Update: Off-Road Land Use Battles

August 3rd, 2015 by David Beran

The off-road community has a vested interest in maintaining access to trails for recreational use that has been under siege for the last 40 years. The numbers don’t lie: in California alone, motorized access to desert lands has dwindled from 50% in 1976 to a paltry 2% today.

4×4 enthusiasts are always looking for areas where their Jeep and truck tires can go on unimpeded adventures and that’s getting harder to find nationwide. Here’s a look at some of the current points of contention and two of the organizations that are uniting off-roaders to rally for their access to wheel freely.

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National Treasures

In the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California, nearly 350,000 acres of national forest land was designated as a national monument at the end of last year. President Obama exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act and the debate about how the Angeles National Forest was divided still rages. Recent wins for the off-road community in land use battles include Johnson Valley, California, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and Hermosa Creek in Colorado.

The Johnson Valley fight helped preserve almost 100,000 acres from a takeover by the U.S. Marine Corps base and because the King of the Hammers off-road race is run there annually, this was a major victory. As the largest OHV area in the United States, Johnson Valley is the crown jewel for off-roading preservation. The Save the Hammers campaign spearheaded by the California Motorized Recreation Council (CMRC) lobbied lawmakers in Washington with a petition and raised funds for the cause.

In Cape Hatteras, a 2012 rule was amended that awarded OHV access to vehicles and made seasonal routes accessible for extended periods. Additionally, new roads and access points are being constructed. Over 70,000 acres of federal land was designated as the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area in Colorado which affects not only motorized off-road vehicles, but snow mobiles as well.

SEMA Action Network (SAN)

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The SEMA Action Network (SAN) is a collected group dedicated to off-road enthusiasts to aid in the fight against land restrictions for off-roading. The SAN examines issues of public land use overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). To optimize opportunities to make a difference in the fight for land, SAN keeps members informed about current land use struggles and informs the public about how to contact lawmakers to make a difference. These can be federal organizations, state representatives and local government officials.

SEMA was instrumental in saving the Johnson Valley land, amending rules regarding the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area and continuing access in the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area of Colorado’s San Juan National Forest.

According to Steve McDonald, SEMA’s Vice President, Government Affairs, a number of other challenges remain. “SEMA is urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission to support an industry standard for recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) that would continue to allow a variety of ROV uses and future design innovations.”

Protecting OHV access to federal and state land in eastern and southern Utah is also a priority. “The red rock country has been a battleground for decades between the environmental activists and others representing off-roading, mining, timber, grazing and other interests,” he says. Thousands of miles of OHV trails risk closure. “SEMA is supporting efforts by major stakeholders in the region to negotiate permanent designations for the various tracts of land and federal legislation is expected later this year.”

Additionally, “National Monument” designations remain a top threat. A 1906 law gives the president the power to set aside thousands of acres of land based on “historic or scientific” interest. “Although roads and trails are not immediately closed, the designations require new land management plans that usually include closures,” says McDonald.

There are currently 117 national monuments, with Rio Grande del Norte, Organ Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains and Browns Canyon being recent additions. “SEMA is urging the OHV community to support legislation in Congress to curtail the President’s power to unilaterally designate National Monuments. The bills would require such designations be approved by Congress and the impacted state legislature.”

CORVA

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CORVA (California Off-Road Vehicle Association) is a statewide organization that fights for policies affecting off-roaders, motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, snow mobiles and 4 wheel drives. It’s a comprehensive effort to help with off-road access across the state of California, involved in policy issues that affect off-roaders, campers, rock hounds and anyone who goes off the grid.

CORVA’s Managing Director Amy Granat has been involved in land use issues since 2005. She has a hard time pinpointing which off-road cause should be at the forefront in such a sprawling, diverse state. “Currently, we’ve got falsified data being reported by the Inyo National Forest in Bishop, California,” she says. “It’s unconscionable that a federal agency can submit inaccurate reports regarding the existence, importance and use of roads in the forest.”

Local groups alerted CORVA to what is going on in the Inyo National Forest. “It was their diligence and caring enough to do something about it that helped the cause,” says Granat. “CORVA really values the partnership with local, on-the-ground residents and then when an effort expands, we’re there to strategize and effect policy to advocate for off-road access.”

Local support is a cornerstone of organizations like CORVA and empowers individuals to feel like they can make a difference in the midst of government agencies, lobbyists and politicians. CORVA is also extensively involved in Forest Plan Revisions and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).

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About the Author: David Beran

As a professional inkspiller living in Los Angeles, I’ve written in industries ranging from entertainment to employment to automotive. Terrain I cover includes off-road events and races, budget builds, custom mods, EVs and the latest innovations in aftermarket 4x4 parts. I’m always eager to learn about new trends in 4x4s and my motto is “go off-road or go home.” Google+ is the destination for my dispatches: https://plus.google.com/+DavidBeran/posts.

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