GAO Report Debunks Anti-OHV Myths
Editorial by Brian Hawthorne,
BRC Public Lands Policy Director
Each year, wealthy, private foundations give over 10 million dollars to so-called "environmental groups" for the purpose of eliminating vehicle-based recreation on federal, state and private lands. It is difficult to describe to the average OHV user just how much power and influence that kind of money can buy. That kind of lobbying power can produce congressional hearings and government studies designed to support your legislative agenda.
In the last year alone, both the U.S. House and Senate held hearings on the rising use of OHV and snowmobiles on public lands, and this last June, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on, you guessed it, the rising use of OHVs on public lands. The report is titled: Enhanced Planning Could Assist Agencies in Managing Increased Use of Off-Highway Vehicles.
The anti-OHV lobby is hoping that this report, along with findings from the hearings, will be helpful in advancing their aggressive legislative agenda for the rest of 2009 and beyond.
I admit to being biased, but I'm not sure these wealthy foundations are getting their money's worth. While the GAO report contains plenty of anti-OHV bias, it's hardly the manifesto for closure the anti-OHV lobby was hoping for.
The GAO report actually de-bunks some anti-OHV myths. For example, "user conflict" is often cited as a serious problem on public lands. Turns out, incidences of actual user conflict occasionally or rarely occur.
Do you suppose the foundations funding these anti-OHV lobbyists will ask for their money back?!
In all seriousness now, it's the American taxpayers who should ask for their money back. Despite the shocker that user conflict isn't that big of an issue, the single most striking thing about this GAO study, to me anyway, is that it's strikingly similar to an OHV study completed over 30 years ago, in 1986. Ditto for a similar study completed in 1996. Ditto again for the Bureau of Land Management's OHV "strategy" in 2001.
For more than three decades, we have been studying OHV use and coming to the same conclusions and recommendations! Solutions to OHV management issues are known, yet few offices are actually doing the work. A key finding in one of the studies may indicate why this is so.
In 1986, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service requested an agency-wide assessment of OHV use. This report, which really should be required reading for any federal land manager who has anything to do with OHV recreation, noted three distinct types of "management attitudes" toward OHV people.
The "Type A" management recognizes OHV use is appropriate in certain places within the National Forests and makes a positive effort to provide opportunities for meeting those needs. "Type B" attitudes reflected a bias against OHV use. "Type B" management actions are characterized by strong emphasis upon elimination or control of use with closures and law enforcement programs. "Type C" attitudes describe management that gives only passive attention to OHV use, often for lack of knowledge about management techniques, lack of money, or the existence of other pressing priorities.
The 1986 review also found that the internal bias against OHV use was frequently expressed in the application of double standards, i.e. OHVs are monitored much more closely and are more frequently restricted than other uses causing equal or greater resource impacts.
Nobody should be surprised the GAO report confirms what we've already known for decades. That active management works. That protecting the environment and providing for OHV use is not mutually exclusive. That claims of user conflict and environmental damage are vastly overstated. And that when push comes to shove, the OHV community has shown themselves to be credible partners to the federal land managers, providing everything from funds to volunteers to leadership in outdoor ethics.
"Highlights from GAO Study on OHV Use"
"What GAO found"
The report, titled Enhanced Planning Could Assist Agencies in Managing Increased Use of Off-Highway Vehicles, was requested by Arizona Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. The report is available online at: http://www.gao.gov/Products/GAO-09-509
The report makes four recommendations: The first recommendation is for the Forest Service to identify additional strategies to achieve the agency's goal of improving OHV management, as well as time frames for monitoring progress of OHV plan implementation. The second is for the BLM to enhance the agency's existing "Priorities for Recreation and Visitor Services" by establishing performance measures and time frames for carrying out its stated goals for OHV recreation. The third recommendation is for both agencies to enhance communication with the public about OHV trails and areas through, for example, developing user-friendly signs and maps to improve visitors' experiences. The fourth is for BLM and Forest Service to examine fine amounts across various U.S. district courts to determine the range of fines for OHV-related violations and petition appropriate judicial authorities to make modifications where warranted.
Points to Ponder...
Fully fund it or don't allow it
The anti-OHV groups are pushing for a requirement that OHV use be fully funded or the trails not be designated as open to OHV use.
The GAO report states:
In addition, a majority of officials reported they cannot sustainably manage their existing OHV use areas; sustainable management would include having the necessary human and financial resources to ensure compliance with regulations, educate users, maintain OHV use areas, and evaluate the OHV program.
The anti-OHV groups will attempt to use Each year, wealthy, private foundations give over 10 million dollars to so-called "environmental groups" for the purpose of eliminating vehicle-based recreation. That kind of lobbying power can buy you congressional hearings and government studies designed to support your legislative agenda. BRC's Greg Mumm regularly travels to Washington D.C. in order to give the other side of the story. this statement to advance their 'fully fund it or don't allow it' standard. OHV users must point to the fact that this statement is true for any program in any federal land managing agency. Whatever the program; wildlife, infrastructure, capital improvements, roads maintenance, even maintenance of Wilderness trails, the sentence is true for every one of them.
Such a standard should be applied across the board. It is not fair to apply it just to one user group. With the exception of sportsmen, OHV users are the only user group who stepped up to the plate and taxed ourselves, via OHV registration fees, to help pay to maintain our trails.
The GAO recommends BLM and Forest Service examine fine amounts across various U.S. district courts to determine the range of fines for OHV-related violations and petition appropriate judicial authorities to make modifications where warranted. This is a reasonable recommendation; however, we maintain OHV users, who often supplement law enforcement with OHV registration dollars, want the enforcement to be effective. Increasing fines alone will not do the job. A state-by-state approach is important here because law enforcement on federal lands is often performed by a variety of agencies, including federal, state, and county law enforcement officers.
Repeat a lie often enough...
The GAO report misstates a statement made in 2004 by then Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth:
"In fact, in 2004, the Forest Service Chief identified unmanaged motorized recreation as one of the top four threats to national forests... "
Actually, Chief Bosworth said "unmanaged recreation," not "unmanaged motorized recreation," is one of the four threats.
Displacement means "mitigate first closure last" approach best
In addition, officials at two field units we visited said they have seen an increase in OHV use on their units because of OHV closures on nearby state and private lands. For example, Park Service officials from Big Cypress National Preserve said that both private and public lands in South Florida have been closed to OHV use, leading to increased OHV use in the preserve. Similarly, Forest Service officials from the Tonto National Forest said that OHV use has increased since the state of Arizona closed lands near Phoenix to OHV use in an effort to reduce dust pollution.
The amount of closures has reached a critical mass. Each trail is now much more valuable. Closures mean displacing and concentrating users, resulting in more, not less, environmental damage.
The GAO report found that management actions such as signing, maps and user involvement works.
—For more information and links, visit: www.sharetrails.org/public_lands
BlueRibbon Magazine, September 2009