BLM to put brakes on OHV use
The days of people motoring around as they please on public lands in Colorado may be slipping away like a Jeep down a muddy hill.Based both on national directive and the urging of local citizen groups, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Colorado is moving toward exercising more control over off-highway vehicle use.That comes even as the popularity of OHVs is skyrocketing. And the timing of the crackdown isn’t accidental.The increased use has reached the point that even OHV advocates agree that some controls are in order.Recently, the Northwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council, a citizens group that makes recommendations to the BLM, passed a resolution calling for off-road management changes.The RAC plan would limit motorized recreational travel to existing routes. It makes exceptions for designated areas where open travel is permitted, or where the BLM authorizes new routes.The council’s wide-ranging representation includes members of OHV advocacy groups.The interim measures sought by the RAC would provide protection until a proposed Statewide Off-Highway Vehicle Plan Amendment and new travel management plans are put in place.Quick responseMark Stiles, Western Slope Center manager for the BLM, said long-term protections could be 10 or more years away, and the RAC didn’t want to wait that long for new protections.BLM officials also recognize the urgency of the situation.In 2001, the agency adopted a national management strategy for motorized off-highway vehicle use on public lands, noting at the time that OHV sales had grown to 1,500 per day.But the nitty-gritty work of managing OHV use falls to local BLM offices, and involves drawn-out processes aimed at ensuring adequate public involvement.As early as 1998, the Northwest RAC and two others in Colorado told the BLM that public lands should be closed to unrestricted cross-country travel.The proposed statewide OHV plan amendment arose in response to that call.Traditionally, Stiles said, more than half of the BLM’s 8.4 million acres of public lands in Colorado have been open to cross-country travel.Even today, “it’s not much different than that,” he said, but the BLM is going through planning processes statewide to address the situation.The Northwest RAC acknowledges in its resolution that motorized travel is a valid form of transportation for recreation and for grazing management, fire protection and emergency response, and for access to private lands and resources leased from the government.Bandit trailsHowever, a goal shared by both the RACs and BLM is to slow down the “unmitigated proliferation of roads and trails,” said Stiles.The concern surrounds the fact that when people travel where routes don’t exist, others follow. The pattern creates new, so-called “bandit” trails.Troy Rarick, a Northwest RAC member and the owner of a mountain bike store in Fruita, said bandit trails are created not by OHV and other recreational club members, but by an “uncontrolled element.”When the RAC passed its resolution at a recent meeting in Glenwood Springs, OHV representatives also expressed concerns about trails being expanded in use.For example, they would rather not see trails popular with all-terrain vehicle users growing into Jeep roads, said John Martin of Grand Junction, an RAC member and member of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition.Worries about route uses being expanded prompted the RAC to call for two-track trails to remain two-track, and single-track trails to remain single-track.Better signageThough it’s not practical in the interim, in the long term most people want trails clearly marked for use, Stiles said.”That is definitely one of the best ways to do it, no bones about it. If the sign says you can do it, it’s clear,” he said.Talk of a closed-unless-marked-as-open policy drew opposition when it came up in discussions about updating the White River National Forest travel management plan.Stiles said that resulted from the fact that the approach was being discussed on a broad level. It’s important, he said, to work at the individual, site-specific level to reach agreement on travel management.”It’s surprising to me how quickly we can come to consensus on the ground, but that takes a lot of time to do,” Stiles said.Enough moneyfor the job?Such efforts also take a lot of manpower and funding. Both the BLM and RACs worry about the lack of resources for conducting route inventories and updating travel policies.Last year, the BLM requested and received another $19 million nationwide for land use planning and revisions.Some RAC members fear that changing priorities after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks make funding prospects less likely now.Vera Smith, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club, worries about whether BLM is sufficiently funded to deal with recreation management and whether the RAC’s resolution will make a difference.”I hope that you will pass it with some substance and that it will mean something,” she told the group before its vote. “I guess I would urge the RAC to be involved. Don’t just pass a resolution and walk away.”In fact, the resolution calls for the BLM to involve public groups and individuals in:-Identifying trails, adverse impacts on lands, user group conflicts and other problems.-Proposing solutions.-Implementing route maintenance and improvement, closures, sign placement, mapping, education, publicity and monitoring.”We’ve proposed to get out there” and play a part in such tasks, said Don Peach of Rangely, chairman of the Northwest RAC.
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