Del Albright - Land Use and Access, Rubicon Trail, & Volunteer Training

...to Inspire, Motivate & Facilitate...
 

UNMANAGED RECREATION

By Don Amador

Western Representative, BlueRibbon Coalition, Inc.

2004 Annual Conference
Western Outdoor Writers (WOW)
Reno , NV October 22, 2004
*Updated December 20, 2004

I want to thank Burt Carey and the Western Outdoor Writers for inviting me to attend and speak at their 2004 Annual Conference here at the Silver Legacy Resort and Casino in Reno , Nevada .  It seems only appropriate for the Western Outdoor Writers to kick off their inaugural convention in a state where outdoor recreation is such an integral part of the culture of this area.

Outdoor recreation is my favorite topic. As a native of Humboldt County in Northern California ,  I grew up trout fishing in the many streams and rivers on the coast.  My dad gave me my first firearm at the age of twelve and that .22 rifle remains my favorite.  I remember going quail hunting in the corn fields and river bottoms near Pepperwood in the heart of the Redwood Empire. And, riding my Honda Trail 90 on forest trails in the Eureka area.

Today, I am proud to be working for the BlueRibbon Coalition, a national non-profit trail based recreation group that champions responsible use of public and private lands. I have served with that organization in various capacities since 1990.

From 1994-2000 I served on the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission at California State Parks.  As chairman of that group for several years, I became very familiar with the many challenges, opportunities, and – yes - solutions that are associated with off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation on public lands.

With that background,  my curiosity was aroused when the public affairs officer for Region 5 of the USDA Forest Service, Matt Mathes, called in the spring of 2003 and invited me to attend the rollout of Chief Dale Bosworth’s now famous or infamous speech titled: Managing the National Forest System: Great Issues and Great Diversions.

I arrived early for that event that was taking place at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco .  Chief Bosworth made himself available beforehand to visit with various recreationists, environmentalists, and reporters who attended the speech.   After speaking with Bosworth, I talked to Glenn Martin of the SF Chronicle about public land management issues and what I saw as some of the agency hurdles.  At the end of that conversation, I asked Martin to be sure and query the Chief if increased recreation funding was part of his vision. 

SUBJECT OVERVIEW

For the sake of this discussion, the term OHV includes any motorized vehicle that travels off of a paved road on public lands.   Many states including California and federal land agencies often count their visitor use days based on the number of vehicles (both off-road and street licensed) that travel on dirt or non-paved roads.

It is my belief that Bosworth’s speech wrongly focused too sharply on the term “unmanaged recreation.”  While I agree that unmanaged recreation is a problem in certain areas, I feel that the agency has placed too much of an emphasis on a negative philosophy.  Rather, the Forest Service should have highlighted many of their successful “managed recreation” sites as examples of how to address increased OHV use of public lands.

Increased OHV use on public lands should have not come as a surprise to the Chief when he basically stated that, “At one time, we didn’t manage the use of off-highway vehicles…”  While that may be have been a correct perception,  some states in the West have known for a long time that the public demand for vehicle access to forest or desert lands has been on the increase for several decades.  Recent statistics show that approximately 14 percent of the US population participates in some form of  “OHV” recreation.

That realization in the 1970s was the onus for the creation of the California OHV  “Green Sticker” program to help fund trail projects and conservation efforts on government lands.  Other states that have similar programs include; Oregon , Washington ,

Idaho , Colorado , Michigan , and Wisconsin .

RECOGNIZE THE PROBLEM

According to the Forest Service, OHV recreation is enjoyed by more than 36 million people on a national basis.  Rather than recreationists being the “problem,” I submit that the lack of prioritization or commitment to recreation management by federal agencies, the administration, and Congress has resulted in some degradation of resources in the urban interface or other high use areas.

When interviewing agency recreation staff – off the record – they will tell you that “recreation management” is often at the bottom of the unit’s priority list.  In recent years, what little funds are appropriated for OHV and other recreation management activities have been redirected to pay for wildfire suppression or other non-recreation projects.

Unmanaged recreation is not the problem, it is the lack of commitment by agency leadership to enact existing and proven OHV management prescriptions that protect resources while allowing for a quality motorized recreational experience on public lands.

HIGHLIGHT AND EMULATE SUCCESSFUL OHV PROGRAMS

According to some critics -both inside and outside of the federal government - of OHV recreation, things have gone to hell in a hand basket.  No success stories are cited by the Chief in the speech.  Cross-country travel is blamed for resource impacts, yet for many decades cross-country travel was a legal and accepted form of public land use.  In fact, some Forests even encouraged said use in areas identified in their travel management plans of the 1970s and 1980s or Forest-wide per Forest Plans.

The good news is that several decades ago – without direction from Washington DC   - some user groups and federal agency units realized that uncontrolled cross-country travel by OHV was unsustainable at popular urban sites or destination recreation areas.  Let’s review one case study of just such an example:

CASE STUDY - MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST

As the 1960’s OHV phenomenon occurred and said use skyrocketed on some Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, the often encouraged practice of allowing uncontrolled cross-country travel and unplanned OHV use on firebreaks was recognized by conservation minded users and forward thinking agency officials as ecologically unsustainable.

Using best management practices and regulations, Mendocino National Forest staff started to address erosion and the habitat impacts to the resource by uncontrolled OHV use.  Severe hill climbs were closed and rehabilitated.  Trails were rerouted and engineered to accept OHV use.  Water bars and the subsequent rolling-dips were incorporated into trail design and construction.  Routes were identified and signed.

Public information kiosks were installed.  Maps were printed; Campgrounds were hardened to address sanitation and erosion concerns.  Partnerships with local OHV clubs, user groups, and the state OHV green sticker program were formed to protect and promote responsible OHV use on public lands.  A local ad hoc advisory group meets each year with Forest Service staff to review issues and find solutions.

The Mendocino National Forest is not the only example of good OHV management.  In Oregon , the Deschutes National Forest is the lead agency for a high quality OHV recreation program on Forest Service and BLM lands near Bend .  The Los Padres National Forest near Los Angeles has also enacted a well-managed OHV program.

SUMMARY

I agree with Bosworth’s goals to better manage OHV recreation.  Several years before the Chief launched his speech, the BRC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Washington Office of the Forest Service to help the agency with recreation management objectives. Recreation management is not a new idea, but rather a dynamic process that involves users, agency staff, partners, and other interests. Most importantly it requires that DC leadership and Congress prioritize agency recreation management programs.

Without that support, I feel that current endeavors such at the new Proposed Rule on USFS Travel Management may fail to meet their desired objectives.

The truth is that recreation and trails funding continues to decline for related on-the-ground public services.  Trail funds are being redirected to other non-recreation programs to the extent that some recreation agency staff may be terminated.  As outdoor journalists, you must play an important role in this debate. # # #  

Related Story: Del Albright Elected to WOW Board of Directors

Copyright © 2000 - 2015 by Del Albright, Albright Enterprises
All rights reserved by US Copyrights Office. Use of material on this web site available by permission only.