economic level, it harms our local governments ability to gain money to fund K-12 education, and therefore harms our school children public education, it harms our ability to be energy independent, it harms our land managers ability to manage the land, and the list goes on. Excessive Wilderness designations ares simply plain harmful and wrong.
Luckily none of Utah's congressional delegation support the Wilderness push, but radical senators and congressmen from other states do, and they will again introduce the bill for consideration come January. Now before you cry yourself to sleep tonight know this, there is hope, and there are things we can do stop this from occurring.
Our ability to prevent the otherwise inevitable and intervene will wholly depend on you and the choices you make. Government hasn't been very effective at representing you lately, nor are we convinced that without serious prodding will they help us much on the issue of Wilderness. This is where USA-ALL and our partners come into play. We carry a big stick, and we know how to prod elected representatives. USA-ALL will vow to fight on your behalf to the best of our ability. We have successfully beat pro-wilderness clowns in court, on the field, and in the halls of congress before. We can do it again.
If you want us to stop these broad Wilderness designations it is imperative that ALL of you join our organization and unite with us in defending our home and our way of life. By joining with us we join your voice with thousands of others against harmful wilderness designations, and possibly in support of other areas that may be a good place to preserve as Wilderness. We aren't completely closed to the idea of some Wilderness. But certainly not over 9 million acres of it.  As a member of USA-ALL we keep you posted on all the important happenings regarding your ability to enjoy public land in Utah, chances to make a difference by volunteering, and tips on how, when, and why to contact elected or government officials. We work on your behalf everyday, and advocate for your interests to all. We hope you will sense the urgency of the looming issues, choose to join our organization, and give us the opportunity to serve you. If not us please join another organization that better represents you and will work to make our shared world a better place.

Click here to visit the Utah Shared Access Alliance

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John Stewart

Perspective on Vehicle Recreation

Recreation vehicle users (i.e., both people who drive dirt roads to get somewhere as well as motorcycle, ATV, and dune buggy riders who enjoy family fun and competitive racing in desert “open areas” like the Johnson Valley Open Area and the Imperial Sand Dunes) have seen an erosion of space and roads for their interests in the Desert since the 1930s. This is why they are so concerned with the proposed expansion of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center into the Johnson Valley Open Area. In fact, vehicle use is at the very heart of a fight among competing interests and land uses on public lands that BLM has been dealing with for 40 years. Below is a chronological overview of milestone events that have affected Desert vehicle access and the situation at hand:
1. Until the 1930s one could take a vehicle just about anywhere a vehicle could go
2. 1930s: 2 national monuments are designated, Death Valley and Joshua Tree
3. 1940s: withdrawal of several large tracts of public lands for WWII and post-war military training, research and development, and testing
By 1945 approximately 25% of the Desert is off limit or severely restricted to recreation vehicles. The effect of recreation vehicle use is light at this point.

By the end of the 1960s there was considerable public concern over the growing use and effects of unmanaged vehicle use and it resulted in the 1976 Congressional designation of the 25 million acre California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) and a mandate for BLM to address these conservation issues and develop, with considerable public and stakeholders involvement, a comprehensive land use plan for the area by 1980. The completed CDCA Plan in of itself did not close vast areas of the Desert to recreation vehicle use but did define the end for unbridled proliferation of vehicle roads and trails and did set a blue print for further planning and management for all Desert resources and uses. An array of multiple use management designations and commitments were set in place for a host of resources and uses: route designations (open or closed), areas open and closed to vehicle use, areas of critical environmental concern, grazing, wild horses and burros, mining, utility corridors, species and habitats conservation, and cultural resources protection. It also proposed a set of areas for wilderness designation by Congress.

The fight over land uses did not go away with the completion of the CDCA Plan. Species were increasingly being listed as threatened or endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), due to disease and human encroachment; and, not satisfied with the outcome of the CDCA Plan, environmental groups agitated for more wilderness than was recommended and expansion/creation of federal parklands. Vehicle users, mining companies, and ranchers were becoming increasingly worried…and some military units began to see the need for more land as technology and warfare changed.

4. In 1994 Congress addressed the wilderness and parkland proposals by BLM and environmental groups with the California Desert Protection Act (CDPA). While the 1980 CDCA Plan recommended 2.1 million acres for wilderness designation, Congress designated 3.8 million and transferred an additional 3.5 million of public (BLM) land to the National Park Service, most of which was designated wilderness, too.

The CDPA hit vehicle use and mining hard: the amount of Desert off limit or severely restricted to vehicle use jumped from 25% to 50%. Affected were many favorite roads and camping areas, 50% of the favorite rock hounding areas, the availability of 40 out of 49 kinds of minerals, and many options for expansion of utility corridors and military reservations. The impact of this number increases with 2 perspectives:
a. half of the other 50% of the Desert is private land: off-limit to public use.
b. most of the designated wilderness is high elevation – mountainous – and above the range of critical habitat for most species listed under the ESA (so the CDPA ignored resolution of serious species and habitats issues). Consequently, about half of the remaining 25% of the Desert that is not military, not wilderness, not parkland, and not private – i.e., not off limit for vehicle use - is affected by species and habitat issues and subject to further vehicle restrictions when those species are addressed (below).

5. In 1990 the desert tortoise was listed as a threatened species under the ESA. This listing, geographically having the most widespread effect in the Desert, and other listings (e.g., Pierson’s milkvetch in the Imperial Sand Dunes and bighorn sheep in the Peninsular Range west of Palm Springs-La Quinta) required BLM to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildife Service (FWS) to address the adequacy of the CDCA Plan to resolve the species issues. (Other federal agencies with affected habitat had to revisit their land use plans, too.) It was decided that the CDCA Plan did need to be amended. In doing this BLM embarked upon six geographically separate plan amendments in the early 1990s. But in 2000, while the amendments were still in preparation, three environmental groups sued the BLM in federal district court in San Francisco to (in my mind) swing the decisions of the amendments to a more preservationist conclusion – i.e., to force more restrictions on vehicle use than might otherwise come out of the plan amendment processes. (Other uses, mainly sheep and cattle grazing, were targeted as well. The six plan amendments would now have to satisfy both the species recovery requirements of the ESA and resolve the lawsuit.

While the six plan amendments have since been completed to the satisfaction of the agencies involved – primarily the BLM and FWS, the 2000 lawsuit still rages: three environmental groups on one hand and the combined science and wisdom of a host of federal, state, and local agencies and a considerable array of stakeholders on the other. Through the combined six plan amendments, popular vehicle open areas remain open, but 3,671 miles (20%) of 17, 588 miles of inventoried roads in the Desert were closed (not counting the miles of roads closed with the passage of the CDPA in 1994).

The beat goes on. Not one but two military base expansions onto public lands are under consideration today: Ft Irwin, north of Barstow, and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center, north of Twenty-Nine Palms. As with anywhere, there is only a finite amount of land. Vehicle users feel they are being painted into a corner and the corner continues to shrink. The public should now better understand why they are upset. This is not the only Desert resource management story, but it is one that hits home for vehicle users and should be an environmental consideration under “cumulative effects” in an environmental impact statement.

Richard Crowe worked for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for 37 years, 33 years of which were served in the California Desert. His job assignments included Field Manager in the BLM Needles office, staff manager for Operation for the entire California Desert, and lead for Northern & Eastern Colorado Desert Plan, a species and habitats plan amendment to the 1980 California Desert Conservation Plan. Dick retired from BLM in 2007 and lives in Beaumont, CA.

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