SEMA supports reasonable and responsible off-highway vehicle (OHV) access to public lands and opposes large-scale federal legislative and regulatory efforts to unfairly curtail or prohibit this access. Threats to OHV access typically take form in regulation such as the U.S. Forest Service’s so-called “Roadless Rule,” which sought to close off nearly 60 million acres to recreational access. SEMA also supports common-sense reforms to existing law, like the Endangered Species Act, which is often used as a method to restrict OHV use on public land.
Pending Regulatory Issues
New Forest Service Rule for Off-Highway Vehicle Use: Following recommendations made by SEMA, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced new regulations for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use in national forests and grasslands. Under the new policy issued in 2005, local agency officials are required to seek public comments from state and local officials and other stakeholders in determining routes open to OHV use. The new rule will provide for increased involvement from the OHV community in the designation process. Currently only half of the 155 national forests and 20 grasslands have designated roads and trails open to OHV use, which include more than 200,000 miles of forest roads and 36,000 miles of inventoried trails. As recommended by SEMA, USFS will also consider “user-created” routes in the review process. Many of these routes came into existence during “open” management and serve a legitimate need and purpose, and do not pose an environmental threat. The final rule addresses more than 80,000 comments received by USFS, most in strong support for setting aside routes and areas for OHV use. USFS anticipates that it will take up to four years to complete the route designation process. For more information: www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/
National Park Service Releases Draft Plan on OHV Use: The National Park Service (NPS) has released proposed changes to its management policies that regulate OHV use within the park system. The management policies serve as a virtual handbook for park superintendents and other park officials. The NPS considered revising their policies after receiving criticism from Congressional Republicans who stated that NPS had shifted to far in favor of conservation, at the expense of public access. SEMA has urged Federal agencies to not adopt “one-size-fits-all” land access policies and allow for increased involvement by state and local officials and the off-road community in the decision making process. In regards to OHV access, the proposed language closely mirrors existing policies in stating “routes and areas may be designated for off-road motor vehicle use by special regulation within national recreation areas, national seashores, national lakeshores, and national preserves, and then only when determined to be an appropriate use. Consistent with the executive orders and the Organic Act, park managers must immediately close a designated off-road vehicle route whenever the use is causing or will cause unacceptable impacts.” SEMA supports this proposal given its directive to allow individual park officials to use public input and available scientific date to resolve access issues.
OHV Access to Southern California Forests: Following recommendations made by SEMA, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced new land management plans for four Southern California national forests that will open up more back country trails to OHVs: http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/scfpr/projects/lmp/ The management plans for the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino national forests allocate an additional 87,000 acres of land that the agency will recommend for wilderness protection—which is less than the 96,000 acres originally proposed. If approved by Congress, that would increase the total wilderness area within the four forests to nearly 1.2 million acres, more than one-third of the parks' combined 3.5 million acres. The new plans provide OHVs with greater access to roadless areas—allowing motorized recreation on approximately 25% of these inventoried areas, but only on designated roads and trails. In its comments to USFS, SEMA noted that most of this acreage already had some form of OHV use. The new plans also address so-called “user-created” trails and, where appropriate, add these routes to the system.
Roadless Rule: A Federal court in California reinstated the so-called “roadless rule,” issued by the Clinton Administration to prohibit development within 58.5 million acres of U.S. Forest Service lands. The court ruled that the replacement rule adopted by the Bush Administration in 2005 violated existing federal environmental and endangered species laws. The ongoing political and legal debate over roadless designations is important to SEMA as it potentially denies access to off-road vehicles and the equipment SEMA members produce and market for ORV enthusiasts. Unlike the Clinton policy, which provided blanket protections for all designated roadless areas, the Bush Administration established a state-by-state process to allow governors to petition the Forest Service on which areas would remain “roadless” and which would be opened for development and recreational use. It is unclear when a final court decision may be reached on the roadless rule or whether lawmakers and the Obama Administration may seek to pass a new law to set the lawsuits aside.
Arizona: OHV-Use in Northern Arizona: The Bureau of Land Management released three new management plans covering 2.8 million acres of federal land in northern Arizona, from the Grand Canyon to the Utah border. The plans allow for OHV use on more than 1,700 miles of existing trails and dirt roads in the management area. All three plans will outline how the areas will be managed for OHV and other uses over the next 20 years. The 3,000-page document is based on public input and ongoing collaboration with 10 different agencies and tribal concerns in the area. The plans generally emphasize minimal "human influence and use" in more remote areas and greater use near local communities.
California: BLM Approves Plan To Increased OHV Use in Mojave Desert: In late 2004, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a plan to open 91 percent of off-highway vehicle routes in Southern California's northern and eastern Mojave Desert. That amounts to about 1,500 miles of roads. The decision affects 1.3 million acres of the 3.3 million acres BLM manages in San Bernardino and Inyo counties. Off-roading will even be permitted in areas designated as critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise although the BLM will exclude roads in areas where resources could be damaged.
California: More OHV Access To ISDRA: In early 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ruled that 12,000 acres of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in California must be closed to the public so as to protect the Peirson’s milk-vetch plant. The agency excluded 10,000 acres of dunes where most off-road activities take place. The plant was placed on the endangered species list in 1998 and the FWS was required to designate critical habitat to protect the plant on land which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Also known as the Algodones Dunes, the recreation area is a favorite destination for off-roaders using desert dune buggies and other all-terrain vehicles. The off-road community demonstrated that there would be disproportionate economic harm if the critical habitat designation included the Gecko and Glamis Management Areas encompassing the 10,000 acres. In 2009, a federal court overturned the plan, placing the issue in limbo.
Route 66 Corridor: Advisory Council: The National Park Service (NPS) has established the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program Advisory Council to provide guidance help the agency set priorities. The NPS provides grants and technical assistance aimed at preserving as much of the 2,400-mile road from Chicago to Los Angeles as possible along with all the properties that accord the highway its historical significance. These include the familiar “gas, eat, sleep” businesses. Council members represent states through which Route 66 passes, non-profit Route 66 preservation entities and other interested organizations. For additional information, contact Michael Taylor, National Park Service, Long Distance Trails Group Office--Santa Fe, PO Box 728, 1100 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0728; (505) 988-6742.
Pending Legislative Issues
Omnibus Wilderness Law: On March 30, 2009 President Obama signed into the law HR 146, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, adding more than 2 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System. The “wilderness” designation is consequential since no mechanized activity is permitted on lands so designated. The issue is of keen interest to off-roaders and the SEMA member companies that market products to those groups. The new wilderness areas span nine states including areas in and around Joshua Tree National Park and Eastern Sierras in California, Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands in Idaho, Mt. Hood in Oregon and Zion National Park in Utah. Some roads and trails were excluded from the wilderness designations and therefore remain available to the OHV enthusiast. Nevertheless, SEMA and other OHV groups hoped to save more trails from the wilderness designation and is disappointed with the law, as passed.
Wilderness: Northern Rockies: In May 2009, SEMA submitted comments to the House National Parks Subcommittee in opposition to “The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.” The legislation would set a precedent by using the term “bioregion” as justification for converting 24 million acres in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington into wilderness and “biological connecting corridors.” SEMA noted that there are a myriad of bioregions across America and it is too simplistic to create one over-arching ecosystem devoid of motorized activities within millions of acres of land. SEMA recommended that lawmakers use the traditional approach of considering wilderness designations within a particular State, and that there be threshold support at the local and State level, along with sponsorship by members of Congress representing those districts. It is unclear when or if another House Committee hearing will be held this year. Click: SEMA Opposes HR 980, “The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act” (June 2009)
Wilderness: Utah Red Rock: SEMA submitted comments to the House National Parks Subcommittee in opposition to a bill to designate 9.4 million acres of land in Utah as “red rock” wilderness. SEMA contends the legislation is overly ambitious, does not have threshold local or state support, and would lead to the unnecessary closure of OHV roads and trails. Click: SEMA Opposes HR 1925, “America's Red Rock Wilderness Act” (Oct. 2009)
Wilderness: Northern California: In 2006, President Bush signed into law compromise legislation that designates 300,000-acres in Northern California’s Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties as wilderness. Although off-highway vehicle (OHV) use is traditionally restricted in wilderness areas, the SEMA-supported compromise provides for approximately 79,000 acres to be set aside as recreation management areas for off-road vehicles. The measure also provides for the use of “cherry-stem” roads within the wilderness areas to allow continued motorized access to existing roads and trails. Wilderness legislation is consequential to SEMA members since it potentially denies access to off-roaders and the equipment they purchase for off-road activities. SEMA continues to support land use decisions that allow local stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process. However, SEMA also supports compromise approaches on wilderness areas that balance access to motorized recreation with protecting our nation’s natural wonders.
Wilderness: Washington: In May 2008, President Bush signed into law legislation designating 106,000 acres in Washington State’s Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as wilderness. SEMA and the off-highway vehicle (OHV) community opposed the bill and supported an alternative version to preserve existing roads and trails on about 13,000 acres of the land. By law, wilderness areas generally prohibit roads and the use of motorized vehicles. The issue is consequential to SEMA members as off-roaders will have less riding areas in the region and potentially less demand for OHV equipment. A focus of attention was whether 16,000 acres of the proposed “Wild Sky Wilderness” area was appropriate for such designation since it contained roads and previously developed lands. SEMA supported an initiative to set aside 93,000 acres as wilderness and also create a 13,300-acre "backcountry wilderness management area" to maintain the previously developed lands. Regulators would have been directed to inventory existing roads and trails and designate authorized routes.
Revising the Endangered Species Act: In 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) to update the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The bill would have overhauled the existing process for designating endangered species. A key piece of the proposal would have replaced existing “critical habitat” requirements, one of the more contentious area of the existing law and a frequent source of lawsuits, with “recovery habitats.” These recovery habitats would have fewer legal restrictions and be linked into the species recovery planning process. The bill also called for compensating private property owners for land-use restrictions due to an endangered species. Other features of the bill included: the use of the best available scientific data in determining species status; expanding the role of state and local governments in decision making process; and increasing the openness and accountability of the agencies involved in the designation process. While most in Congress agree that the ESA needs to be revised, the bill was not approved and died at the end of 2006. Given the change in control of Congress and continuing disagreements on how to reach an accord, comprehensive ESA reform appears to be unlikely in the short term.
Pending Court Issues
RS 2477: Rights-of-Way Claims: A 2003 agreement between the Interior Department and the State of Utah has temporarily made it easier for state and local governments to pursue rights-of-way claims on public lands under an old mining law known as RS 2477. Such a claim could prevent some federal lands from being designated as wilderness since wilderness is, by definition, roadless. The issue is of keen interest to off-roaders and the companies that market products to those groups. While the 2003 agreement is limited to Utah, it has national implications and is being closely monitored. In the most recent developments, the U.S. General Accounting Office has concluded that the agreement was illegal since Congress must authorize any regulation that recognizes right-of-way claims. Utah had filed one claim, for the 99-mile Weiss Highway in Juab County. It subsequently withdrew the claim when subsequent research confirmed that the road was paid for and constructed by the federal government in the 1930s. Utah has submitted two other applications for roads D28 and D30 in Daggett County but Utah’s State Attorney General does not plan to file any more claims at this time. Meanwhile, several Utah counties are pursuing rights-of-way claims at the local level, including a claim on the 8-mile Salt Creek Trail within Canyonlands National Park. In another action, a Utah county has challenged a federal court ruling that limits the definition of “highways” under RS 2477 to graded roadways. Dirt routes or two track trails for off highway vehicles would not fall under that definition, even if they have been in continuous use since before the land was designated as federal property.
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