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My op-ed for April, ought to be of particular interest to the competition rock crawlers.


Another Endangered Species
by Brad Ullrich, Land Use Editor

There is yet another species whose existence is endangered on BLM land throughout the west. It's not another weed, small furry animal or reptile, either. It is the "open" land management designation that is being threatened, and it is disappearing right under our noses. Large areas of the west that have for many years been managed as "open" are receiving new designations under revised Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP), the designation of "limited to existing roads or trails" or even "closed to motorized vehicles" is rapidly replacing the "open" designation.

Your initial response may be "so what", I can still drive or ride on the many trails that exist on the millions of acres of BLM land throughout the west. Or your response may be like the one I received recently from an officer of a large, national OHV organization, "that's a local issue, we have bigger things to worry about". Both of the aforementioned responses are extremely shortsighted; it is this kind of thinking that is leading to the disappearance of trails on all our public land.

The erosion of our right to motorized recreation on public land is not something that is happening suddenly or overnight, it is a gradual loss that starts slowly, an isolated closure here or there, a change in land management designation, or designation as a Wilderness Study Area (WSA), but the end result is becoming more and more the same, areas being closed to motorized recreation.

The issue that I am concentrating on here, the loss of "open" designation, seems to fly below the radar of many land use activists, and is seemingly invisible to the general public. Therefore, the danger with this change of land management designation is by far the most insidious of the tactics to lock us off of our public lands. The obvious fact is that "limited to existing roads and trails" is one step closer to "closed to motorized vehicles", but there is something much more subtle at work here, and so few are seeing it. Lands that are designated as "open" are just that, people are expected to use a little common sense, but they may drive or ride where they choose. This designation is especially important to the current boom in four wheel drive rock crawling, both recreational and competition.

Rock crawling, especially that of the "hard core" or "extreme" nature generally does not use existing trails. The challenge, especially in the realm of competition rock crawling, is to challenge the driver and vehicle with seemingly impossible obstacles that very often have never been driven in a vehicle. Most competitions, many of them on BLM land, send an advance crew to the location long before the competition to lay out a course that can be negotiated by only the best prepared drivers and vehicles. And much of what is used is on "virgin" rock, that is rock that has never been negotiated by a motorized vehicle. The loss of "open" designation on BLM land will put an end to new trails and obstacles for these competitions, and these new obstacles, once used in competition are then generally used by the more "extreme" of the recreational rock crawlers. The blazing of a new trail, or even one new obstacle, once the land has been redesignated as "limited to existing roads and trails" will then require the full NEPA process involving an environmental impact statement along with public input. If the process even gets that far then the extremely vocal radical environmental groups get involved, and any change for the better for motorized recreation has little or no chance of success.

A good example of what is happening throughout the west is currently in the process in New Mexico. The Farmington BLM District manages over 1.5 million acres of public land in the four corners area of New Mexico, and currently most of that land is being managed as "open". But, the LRMP is being revised, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released in the summer of 2002, and the preferred alternative will virtually eliminate the "open" designation according to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) that was released today. Over a million acres of "open" land will be reduced to a few thousand acres, the rest of what was once 'open" will be redesignated "limited to existing roads and trails" or "closed to motorized vehicles". The Farmington, NM area is one of the most famous of the "hard core" or extreme" rock crawling destinations in the country, and over the past five years or so there have been many competitions held in Chokecherry Canyon and the Rock Garden. Like mentioned previously, the competitions generally have involved laying out harder and harder courses over the years using land that previously was not used for motorized recreation. But, there was no restriction on the use, and it was easy to lay out new courses and obstacles for the competitions, courses and obstacles that are then later used by recreational rock crawlers. This will be impossible on most BLM land in the Farmington District in the near future, severely limiting the possibilities for new trails and obstacles for competition and the public alike.

I am using the Farmington area as an example because it is high profile and it is where I live, so I am very familiar with the specific areas involved. But the same thing is happening all over the west, Idaho, Nevada, California, everywhere there is BLM land the LRMPs are being revised and we are being driven one step closer to being locked out.

No, this is not a local issue as some may claim, it is an alarming trend that is gathering momentum, and like mentioned previously is either being ignored by the public or is going completely unnoticed. It seems like the OHV community just doesn't "get it", it would appear to be a combination of our persistent problem of apathy combined with an OHV community that is just not educated on these issues. The public must get involved, our driving and riding areas are being steadily stolen right out from under us, and most OHVers don't even realize what is happening. We've said this time and time again, but I'll say it again, the OHV community must get involved and must become educated on land use issues, seemingly subtle distinctions between land management designations are not as innocuous as they may appear. And the only way to get educated is to get involved, which most OHVers are not. On the last day of the comment period for the Farmington LRMP I spoke with the BLM official in charge of the process locally, he said that he had received a small handful of comments from the OHV community, and as he put it, the responses from the environmental community were coming in "by the wheelbarrow load".

Get involved and open your eyes to this endangered species. It is one that you definitely want to save, because like most endangered species once it is gone it most likely cannot be brought back.
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