Managed vs. Unmanaged
I just returned from New Mexico where I attended the Annual Conference of the National Association of OHV Program Managers held in conjunction with the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) Annual Conference. In attendance were representatives from the U. S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and OHV land managers from various states as well as OHV enthusiasts.
The purpose of the joint annual conference is to share information on OHV recreation. A host of issues were addressed during the course of the conference, but the overall theme was "furthering a positive future for responsible OHV recreation." If I were to use one word to sum up the thrust of the conference that word would be "managed." In other words, OHV recreation should be managed, can be managed, and must be managed if access to public lands for this sport is to continue. And the land managers present, both federal and state officials, believe that they can do the job in a way that provides the OHV enthusiast an exciting experience while also protecting the environment. Certainly this is the goal of the Forest Service's Travel Management Rule and BLM's OHV Strategy.
While we, on occasion, express some frustration with certain details of the route designation process currently underway at the U. S. Forest Service, there is no question that "managed" recreation is the future. Land managers and OHV enthusiasts present benefited from listening to each other, sharing the latest ideas on trail management techniques, as well as finding common ground on how to preserve OHV riding opportunities and taking good care of our public lands.
Hats off to NOHVCC for organizing this conference. They do a wonderful job each year of facilitating understanding and cooperation on the part of all entities involved in OHV recreation.
Speaking of Managing... Congressional OHV Hearing
On March 13th, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on OHV issues. Russ Ehnes, Executive Director of NOHVCC, testified at the hearing and did an excellent job of explaining to the Subcommittee members that OHV recreation can and is being managed successfully on public lands throughout the U. S. ARRA submitted testimony as well and you can find out more about what was said at the hearing on our website (http://www.arra-access.com/ct/a1zUY2912SdK/).
Rumor has it that in coming weeks there might also be an OHV management hearing in the U. S. Senate. We will keep you posted on that once we learn more details about the scope of the proposed hearing.
Recreational Trails Program
In 2009, the Congress will begin work on another transportation authorization bill. For the recreation community, this reauthorization process is important because it includes reauthorizing the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).
RTP is financed through federal gas tax receipts paid by OHV enthusiasts who purchase gasoline for use in non-highway vehicles used for recreational use. In other words, for the fuel consumed by ATVs, snowmobiles, off-highway motorcycles and SUVs, the gas tax receipts associated with such use is used to fund a federal trails program that provides money for trail projects in all fifty states.
Motorized and non-motorized recreation organizations have supported RTP because all benefit from the program. Hiking trails, as well as OHV trails, can be built using the money generated from this program. Because of this widespread support among the larger recreation community, reauthorization of this program has never been in doubt. Rather, the debate usually centers on how much to authorize for the program.
The Congressional debate slated to begin in 2009 is likely to be a very different story. Storm clouds are gathering because organized highway interests would like to eliminate the RTP program altogether. They want the funds that were previously used to build recreational trails to be diverted to highway construction.
As budget pressures increase on the Federal Government and as the fiscal pie grows smaller, competing interests are gearing up for a tough fight. Highway interests are already sharpening their knives and are preparing to cut RTP entirely from the reauthorization measure. In 2008, the entire RTP program was only $80 million. To put things in perspective, it costs approximately $25 million to construct one mile of interstate highway. So, for a total of 3.2 additional miles of new highway construction, highway builders would like to decimate the Recreational Trails Program. We can't let them have their way.
The battle will not become intense until 2009. But, we are putting ARRA members on notice that the battle is coming and that we need to be prepared. We will keep you posted on further developments and some time in 2009, we will be asking you to contact your Member of Congress.
In the meantime, if you meet someone who happens to be running for the U.S. House or Senate, tell them that you support reauthorizing the RTP program and you want to know whether they do too. Politicians have a tendency to listen more closely to their constituents during in an election year. It's a funny thing about human nature. If you are asking someone for their vote, you tend to be a little more sensitive to their interests as well. So, take advantage of their keen listening skills and tell them how important the RTP program is to you and your family.
Regardless of whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, one cannot help but be fascinated by this year's presidential election. No matter what the outcome in November, a sitting U. S. Senator will be our next President. The last time that happened was when JFK was elected in 1960. We could have a former First Lady, an African American or a former POW as our President. Each candidate in his or her own way will be making history. And the important thing about that history making precedent, it's the American people who get to make the final decision.
So, we may all become a little battle weary about presidential politics and what seems like the endless campaigning by the presidential candidates, but I suspect we wouldn't want it any other way. Besides, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are really making it interesting these days. I guess we all need to stay tuned to see which one of them emerges as the candidate to take on John McCain. At this stage, it's impossible to predict who will be the eventual winner in November except to say it will be a U.S. Senator!
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access