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*The opinions and content published in Rants and Raves are solely those of the author and do not represent EOMA or its general membership. No agreement or complicity is expressed or implied.

OHVS AND PUBLIC LAND: RECREATIONAL PLAYGROUND OR ENVIRONMENTAL SANDBOX?

- Miner X
- 12/25/2008

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It's no secret that millions of american jobs depend upon developing and harvesting natural resources on public lands. Yet the people who actually work outdoors for a living are hardly mentioned in federal and state discussions about OHVs on pubic land. Why? Because modern law makers have suddenly decided that public land is either a place to play or a place to lock-down. As a result, they tend to honor only the opinions of environmental and recreational advocates.

In a recent article about OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) use entitled 'States Move to Curb Off-Highway Vehicles as Federal Efforts Lag' (from Energy and Environment Daily, a prominent federal watchdog and news resource) the author features quotes from:
- Responsible Trails America,
- Public Employees for Environmental Ethics,
- Americans for Responsible Recreational Access,
- Trout Unlimited's Public Lands Initiative

Who? Does the federal government actually believe that OHVs are used exclusively by recreationalists?

The answer is yes, they do. In their frantic race to please the environmental and recreational lobbyists, they completely ignore the fact that OHVs are widely used to perform critical tasks that have nothing to do with recreation. Ranchers, miners, loggers, foresters, tree planters, surveyors, water-rights holders, geologists, botanists and a hundred other professionals, workers and private land owners use OHVs as a replacement for what used to be accomplished with horses and mules. Even the Forest Service and BLM both own and use OHVs to access and manage public lands.

Politicians picture OHV use as an eighteen-year-old, soaring off a five-foot dirt ramp at 70mph. More likely, it's a 70-year-old driving at 5mph to herd his cattle in the snow. Or a miner, en route to his claim over public land, riding an all-terrain vehicle to keep the ground compaction down to an absolute minimum. Or someone repairing fence, or collecting water and soil samples, or...

The point is that OHVs are legitimate utility vehicles for those who perform difficult jobs over rough terrain. Almost none of these jobs are conducted anywhere near designated recreational trails, scenic byways or assigned OHV areas.

Market studies show that over half of four-wheel-drive ATVs sold in the western United States are to consumers over 30 years old. That, in itself, should tell you something about how specific OHVs are used. These folks aren't jumping over anything. It's also fairly safe to assume that they're not the ones who are tearing apart the wilderness or destroying valuable public resources.

FEES, LICENSING AND ENFORCEMENT

How then, can the group I've described above be even remotely associated with (what is in reality) a small faction of recreational maniacs who become a public problem the moment they start their engines? Knee-jerk politicians - who have a propensity for (and a history of) declaring huge, sweeping directives - are completely willing to paint anyone who owns an Off-Highway Vehicle as sinister and culpable.

The revenue they could collect from special use permits and OHV licensing is what's really driving these initiatives. It would amount to several million dollars in most states. The new Arizona annual user fee of $20 is supposed to beef up off-road law enforcement, restore damaged trails and grasslands and provide education on land management.

At the risk of sounding simple, why not just fine the violators to finance these programs? Is it not completely unfair to take twenty dollars from a benign snowmobiler in Flagstaff - out for a leisurely weekend ride on a groomed trail - and put it toward repairing a wetlands refuge that was totally destroyed by a bunch of drunken punks on trail bikes the week before?

Where's the thread there? That they both own OHVs? That is the problem in a nutshell. It's the wrong common denominator. As usual, federal and state authorities haven't a clue about how to distiguish beween constructive, legitimate use and destructive, illegal abuse. Sure, they have laws - which they openly admit that they cannot enforce.

One thing is certain: Niether the federal government nor the state legislatures can fathom the scope of the OHV issue any more than they can comprehend the debilitating effects of permanent road closures on rural communities. Given the current level of ignorance on the matter today, any decision made at either the federal or state level is doomed to be fataly flawed and miserably incompetent.