TUCSON — This summer, federal agencies must figure out how to implement a 2007 Executive Order by President Bush directing federal land management agencies to do everything in their power to “expand and enhance hunting opportunities.” The biggest conflict limiting hunting and fishing on federal lands is expanding off-road vehicle traffic on federal wild lands, according to a petition filed today by Rangers for Responsible Recreation, a network of retired law enforcement officers and land managers.
Under Executive Order 13443, national park, forest, public land and refuge systems are to develop “a comprehensive Recreational Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Plan” by August 17, 2008, the one-year anniversary of Bush’s directive. That plan, in turn, would commit these agencies to “a 10-year agenda for fulfilling the actions” that promote hunting and fishing over all other uses, including off-road vehicles (ORVs).
“Off-road abuse is unquestionably a top threat to hunting and fishing in America,” stated Mike Penfold of Rangers for Responsible Recreation, a network organized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “Good hunting and fishing requires relative quiet, while ORVs are usually about speed, dust & mud, and the roar of an engine. Currently, the two do not fit well together.” Mr. Penfold is an avid hunter and angler who owns a hunting lodge in Montana, and worked 37 years with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The Rangers petition was filed today with the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, which is charged with overseeing the order’s implementation, as well as the directors of the National Park, National Forest and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, and the Bureau of Land Management. The petition points out that the EO 13443 unavoidably entails much more stringent restrictions to keep ORVs from driving in fishing streams and confined to designated trails that do not harm hunting or fishing opportunities.
The petition cites a recent survey of state game and fish officials by the Isaak Walton League which found broad agreement that “ORVs negatively impacted hunting, fishing and habitat in their states.” The Rangers also point to an array of studies, testimony and other evidence from both state and federal wild land agencies showing worsening conflict between hunters & anglers and off-roaders.
“If the President’s order is more than lame-duck posturing then ending reckless off-roading must be the meat of any plan that meaningfully benefits hunting and fishing,” added Daniel Patterson, an Arizona hunter and Southwest PEER Director who organized the Rangers coalition. “America desperately needs a strong coordinated federal approach to protect hunting and fishing from on-going off-road abuse of our wild lands.”
Last month, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, chaired by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), held groundbreaking oversight hearings on “The Impacts of Unmanaged Off-Road Vehicles on Federal Land.” Senate hearings are also likely to be scheduled as the Bush administration struggles to define its own wildlife legacy.