During a recent camping/fishing/hiking/riding trip in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, I came across two OHV riders mud bogging in a beautiful little meadow. What a mess!! Naturally, I accosted the fellows - both old enough to know better - and gave them my little talking-to pointing out that what they were doing was strictly illegal, could result in a substantial fine, and was damaging a valuable resource. They professed ignorance that their activities were illegal, promised to stay on the legal trail, and we amicably parted ways. Upon return to the real world a few days later, I reported the damage to the appropriate B-D District Office, emphasized that RCORUA would like to volunteer our services to help them remediate the problem, and offered several suggestions about how to block the lower end of the meadow to prevent further damage. The Recreation Specialist I spoke with thanked me for the report, seemed delighted that RCORUA was interested in being part of the solution, and promised to be in touch soon. We'll keep you informed about how this develops.
As part of my little talk I give to OHV enthusiasts when I encounter violators, I point out that not only are they breaking the law, but also they are providing excuses to radical environmentalists and Federal Agencies to pursue their exclusionary agendas. If a greenie were in possession of the accompanying photograph, it would be splashed all over their websites, provided to the press, and shown in Congressional hearings as evidence to support the stereotype of OHV riders as crazed, beer guzzling, irresponsible red necks intent on trashing public lands. It's like giving bullets to your enemy and then being surprised when you get shot at.
RCORUA has always advocated for responsible uses of public lands. Riding our OHVs on public lands is a privilege granted to us by the public. Along with that privilege comes responsibilities, and those responsibilities include staying on designated roads and trails: Off route travel of wheeled vehicles is strictly forbidden on all public lands (with a few exceptions such as dune areas), and it is our responsibility to comply with that law. It is also in our best interests to raise the awareness of non-members of what constitutes responsible and lawful behavior on public land. We do so with our educational program (we reached 700 school kids this year!!), setting a good role model by being responsible ourselves, being active in our volunteer program, and with peer pressure. I'm quite certain that the two guys I spoke to in the above example will think twice before they trash another meadow.
On the other hand, it is also true that Federal Agencies have failed miserably to provide adequate responsible opportunities for OHV recreation. And that problem is getting worse with every Forest Plan and every Travel Plan. Somehow, Federal Agencies have failed to get the message that one of the keys to managing OHV recreation is to provide responsible, sustainable opportunities to OHV enthusiasts that makes it possible for us to ride responsibly. The implementation of the Travel Planning Rule (TMR) is particularly counterproductive: The TMR directs Forests to designate, by vehicle type and season of use, an adequate network of responsible OHV routes on their Forest. Yet every Travel Plan released so far closes about 50% of the currently available routes to motorized travel! I wish someone would explain to me how the Forest Service proposes to encourage responsible OHV behavior by closing half of the existing OHV routes!! Clearly, under the influence of wealthy and litigious environmental groups, the Travel Management Planning process has sadly morphed into an exclusionary agenda. It is an alarming commentary on dysfunctional processes in Washington, DC when environmental extremists through influence, intimidation and endless lawsuits can pervert a well-intentioned process such as Travel Management to serve their radical agendas.
Dan Thompson is a member of the Ravalli County Off Road User Association (RCORUA). RCORUA is a group of about 400 citizens who advocate for public access to public lands. The entire RCORUA newsletter from which this article is taken is available on the Association's website www.rcorua.org.
The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, outreach, education, and collaboration among recreationists. 1-800-BLUERIB - http://www.sharetrails.org.