Washington, DC — The national effort to minimize mounting off-road vehicle damage on federal lands by designating routes for motorized traffic is going badly off course, according to congressional testimony released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are wasting substantial time and money without benefiting streams, wildlife, eroding landscapes and the public who hike, fish and camp on these lands.
In testimony submitted for tomorrow’s Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee hearing on “off-highway vehicle management on public lands,” California PEER Director Karen Schambach outlines the failures of the Eldorado National Forest, the first Sierra Nevada national forest to complete the route designation process, to protect natural resources from the effects of off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse:
- Forest management repeatedly overruled its own scientists and wildlife specialists to approve ORV routes that crossed streams, damaged watersheds and ripped up meadows. The Eldorado National Forest even approved routes that had previously been earmarked for decommissioning;
- Contrary to legal requirements, the Eldorado did no site-specific analyses of designated routes, thus eliminating the possibility of minimizing resource conflicts that were never documented; and
- The Eldorado never developed an enforcement plan. Nor does it have a program for restoring damaged landscapes.
“On the Eldorado, route designation has been an expensive paper exercise that has gone horribly wrong,” stated Schambach. “The Forest Service is simply perpetuating mayhem and calling it a plan.”
One factor cited by Schambach in her testimony is the bullying tactics by some off-road groups, including threats and harassment and intimidation of Forest Service employees. In some national forests, the atmosphere created by off-roaders has gotten so intense that town hall-type meetings were replaced by day- or evening-long “open houses” to minimize opportunities for grandstanding and intimidation.
“An essential conflict is that off-roading is a preclusive use of public lands, driving off every other form of recreation,” Schambach added, citing as an example the most popular hiking trail in the Eldorado’s Georgetown Ranger District which, even though it is barely 24 inches wide, has been designated for ORVs with a 40 inch wheel base. “If the Forest Service stays on the path it has charted on the Eldorado, national forests will be steadily carved up into motorized theme parks.”
Tomorrow’s Senate hearing is the first attempt by that body to grapple with the growing ORV problem. In mid-March, the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, chaired by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), held a groundbreaking oversight hearing entitled “The Impacts of Unmanaged Off-Road Vehicles on Federal Land.” That hearing featured testimony from a PEER-organized network of retired public lands law enforcement professionals called Rangers for Responsible Recreation whose testimony stressed how ORV route designation was doomed to failure without manageable trails and adequate enforcement.