Federal fight brewing on regulating ORV use

Published: Saturday, June 7 2008 12:03 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management need better plans for off-road vehicle use on public lands, but the government, ORV users and conservationists all have their own ideas of what they should include, based on a Senate hearing Thursday.

The government is adjusting how it handles ORVs as the number of users increase each year, but Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said there is a disconnect between what the different departments know and what they are doing.

"The BLM has identified travel management on its lands as 'one of the greatest management challenges' it faces," Bingaman said. "Likewise, the Forest Service has identified unmanaged recreation — including ORV use — as one of the top four threats to the management and health of the National Forest system. Despite these statements, it seems to me that neither agency has been able to successfully manage off-road use."

Bingaman said off-road or off-highway vehicle plans are not enforced or agencies are ignoring unregulated use "with significant consequences for the health of our public lands and communities, and adverse effects on other authorized public land uses." Bingaman suggests more resources for the agencies could help the problem.

Henri Bisson, Bureau of Land Management deputy director, said that balancing the needs of everyone who uses public lands "is a continuing challenge" for the federal land managers.

"This challenge has been building over time," Bisson said. "What was once the vast and spacious public land of the West that few knew about and fewer actively used for recreational purposes has now become something quite different."

Bisson said BLM lands will have 58 million recreation visits this year, a number that has nearly doubled in the last 25 years.

"The combined effect of population increase in the West, unauthorized user-created roads, explosive growth in the use of OHVs, advances in motorized technology, and intense industry marketing have generated increased social conflicts and resource impacts on the public land," Bisson said.

Groups at the witness table Thursday illustrated the conflicts with Trout Unlimited and the Wilderness Society wanting tighter controls on ORVs while the American Motorcyclist Association and the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a recreational vehicle advocacy organization, emphasized that its users are responsible and want to obey the rules but active management needs to be in place.

"BRC fully encourages and supports reasonable and responsible management prescriptions for this type of recreational activity," said BRC executive director George Mumm, who used the Paiute Trail System in Utah as a "successful application of active management for OHV recreation."

"Properly managed motorized recreation presents both a service to citizens and a source of revenue," Mumm said. "Such revenue is vital to rural counties who welcome recreation in lieu of other activities that no longer provide predictable or meaningful revenue, particularly for counties with significant federal public lands."

Edward Moreland, vice president for government relations for the American Motorcyclist Association, said the off-road community supports stiffer fines and penalties for those who knowingly damage public lands but do not want to see unfunded mandates or artificial deadlines put in place that end up hurting users instead of helping them.

"An inventory system that fails to provide adequate time and funding to do the job right is destined to fail," Moreland said.

Bradley Powell, the Western Energy and ORV coordinator for Trout Unlimited, a group that focuses on protecting coldwater fisheries, insisted that he was not at the hearing to oppose ORV use on public lands, "but to ensure that their use is compatible with the land's capability (particularly fish and wildlife habitats) and the needs of sportsmen/women, recreational users and others who rely on America's public lands for their enjoyment."

Powell said that many ORV users ride responsibly but those that travel off trails and create "unauthorized routes" create problems.


E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com

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