September 9, 2014
What is Wilderness? In common usage, “wilderness” is used to describe lands that represent some idyllic notion of preservation, calm, ecological balance, and psychological escape. In the public lands world, Wilderness is a formal land designation that can be accomplished only by Congress. The 1964 Wilderness Act was the product of 8 years of Congressional debate requiring 60 bill drafts to reach an agreement. The Act is considered a crowning achievement by some, but it represents perhaps the most restrictive language in the preservation world, defining Wilderness as a place “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” 16 U.S.C. 1131. The 1964 Act prohibits commercial enterprises, roads, motorized vehicles or equipment, landing of aircraft, mechanical transport, or any structure or installation. 16 U.S.C. 1133. You cannot ride a mountain bike in Wilderness. You cannot even pull a wheeled cart to remove elk quarters since that is considered “mechanical transport.”
How much Wilderness Do We Have – Do We Need More? In Colorado, there are about 3.7 million acres of Congressionally designated Wilderness in our National Forests or approximately 15% of all USFS lands. Another 210,984 acres of Wilderness are located within Colorado’s BLM boundaries and 306,081 acres are located in Colorado’s National Parks. In total, there are 4.2 million acres of designated Wilderness in Colorado. This is an area larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined! Across all agencies, there is over 107 million acres of designated Wilderness nationally!
If we somehow wanted to “maximize” our Wilderness by putting all lands under Wilderness designation, we could not as the remaining undesignated lands do not meet the lofty standards of the 1964 Act. Through a web of statutes, regulations, and bureaucratic directives, the agencies have for decades studied lands with possible Wilderness characteristics. For instance, the San Juan Forest contains a total of 1.867 million acres of National Forest System lands, of which 755,954 acres are Wilderness created by Congress in 1975, 1980 and 1993. (PDF link). Many of the remaining lands were specifically “released” by Congress from future consideration as Wilderness, or have been studied by the agency and deemed unsuitable for Wilderness designation. Finally, visitor use statistics do not suggest that we need more Wilderness. Nationally, only about 5 percent of user visits to the Forest System are in Wilderness areas. The visitation figure for the Rocky Mountain region is even lower, about 4 percent, despite over 15% of USFS lands in Colorado being Congressionally designated Wilderness. (PDF link). Congress has amply addressed both need and demand for Wilderness in Colorado.
Wilderness Economics: Wilderness advocates frequently claim new Congressional designations of Wilderness areas will drive economic growth, which claims are supported by generalized assertions by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) research findings that outdoor recreation is $646 Billion dollar a year industry. The relationship of this research and Congressionally designated Wilderness is unclear at best, as the OIA research specifically includes valuations of activities such as motorized recreation, Bicycling, RV camping, and Snowmobiling. (PDF link) The lack of clarity in this relationship is based on the fact these activities are illegal in Congressionally designated Wilderness areas.
In reality, most Americans are, for various reasons, unable or unwilling to enlist in the rigorous adventures of Congressionally designated Wilderness areas. The hunting community has concluded that ” access is the most important factor associated with hunting participation that is not a time-related or demographic factor—in other words, the most important factor over which agencies and organizations can have an important influence.” This research continues: ” Data show that hunters use many different modes of transportation to access the land on which they hunt: 70% use a car or truck (by far the top mode of transportation), followed by walking (51%) and ATV (16%)” (PDF link)
While Wilderness advocates have provided a wide range of their own research to support the position that recreational usage of Wilderness is an economic driver, USFS research does not support this position. USFS research and conclusions are based on over 20 years of user group research, and generally recognized as the best available science. These conclusions are clear and find users excluded by a Congressional Wilderness designation spend far more per day than those choosing to recreate in Wilderness areas. (PDF link) The lower per day per visitor spending profile of Wilderness users compounds concerns regarding the limited visitation of the public to Congressionally designated Wilderness areas for recreation. Other researchers have stated this relationship as follows: “The argument often stated by the environmental community that Wilderness is good for local economies is simply not supported by the data. When comparing Wilderness and Non-Wilderness Counties, Wilderness Counties are at an economic disadvantage to their Non-Wilderness counterparts.” (Article Link).
Wilderness and Forest Health Well, if Wilderness does not create economic growth, is that an acceptable tradeoff for the extreme protection of Mother Earth and the ecological sanctity we create through Wilderness? Absolutely not. Hundreds of millions of humans have tipped the ecological balance, and our impacts must be managed. There is a tension inherent in the concept of Wilderness, that areas will be “healthy” if they are left alone. However, our forests face broad-scale ecological threats that require well designed management responses that do not stop at the Wilderness boundary. In Colorado, we only need to look outside to see the devastation tied to catastrophic wildfires and the pine and spruce beetle outbreaks. An ecological imbalance developed over time because “widespread treatments in lodgepole pine stands that would have created age class diversity, enhanced the vigor of remaining trees, and improved stand resiliency to drought or insect attack—such as timber harvest and thinning — lacked public acceptance. Proposals for such practices were routinely appealed and litigated, constraining the ability of the Forest Service to manage what had become large expanses of even-aged stands susceptible to a bark beetle outbreak.” (PDF link). Factors leading to this perfect ecological storm included “[l]imited accessibility of terrain (only 25% of the outbreak area was accessible due to steep slopes, lack of existing roads, and land use designations such as Wilderness that precluded treatments needed to reduce susceptibility to insects and disease).”
The Wilderness Lobby Today’s “environmentalists” are not counter culture heroes fighting the establishment from the back of a rainbow hued microbus. They are sophisticated, well-funded organizations who pay their talent as much or more as their counterparts in corporate America, with the blessing of “our” government. The Wilderness Society is a tax-exempt nonprofit leader in the Wilderness advocacy movement. Its 2011 IRS filings list annual revenue of about 25 million, with listed employees’ annual compensation ranging from $200,000 to $421,664! (PDF link). This doesn’t include their lawyers, who work for separate nonprofit organizations, such as Earthjustice, which the IRS considers “public interest” law firms, whose top employees in 2012 received from $156,000 to $395,114. PDF link. Their mission is to create more Wilderness. They aren’t ever going to be “finished.”
Please join us in maintaining diverse recreation and calling ENOUGH on Wilderness in Colorado.
Trails Preservation Alliance
Archive | September, 2014
September 9, 2014
2014 Colorado 600
by Mike Hawkins firstname.lastname@example.org
Riding off-highway vehicles (dirt bikes) was my favorite pastime growing up. My dad and I rode together. My friends and I rode together. We raced together. On most any weekend, starting when I was 12 years old, we were riding for fun or racing competitively-in enduros, hill climbs, flat track, and motocross. I credit dirt bike riding as a youth for building my self-esteem, keeping me out of trouble, and teaching me many valuable life lessons learned from being an athlete in a competitive sport. While no longer racing, dirt bike riding is still one of my favorite activities and something that my children and I do together as often as we can. Dirt bike riding is a great family activity that I hope we can all enjoy for generations to come.
Studies on OHV recreation find that around a quarter of the US population is involved in some type of OHV recreation. Yet in recent years many of our country’s public riding areas have been closed to motorized use. While OHV recreation is a growing pastime for tens of millions of people, the availability of public lands for our use is shrinking. We are at a point now that our public lands are not very public anymore. Many parks and forests are now off limits to those of us who choose to recreate on motorized vehicles.
In defense of the land managers who have closed trails and made decisions against motorized use, there have been trails that needed to be closed. Some trails endangered our country’s precious wildlife habitats and environment. There were also a few motorized users who rode irresponsibly and deserved to be banned from selected riding areas. However, these users are the exception and not the rule. Most motorized users are responsible people with many being highly respected professionals including doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and preachers.
As a concerned citizen about maintaining abundant OHV recreation opportunities for my family and friends, I joined several others in Summit County Colorado in 2006 to resurrect an old OHV club called SCORR-Summit County Off-Road Riders. We formed the club with three objectives in mind-to:
1. Establish a common voice for our local user group.
2. Protect our right to ride on public lands.
3. Change the local perception of our user group.
To establish a common voice, we recruited club members through advertisements, booths at local events, participation in local parades, hosting of club meetings, and our website ( www.SCORR.org ). We also leveraged other OHV organizations such as the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition ( www.COHVCO.org ) and the Colorado Trails Preservation Alliance ( www.ColoradoTPA.org ) to spread the word about our club.
To protect our riding privilege, we met with local, state, and national land managers including national forest supervisors, district rangers and staff, county open space managers, county commissioners, and other elected officials. We let them know about our club and our intent to promote responsible off-highway recreation on their lands. We asked for their support and offered our support to them in return.
To change the local perception that our user group was irresponsible, we instituted trail maintenance and clean up days. During the summer, we work one day a month to maintain our local trails. We promote “stay the trail” ( www.staythetrail.org ) riding. We volunteer to help the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District ( www.FDRD.org ). We educate our club members on responsible riding through our messaging and the example we set. We have a number of our members who have earned crew chief designation who lead trail maintenance projects.
As a club, our first major project was in an area called the Golden Horseshoe. This is a 6000 acre area of trails in the heart of Summit County partially located within the Breckenridge town limits. The Golden Horseshoe is jointly managed by the White River National Forest, Summit County, the town of Breckenridge, and a few private land owners. We participated in a multi-user group task force that was established to determine the fate of over a hundred miles of single track, ATV, and 4×4 trails. By participating, we were able to keep many of motorized trails as well as create a few new ones that were reroutes of existing trails considered unsustainable.
Our second major project was to replace an old user-created motocross track in the Keystone area that was located on property owned by Summit County. By working with county open space staff and the general public through a county appointed task force, we were able to reach a compromise that was acceptable to all parties. We agreed to terms in regard to time-of-day use, seasonal use, and the location of the track. We designed and built the track as a subsidiary club with membership dues to fund the management and maintenance of the track ( www.tenderfoottrackclub.com ).
Our 3rd major project was in an area near Keystone called the Tenderfoot Mountain that is managed by the White River National Forest. Many miles of single track trails were closed to motorized use as part of the forest service’s Travel Management Planning process. We appealed the travel management plan and requested that the trails be reopened for continued motorized use. We established ourselves as a 501C3 nonprofit organization, secured grants, conducted noises studies, completed environmental assessments, and performed wildlife impact assessments. We met with elected officials, attended community open-house events, and participated in a task force with local homeowners. After several years of work and many compromises, we won approval to build 20+ miles of new trails.
There is still much more work to be done in our local community, but we are proud of what we have accomplished so far. Our club is also honored to have been awarded with two COHVCO “club of the year” awards. My colleague Chuck Ginsburg has also been honored with an FDRD crew leader “volunteer of the year” award. When I think about our success, I believe it comes down to a few key principles:
If you are an OHV user, you know we still have a lot of work to do. Actually, our work has just begun. We have many trails that need to be reopened, rerouted, and newly built. We have been attacked by individuals and special interest groups who have been irrational, yet influential in closing motorized access to our public lands. Let’s recognize that these groups are no more passionate about their cause than we are about ours. They are no smarter than we are. They have been winning simply because they have been more active as a user group than we have been. Let’s be honest-we have not been giving our right to ride the attention and effort that it deserves.
If you agree that maintaining our OHV riding privilege on public lands is a cause worth fighting for, join me in being more involved. Rather than be frustrated or complain about losing our right to ride on public lands, do something about it. Recruit your family and friends to become advocates for our cause. Join your local club, or create a club if one doesn’t exists. Join your state and national organizations like the TPA, COHVCO, BRC ( www.ShareTrails.org ), and AMA ( www.AmericanMotorcyclist.com ). Get to know your local land managers and help them support the building and maintenance of motorized trails.
I propose we all adopt this OHV manifesto:
Mike Hawkins email@example.com
Join – join local, state, and national OHV organizations. Show support, be counted, and stay informed.
Volunteer – volunteer time to OHV organizations. Provide the much needed help with administration, fund raising, events, and countless other activities.
Give – give money to OHV organizations. When they ask, give. Help fund and sponsor events, advertising, facilities, equipment, legal defense, and other activities that support our cause.
Write – write letters every time an OHV organization makes a request to do so. Your concerns and opinions are of no value if they are not communicated and counted.
Comment – give feedback to land managers and elected officials every time they do something OHV related (good or bad). Provide editorial commentaries to newspapers, magazines, and online channels.
Show up – be present for OHV related government hearings and task-force meetings. Rightly or wrongly, attendance at these meetings is perceived to reflect the broader public’s interests.
Respect – respect your OHV riding privilege. Ride responsibly. Obtain any required permits. Stay the trail. When communicating our cause, be respectful and respected by being candid, but also polite, constructive, and professional.
Support – stay on good terms with land managers. Meet with them and build relationships. Make it easy for them to be supporters of our user group. Ask how you can help them be OHV advocates and help them do it. Provide housing for trail maintenance crews. Become a crew leader. Support and encourage them in their efforts to advance OHV initiatives.
SCORR promotes responsible off-road motorcycle recreation in Summit County, Colorado. We work in cooperation with local land managers to preserve our riding privilege and a high-quality recreation experience. We advocate good stewardship of our public lands and respect for other trail users. We can be recognized by the example we set when riding, our volunteer work in maintaining trails, and our efforts to educate other off-road motorcycle users.
Day Zero – The Trails Preservation Alliance trailer is set up with KTM and Dunlop at the Colorado 600.
Great start to this great event!
Be sure to check out the Trails Preservation Alliance Facebook page for more photos and updates!