TPA/COHVCO joint response to the DeGette wilderness bill


March 10, 2010

  This is the first TPA/COHVCO joint response to the DeGette wilderness bill, submitted for the U.S congressional record.

The Honorable Raul Grijalva Chairman House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands
United States House of Representatives
1440 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0307

The Honorable Rob Bishop
Ranking Minority Member
House Subcommittee on
National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands
United States House of Representatives
123 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4401

Dear Chairman Grijalva and Ranking Member Bishop:

We are writing in opposition to H.R. 4289, the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2009 sponsored by Representative Diana DeGette and scheduled for hearing on March 11, 2010, in the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. Please incorporate into the record the following comments and attachments of the Colorado Off-highway Vehicle Coalition, (COHVCO) and the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA). Additionally, the American Motorcyclist Association and its sister organization the All-Terrain Vehicle Association opposes H.R. 4289.

COHVCO is a volunteer based non-profit conservation organization that has focused on preserving and enhancing opportunities for all off-highway vehicle (OHV), and snowmobile users in Colorado since 1987. COHVCO represents nearly 200,000 Coloradoans, and thousands of visitors from outside Colorado, who enjoy recreating on our public lands with off-highway vehicles. We represent motorcycle, 4WD, ATV and snowmobile enthusiasts. COHVCO, its participating clubs, and enthusiasts not only provide thousands of volunteer hours, but also contribute over $2.5 million dollars each year to public lands, through Colorado’s OHV Registration Grant Program. These funds provide maintenance, signage, restoration and opportunity on trails and roads on federal public lands in Colorado and are indispensable given continuing cutbacks in federal funding in these areas. These funds also contribute to enforcement activities and education programs for motorized recreation enthusiasts.

The Trails Preservation Alliance is a Colorado based IRS 501(c) (3) organization. It represents over 2500 members (of which a majority are military veterans), who are dedicated to preserving public access to public lands. The TPA has generated over $500K in OHV funding to the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to build and preserve single track trails for all recreational user groups. The TPA is dedicated to public recreation on public lands. The TPA has a long history of working with Region 2 of the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and other state and federal agencies in Colorado.

A recently completed study on the economic contribution to the State of Colorado by both winter and summer motorized recreation showed that these activities are responsible for about 12,000 jobs and a cash flow of over $ 1 billion. Many of the jobs and a significant part of the total cash flow benefit smaller communities located within or near large tracts of federal public lands. In addition, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) estimates that approximately 70% of hunters use OHVs (almost exclusively ATVs) to facilitate their hunt and use 4 wheel drive vehicles to reach the general area of the hunt. Additional loss of access for this majority of hunters could have a negative effect on game management and hunter success.

Not one acre of any of the land recommended for Wilderness designation in Representative DeGette’s bill is located within her district and the people and communities most affected by her proposal are not her constituents. Therefore they have no opportunity to show their opposition or support by voting for or against her in any election. In order to avoid problems and conflicts within the state and amongst organizations and local governments, the process of developing a Wilderness bill must include all affected parties. This collaborative process was not present in the development of the DeGette bill.

While Representative DeGette’s website describes this proposal as a “Citizen’s Wilderness Proposal”, and claims that all stake holders have been involved, neither COHVCO, TPA nor any of their individual members or member clubs were contacted or asked for input to avoid conflict with existing multiple use (including, but not limited to motorized) activities. The maps posted on her website that show the individual areas proposed for Wilderness designation are so poor in quality and lacking in any geo-reference information that it has proven to be extremely difficult and time consuming to perform any analysis for any potential conflicts. With one exception, all of the maps appear to have been created by the Colorado Environmental Coalition, an avowed anti-motorized access group.

Individuals who actually live near, and recreate in the areas identified as suitable for Wilderness designation by Representative DeGette have, on their own initiative, provided comments identifying access conflicts. By their very nature, these existing uses violate the criteria for consideration as Wilderness. Those site specific comments are shown in the attachment titled On the Ground Comments. In addition, the attachment also contains a sampling of detailed map examples that show the existing conflicts and shortcomings of the maps presented on Representative DeGette’s website.

In summary, our objections to H.R 4289 can be identified as a failure to subject this legislation to previous review by all affected parties, a failure to consider the negative economic consequences to a faltering economy in the most difficult of times, a failure to consider far more practical and less restrictive means of protecting lands short of a Wilderness designation, and the lack of identification of conflicts in areas as identified by the sponsor’s maps.

Parts I through III, following, contain more detailed comments on substantive and procedural flaws in the content of and process of development of H.R. 4289.

Part I
The Public and the Resource are better served by Designations other than Wilderness; such options were not considered

By some estimates, the population of Colorado will triple in the next 35 years. The current, greatest demand for public lands is for recreation of all forms allowed under the Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act. Couple this with a Colorado population that is, at this very moment, growing dramatically older, and Wilderness designation becomes a poor choice. Americans are looking for viable alternatives to Wilderness that are friendlier to the majority of the recreating public.

Further, Wilderness designations are not in the best interests of Americans. A century or more ago, mining, mineral and timber production, and protection of watersheds were of critical importance to the nation. Extraction was the primary activity on public land then. It now appears obvious that the predominant use of public land in the 21st century may well be recreation. A recent National Visitor Use Monitoring study for the USFS shows very interesting results.

Table 1. National visitation estimate for the National Forest System, for fiscal year 2007.
Table 1

(see downloadable PDF at the bottom of this page for better view of table above)

This USFS data demonstrates that only 3% of visits to National Forests are to designated Wilderness areas. The study goes on to demonstrate that there is a decrease in the length of visits, and that preferred visits are those to developed facilities, from campgrounds, to trailheads, and resorts. The means of access to enjoy these resources is most often motorized, whether it is via auto, or off-highway vehicle.

Millions of acres of wild lands in Colorado are already protected as Wilderness; specifically, 3.5 million acres. But this is only a small part of the complete picture. Over 4.8 million acres of Forest Service Lands are designated as Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA). Colorado has 2 National Parks and 6 National Monuments including a list of non-multiple use prescriptions such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern that, once added to the unusable and impassable areas of the mountains and canyon lands, leaves precious little left for a state and a nation seeking recreational opportunity and release.

All forms of motorized and mechanized recreation are prohibited in Wilderness and that includes the simple but beloved family outing by car to view the land.

The following table is a summary of the Inventoried Roadless Areas
Inventoried Roadless Areas
(see downloadable PDF at the bottom of this page for better view of table above)

While some areas shown above are worthy of the Wilderness prescription, and no one is arguing the set aside of lands for National Parks and Monuments, the fact must be faced that the management prescriptions for these lands severely limit access to a significant majority of the recreating public. Wilderness areas, above all other designations, are available only to an elite few with the time and physical capability to enjoy them. The vast majority of citizens find Wilderness an obstacle to their enjoyment of public lands. Further, the amount of congressionally designated Wilderness to date has far surpassed the amount of Wilderness contemplated in the original Wilderness Act of 1964.

How far have we moved from the promises of the Wilderness Act? The USFS has recommended 11,000 acres of Wilderness from 4.8 million acres in Colorado IRAs. Yet what began as an inventory has been translated into a limited use prescription despite the absence of suitability as Wilderness. De facto Wilderness is not provided for in law and it can be argued violates the Multiple Use Act and the National Environmental Policy ACT.

Some lands in Colorado do need protection and this protection is available in practical and useful designations that can be tailored to fit resource values and public need equally well without locking out much of the population and threatening the very security of the nation by forever holding precious commodities out of reach in times of crisis and need.

In short, the vast majority of lands held up as suitable for Wilderness not only do not meet the criteria of the Wilderness Act, but most are clearly at odds with what the land management professionals believe should be managed as Wilderness. Congress has two well known tools that provide answers to administrative paralysis; National Conservation Areas and National Recreation Areas (NCA and NRA respectively). COHVCO and TPA also support a third designation developed by the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a nationally respected recreational advocacy group. That alternative is the Back Country Recreation Area, which will protect the land but will also allow it to be used and enjoyed by the public.

History has shown that administrative action has been unable to resolve the conflict associated with public land recreation and Inventoried Roadless Areas. It is imperative that Congress take some specific action to put this issue to rest. Congress needs to establish a land designation that provides the protection the public demands for these lands while at the same time providing the managing agencies with the necessary flexibility to respond to recreational demands and to address critical concerns of forest health, fire prevention and wildlife habitat enhancement.

Much of our public land reflects an undeveloped, back country character. Evidence of man’s activities may be present and obvious to a knowledgeable observer. However, this evidence is not dominant and the landscape is generally perceived as possessing natural, primitive, or back country characteristics. It is important that these characteristics be maintained under any land designation category established by Congress.

These lands provide a very valuable resource for recreational activities that allow people to experience and enjoy these natural appearing landscapes. They provide opportunities for people to escape from the pressures of large crowds and the more developed world. This can include a wide range of recreational activities including use of ATVs and off-highway motorcycles, hunting, snowmobiling, fishing, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and 4-wheel driving. At the same time, many of these lands are threatened by insect and disease epidemics, and by catastrophic wildfires that could destroy the very values that the public wants to see preserved. Therefore, it is essential that this land designation also allow the managing agencies the ability to apply the minimum level of management to deal with these threats.

Any management activities that are planned for these areas must also be subject to all the existing laws, regulations and policies that address the protection of the environment and cultural and historic resources. Any public land management process must also apply to these lands. In this way the public’s ability to participate in and influence the process is preserved.

The establishment of a Congressional Back Country land designation can achieve all of these objectives. The land will be protected and the public will still be able to experience and understand the values of these unique areas and the countless court cases and legal challenges can be reduced. Congress needs to begin the process to make this new land designation a reality.

Representative DeGette’s bill does not provide the best balance between protection of the resource and the public’s desire for recreation.

H.R. 4289 was not Developed with Input from all Recreational users nor was it Developed in full Cooperation with Local Government

The Colorado Off-highway Vehicle Coalition is the umbrella organization representing individuals and families that recreate with all-terrain vehicles, trail bikes, full size 4 wheel drives, and snowmobiles. The approximately 200,000 individuals engaged in motorized recreation are represented locally by clubs all over Colorado. The Trails Preservation Alliance likewise has statewide participation. Representative DeGette’s bill shows a failure to engage the motorized recreation community in Colorado at any level. It further seems that not all local governments directly affected by this Wilderness proposal have been a part of the process. This raises further questions regarding the level of contact with sportsmen, mountain bikers, equestrians and other major recreational groups.

Without question, neither COHVCO nor TPA has ever been approached by Representative DeGette or her staff on this proposal. Representative DeGette is a Representative of the City of Denver proper and while it may be her prerogative to run legislation directly affecting constituents in other Districts, it should also certainly involve engaging important affected parties. None of the 50 plus COHVCO clubs has been approached and, indeed, some of those clubs, such as the Mile High Jeep Club, whose members live in the Denver Metropolitan area, and who are her constituents, were never contacted for their opinion. A critical element of their comments would relate to the numerous conflicts existing in the proposed Wilderness areas that infringe on the access and multiple use of such lands. These conflicts raise issues of suitability, and suitability is an essential element of a Wilderness proposal where land is withdrawn for what has been treated as final prescription.

Winter recreation has not been spared the negative impacts of the bill nor have the snowmobile clubs of Colorado been consulted. The Colorado Snowmobile Association, the statewide organization of snowmobile clubs has this to say about the legislation:

The process, or lack thereof, exhibited by the Congresswoman’s office has been unprofessional and completely lacking in representation of the citizens of Western Colorado. Our opposition to H.R. 4289 also encompasses the fact that this proposal is so very piecemeal in nature. There is little apparent consistency in the reasons for proposal other than appealing to a small constituency that wants exclusive access to public land and promotes a desire to close off large chunks of land to the majority of other users.

Colorado (using 2007 statistics) has 3,431,176 Wilderness acres made up of 41 Wilderness areas and covers over 5% of Colorado public land. Couple that with the 4.1 million acres proposed in Colorado’s Roadless Rule (another 6+% of Colorado public land) and much of the most beautiful part of Colorado is accessible by a minority population. A plethora of recreationists, motorized and non-motorized, are now denied the opportunity to recreate in these areas. Adding more closures through Wilderness is not in the best interest of Colorado residents or visitors.

Most, if not all, of the parcels in the Congresswoman’s proposal will have a negative impact on winter motorized recreation. The forests in Colorado do not restrict snowmobiles to designated trails (with a few rare exceptions in winter wildlife habitat areas) so most areas that get adequate snow are open to snowmobiling.

More specifically, we think it is fair to say that any of the parcels in Gunnison, San Juan, Hinsdale, Eagle and Garfield County would greatly affect winter activity.

These would be the West Elk Addition, Powderhorn Addition, Handies Peak, Redcloud Peak, Flat Tops Addition, Bull Gulch, Deep Creek, etc. Handies and Red Cloud are winter spots.

There are a few areas where the statement “BLM has prohibited motorized use” that may apply to summer use only. A couple of them are high altitude areas and the probability that these areas remain open to winter motorized use are high, but are not identified as such in the proposal.

The American people seek transparency in all matters of government including how their public lands are to be used. Providing website maps of a proposal that fails to identify all open roads and trails is not transparency. To the contrary it seems to indicate a guarded approach to a very public process.

Even more disconcerting is that not all County Commissioners have been consulted for their position on the impact of this bill and the various consequences to their constituents. Of course, when the bill seems to be attempting to stop future extraction of what may be critical resources, a job killing Wilderness bill of this magnitude is not a topic of polite conversation.

Part III
Failure of the DeGette Wilderness Maps to Include Sufficient Information on Transportation Systems within Proposed Wilderness Areas

The public information provided on Representative DeGette’s website does not meet the standard of quality that this issue requires. It is critical that these deficiencies be considered, as they relate directly to the suitability for Wilderness designation and analyses of the effects of the proposed action on surrounding communities.

See attached On The Ground Comments PDF & pdf (expandable) Conflict Analysis Maps.

The following is small sampling of map images that display the following features: The Pink areas are the boundaries of the proposed Colorado Wilderness Act (CWA). The Blue areas are the boundaries of the BLM Wilderness Study Areas (WSA). The pink and blue areas overlay to form a Purple layer that defines where study has been done and budgets have been used to determine the suitability of the land for wilderness designation.

The maps make it immediately apparent that the proposed wilderness segments far exceed the areas of study recommended by the agencies. Those segments that coincide with the National Forest Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA) were never intended to be wilderness, as that has a negative effect on many important National Forest programs in these areas.

The several types of bold Red lines show the actual road and trail networks that are de-emphasized or completely missing from Representative DeGette’s website. The absence of this critical information makes it impossible to determine what part of the terrain is actually suitable for wilderness designation.

It is clear that IRA and WSA studies were not properly considered in determining the appropriate boundaries for wilderness, and it is obvious that the pre-existing roads and trails in virtually every segment of the proposed Colorado Wilderness act make them unsuitable for wilderness designation.

There is a clear lack of accurate information necessary for local government and the public to make informed decisions.

Note: Please see the downloadable PDF’s for the above mentioned maps and the rest of this document & supporting documents below.

TPA/COHVCO Joint Response to the DeGette Wilderness Bill
Degette Wilderness Proposal on the Ground Comments
Degrette Wilderness Proposal Expandable Conflict Analysis Maps
COHVCO – Economic Contribution of Off-Highway Vechicle Recreation in Colorado