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GOP plan would open more public land to off-road vehicles


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Tuesday, Feb. 07, 2012

WASHINGTON — Motorcyclists and ATV riders are revved up by a Republican plan that would remove restrictions on motorized access to 43 million acres of public land nationwide, while environmentalists say it would be a big mistake.

It's part of a broader debate on Capitol Hill over whether Congress should move to increase recreational opportunities on the nation's vast holdings of public land.

"Our public lands are intended to be multi-use in order to give the public full access to America's great outdoors," said Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Hastings and other critics have long complained that current federal policies put far too much land off limits for motorized access, making it impossible for motorcyclists and snowmobilers to take their vehicles to remote wilderness areas.

Opponents of the legislation say it eventually could lead to opening up more public land to oil and gas extraction, mining and logging, among other things.

Jim Akenson of Joseph, Ore., the executive director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a nonprofit conservation group, told a House subcommittee Wednesday that "there are plenty of places to ride off-road vehicles" on public lands.

"However," he said, "we must also have places — big, wild habitat — that is completely separate from the noise and disturbance that comes from motorized traffic. ... Once our backcountry is gone, there's no getting it back."

Testifying before the Natural Resources' subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands, representatives of off-highway vehicle groups from around the nation said it's time for Congress to loosen up the restrictions as a way to help their industry and the economy at the same time.

Dick Lepley, the owner of a dealership called Street Track 'N Trail in Conneaut Lake, Pa., and the executive director of the Pennsylvania Off-Highway Vehicle Association, said his dealership employs 50 people and pays more than $2 million in state and federal taxes in a good year.

"Clearly, the power sports industry contributes mightily to the nation's economy during both good times and bad, but regardless of the economy, nothing threatens dealerships and the industry at large like having no place to ride," Lepley said.

And Karen Umphress, a Minnesota recreational trail activist, said that in 2010 there were more than 360,000 off-highway vehicles registered in her state. Noting that Minnesota is the home to the headquarters of both Polaris and Arctic Cat, companies that make both snowmobiles and ATVs, Umphress said off-highway vehicles are used for everything from berry-picking and hunting and trapping to serving as replacements for cars.

"They are an important part of the lifestyle, culture and tourism within the state," she said.

The bill's chief sponsor is the House's third-ranked Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. When he introduced the legislation, McCarthy said that "millions of acres of land across the United States are being held under lock and key unnecessarily." He said his plan "is just common sense," adding that it would boost local economies and help create jobs. It would include public land that has been studied and recommended as not suitable for an official wilderness designation by either the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service.

Scott Jones, a board member of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition and vice president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, said McCarthy's bill "is a great first step." He said that off-highway vehicle riders have played an important role in keeping local economies healthy as other industries, such as mining and logging, have disappeared in some parts of the country.

"Many of the economic impacts are disproportionally located in small mountain towns, which would simply disappear without the income provided from those who are utilizing recreational opportunities on adjacent public lands," Jones said.

But Akenson, of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers told the panel, that members of Congress should not forget that "the economic value of wild lands and waters in America is huge," with billions of dollars spent on commercial outfitters who take people on float trips on rivers and horse and mule pack trips in mountains and canyons.

"These high-quality experiences are dependent on wild backcountry that is free from the noises of man's machines and high-tech devices," he said.

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My small Motherlode community used to depend on mining and logging, now both of those are pretty much regulated out of existence here. Many still use the area for OHV fun and they are being slowly squeezed out too.......It is our land isn't it? We have miles and miles of designated OHV trails on the Divide and I cannot legally ride my RZR on any of them because it is over 50" wide. Funny because the OHV sticker I am forced to buy is what pays for those areas. YES WE NEED TO ALLOW MUCH MORE USE OF OUR FORESTS!

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Perhaps the tide will begin to change as more and more people see the insanity of all these new and proposed rules and regulations that will effectively lock us out of our OWN LANDS if not stopped. It is actually frightening what is being proposed and lobbied for every day.

If one can not help physically at least donate a couple buck to those that are trying to help us!

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The two things that really piss me off in all this are:

1. I will (and probably should already) require some sort of mechanized vehicle to access the back country and will one day wind up in a wheel chair. It's a given for me, period. So all these a-holes who want to lock out even a cyclist's ability to enjoy nature need to rethink it for those of us who love getting out there, but physically can't without assistance. That nimrod talking about billions spent on float trips and such, and not wanting technology in the same sentence... What a lummox. There are several million spent on float trips, but cars get them to and from the water's edge. These folks aren't paying big money to carry an inflatable on their head for miles. The billions spent part is from outfitters... Who provide camping gear (new dangled tech, mined from the Earth) and vehicle accessories to get those tents to the camp sites.

You can't lump the two together like that. If so, then I'd like to take the option of lumping together truck sales, aftermarket parts and installation companies, trailer sales, outfitter sales, and OHV sales. Those numbers eclipse his outfitters and float trips on an order of magnitude he can't even begin to imagine, much less calculate.

2. These folks who want to lock it up from everyone except themselves for their own benefit. I am all about responsible multi-use.

I know I'm not popular in this but I am part of the group that got the AZ OHV sticker passed. It is that money that is being used to help pay for more Gme and Fish and other patrols to help keep lands open. When you buy a new OHV you get a packet. That was part of the deal. It is also paying for education classes to teach responsible rider- and steward-ship when using an OHV.

Just imagine if we'd stood idly by when the "copper sticker" as it was originally known came to fruition... Game and Fish held a few back room meetings and tried to take it all, the governor (Nappy) tried to gut the account (protections put in place to prevent that, but the bulldike tried) and there was a major SNAFU with MVD about how the sticker should be implemented.

The money from that sticker cannot be used for anything other than directly relating to OHV area improvements, trail creation/ maintenance, or enforcement on the ground. The last part is one of the biggest reasons given as to why areas get shut down "not enough budget to properly enforce the rules, so it is easier to shut it down."

Thanks to the economy tanking here in AZ, the program has not met goals of funding, but it is working and has the ability to work better.

The group that did this is AZOHVC (AZ Off Highway Vehicle Coalition) and it cost a lot in lobbyist fees and then an attorney to make sure no suits could be filed. Sure thos two got their money, the lobbyist was ~$5000 a month during he top of it all, but he got the job done and now we as Arizonanas have a way to fund our own trail and area improvements that won't cost us every time we go.

Trust me, when you work the system, you CAN make it work for you.

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