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SKID MARKS ISSUE #87
September 23, 2004

Skid Marks, Wildlands CPR's (usually) biweekly e-mail newsletter, reports on activist efforts to challenge roads and motorized recreation nationwide. Skid Marks shares instructive and precedent-setting successes and failures in the campaign to halt motorized abuse of wildland ecosystems.

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1. ROADLESS RULE COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER 15
2. OFF-ROAD VEHICLE DEBATE FOCUSES ON TREATMENT OF UNAUTHORIZED ROUTES
3. UTAH DROPS RS2477 TEST CASE, BUT PRESSES ANOTHER
4. BARRIER ISLAND WILDERNESS AREA UP FOR DE-DESIGNATION
5. AFTER EFFORTS AT VOLUNTARY PROTECTION FAIL, SEA TURTLE ADVOCATES FILE ENDANGERED SPECIES LAWSUIT
6. OFF-ROADING KEY CONTRIBUTOR TO DUST STORMS, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND CORAL REEF DEGRADATION
7. MINNESOTA FORESTS ADOPT INCONSISTENT OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RULES, DON’T BOOST ENFORCEMENT CAPACITY
8. “BAD APPLE” LEADER OF THE BLUE RIBBON COALITION GETS BUSTED

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1. ROADLESS RULE COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER 15

Presumably in response to the public and editorial criticism of President Bush’s proposal to overturn the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Forest Service has extended the comment period until November 15th.

The proposal would gut the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted by the Forest Service in 2001, that prohibited road building and timber harvest in 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in 120 national forests.

117 Montana companies recently joined hunters, anglers, and conservationists in calling on President Bush to protect the state's remaining 6 million acres of unprotected roadless land.

Conservationists argue that once the protections of the roadless rule are lifted, more than half of the acreage would be opened to road building under current forest management plans.

States would have to petition to protect or develop roadless lands, but there is no mechanism of funding to help states make these decisions. The Forest Service predicted it could cost states an estimated $25,000 to $100,000 to submit a petition and may take 1,000 hours to prepare. Total costs to the states to petition could range from $975,000 to $3.9 million.

Regardless of a state’s effort to file a strong petition, the Secretary of Agriculture would hold veto power over any petition.

For more information, go to http://www.wildlandscpr..org/RoadlessRule/RoadlessAlert.htm.

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2. OFF-ROAD VEHICLE DEBATE FOCUSES ON TREATMENT OF UNAUTHORIZED ROUTES

The public comment period the Forest Service’s proposal to limit ATVs, dirt bikes, and other off-road vehicles to designated routes and areas ended on Monday, September 13.

The “Proposed Rule for Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use” is intended to eliminate most cross-country motorized travel, eventually. However, if adopted as written, the proposed rule would allow the contentious process of designating motorized routes and areas to drag out indefinitely. The proposal presents no deadline to complete designations; it does not require even temporary closure of unauthorized renegade routes during the designation period; nor does it require site-specific analysis for each route being considered for designation. Finally, the rule encourages forest to determine designations ranger district-by-district, thereby undercutting the claim that the Forest Service wants to create “consistency” across forests.

The vast majority of Americans support placing reasonable limitations on motorized recreation in our public lands. This support was recently reflected in a poll taken in Idaho, home of the BlueRibbon Coalition and a stronghold of motorized interests. The 2004 poll, conducted on behalf of the Idaho Forest Products Association, revealed that 82 percent of folks believe that ATVs should stay on designated trails while riding on public lands; 8 percent think the machines should be allowed on public land without restrictions while another 8 percent think that ATVs should not be allowed on public land, period.

The BlueRibbon Coalition insists that each forest should inventory every single existing route, both legal and those created by unauthorized use. Conservationists, however, recognize that public maps of a full inventory would lend legitimacy to unauthorized routes and create the impression that the agency is limiting motorized access when it closes any of these unauthorized routes.

Both sides agree that without dedicated funding, the Forest Service will fail to create and police a designated routes system. The agency chose not to ask for a special allocation for either process in the 2005 budget.

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3. UTAH DROPS RS2477 TEST CASE, BUT PRESSES ANOTHER

On the very day that Utah conceded defeat on the legitimacy of its would-be premiere RS2477 claim, the state placed claims on two additional roads the run across federal land.

As reported in Skid Marks Issue #83, the Wilderness Society and Earthjustice proved that neither the state nor Juab County built the road, producing evidence that the federal Civilian Conservation Corps constructed it. Furthermore, the county relinquished any ownership on a major section of the 99-mile Weiss Highway with a 1936 easement granted to the Department of Interior. In the face of such evidence, the state then claimed that it and the county have a claim to the road since they maintain it. Apparently, they recognized that this claim would not hold-up in court.

New claims in Daggett County represent the state’s continuing efforts to establish a procedure for Utah to claim ownership of roads across federal land, per a 2003 agreement between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then Gov. Mike Leavitt.

The state has asked the Bureau of Land Management to grant the state title to two other roads crossing a total of four miles in the northeast corner of Daggett County, used primarily to access a natural gas storage facility.

“I think it's absolutely critical for the conservation community to make sure this route is legitimate, because others aren't doing the work,” said Kristen Brengel, a road specialist with The Wilderness Society. “To go from saying [the Weiss Highway] application was a slam dunk to now withdrawing it should be a caution flag to every other state and county in the country that would even consider using this process.”

While laying state and county claims to four miles of frequently used, functional roads may not be controversial on its face, Brengel and other conservationists are concerned that Utah will use this Revised Statute 2477 road claim as a test case and eventually develop overgrown paths into legally-sanctioned motorized routes on otherwise protected federal lands such as national parks, roadless areas, and potential wilderness areas.

For instance, the Utah and San Juan County have sued the Interior Department over ownership of the Salt Creek Road, a dirt path that runs several miles into Canyonlands National Park. The road, which had been used by off-road vehicles, was closed by the park in order to prevent ecological damage to park resources.

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4. BARRIER ISLAND WILDERNESS AREA UP FOR DE-DESIGNATION

Pending legislation in both chambers of Congress would take wilderness status away from a protected area of a national park and set an unwelcome precedent. Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast, and the National Seashore that it harbors, is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The United Nations recognizes it as an International Biosphere Reserve.

Nonetheless, pending legislation introduced by members of the Georgia delegation in the Senate (S.1462 introduced by Saxby Chambliss and Zell Miller) and the House (H.R.4887introduced by Jack Kingston) would remove portions of the island from wilderness protection by allowing future use of two roads and an area with a few remaining structures.

In the early 1980’s Congress designated 8,800 acres of the islands as wilderness and another 11,700 as potential wilderness. Further, Congress arranged to phase-out human uses of the island that are incompatible with wilderness and allow nature to take its course in re-wilding the potential wilderness area. In the interim, Congress allowed the use of some motorized routes for private property owners, who have all agreed to eventually leave the island.

By allowing future use of the two roads, the legislation would cleave the wilderness area in two and create a permanent motorized loop.

The legislation would allow for commercial, motorized tours through the wilderness where they now have no right to drive and would allow widespread motorized use—including motorized recreation on an ATV, dirt bike or other vehicle. Furthermore, the Interior Department would be allowed to contract for motorized seashore tours.

The legislation would allow the Park to build in the historic district, which is currently managed as wilderness. Increasing motorized use will inevitably prompt the park to develop this area of the wilderness.

For more information, please see http://ga1.org/campaign/cumberland.

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5. AFTER EFFORTS AT VOLUNTARY PROTECTION FAIL, SEA TURTLE ADVOCATES FILE ENDANGERED SPECIES LAWSUIT

Despite efforts by conservationists to clearly mark and patrol the active nests of sea turtles, off-road beach drivers ran-over five nests, damaging eggs and harming hatchlings. In response, two seasoned sea turtle advocates have filed suit to protect the endangered sea turtles. Shirley Reynolds and Stephen Belida filed the suit August 19th in a Jacksonville federal court saying that the driving violated the Endangered Species Act. Driving on dunes anytime and beach driving at night are likely to harm the turtles. The reptiles crawl out of the ocean, cross the beach, and lay their clutch in the dunes under the cover of darkness.

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6. OFF-ROADING KEY CONTRIBUTOR TO DUST STORMS, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND CORAL REEF DEGRADATION

Since the 1970s, research has documented various forms of site-specific damage and watershed impacts from off-road vehicle use. Recent research shows that off-road vehicles are likely key contributors to an increase in dust storms which, in turn, contribute to climate change and coral reef degradation.

An Oxford professor of geography recently reported that the tenfold increase in Sahara dust storms over the last 50 years is largely attributable to increases in four-wheel drive use, overgrazing, and deforestation.

As reported in The Guardian on August 20, Professor Andrew Goudie sounded the alarm, "You should look at deserts from the air, scarred all over by wheel tracks, people driving indiscriminately over the surface breaking it up. Toyotarisation is a major cause of dust storms. If I had my way I would ban them from driving off-road." Toyota Land Cruisers are the primary vehicles that have replaced the camel in the Sahara and the Sahel. The vehicles are responsible for destroying a thin crust of lichen and stones that has protected vast areas of the Sahara from the wind for centuries.

An estimated 2-3 billion tons of dust is blown away each year. The storms transport dust high into the atmosphere and deposit it as far away as Greenland and the United States.

In the Caribbean, scientists had directly linked the death of coral reefs to smothering by dust which had traveled 3,000 miles. African dust had also found its way to Greenland, Prof Goudie said. African dust that has been blown to Greenland and settled on the ice absorbs the sun's heat, melting the ice and raising sea levels. White ice reflects sunlight and remains frozen.


Although the Dust Bowl of the 1930s has been mitigated in the United States, dust blown from the Sahara and Sahel could lead to a disease, Valley Fever, an allergic reaction to pesticides carried by the dust, warned Goudie. More than half of the African dust that hits the US settles in Florida.

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7. MINNESOTA FORESTS ADOPT INCONSISTENT OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RULES, DON’T BOOST ENFORCEMENT CAPACITY

This summer, two Minnesota national forests inched closer towards a policy of limiting off-road vehicles to designated routes. The Chippewa National Forest has had an un-enforced ban on cross-country travel since 1986. As a result, a network of unauthorized renegade routes has been carved across the landscape. In his record of decision for the new Chippewa forest plan, Regional Forester Randy Moore decided to allow summer and winter off-road vehicle use on low standard roads (those classified as maintenance levels 1 and 2), while prohibiting the use of unauthorized renegade routes and cross-country motorized travel. He allowed for the designation of up to an additional 90 miles of ATV routes and an additional 100 miles of snowmobile routes.

The Superior National Forest has not been subject to the same paper ban on cross-country motorized travel. In fact, the new forest plan for the Superior will allow the continued use of unauthorized renegade routes throughout the designation process (except for those closed for resource protection). The Superior will also allow off-road vehicles to use low standard roads. The plan allows for the designation of up to an additional 90 miles for ATVs.

While the Superior plan prohibits cross-country travel for overland off-road vehicles, snowmobiles will be allowed to travel cross-country. Additionally, the forest expects to add up to 130 miles of snowmobile routes.

Matt Norton of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy recognizes that the Chippewa plan would be an improvement, but believes the forest is ill-equipped to enforce the new rules. “Off-road vehicles have a history of non-compliance on the Chippewa,” reported Norton who has documented scores of violations over the past couple of years. Norton cites a foot trail that begins just 200 yards from the Forest Supervisor’s office. Despite clear signage and a berm erected to keep off-road vehicles off the trail, Norton recorded 2-foot deep ruts caused by ATVs in August, 2003; by August 2004 the berm had been eroded by 3-4 inches by off-road vehicles. “They want a Cadillac trail system, but only have the money for a Geo. The forest can’t keep ATVs off a premiere hiking trail, the North Country Trail and they can’t rely on ORVers to self-police because one renegade rider can trash an area in 15 minutes,” said Norton.

Nonetheless, Superior officials said they would rely mostly on "education" instead of enforcing the cross-country ban with consequences this year. Chippewa officials said they might be more aggressive by fining violators $75 to $100. Each forest employs two law enforcement officers.

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8. “BAD APPLE” LEADER OF THE BLUE RIBBON COALITION GETS BUSTED

The Forest Service frequently calls on organized motorized recreation groups to self-police. The recent citation of the BlueRibbon Coalition’s director for illegal dirt bike guiding demonstrates the failure of the agency’s strategy of employing the fox to guard the henhouse. Bill Dart was cited for exemplifying “bad apple” behavior on August 20th when a Sawtooth National Forest officer encountered Dart providing paid, backcountry motorcycle tours without an outfitters license. Forest Service spokesman Ed Waldapfel said the fine is $250 and could be paid by mail or contested in court.

Dart has been temporarily placed leave and Clark Collins, co-founder and former director of the national off-road vehicle group, is now serving as acting director in the interim.

The Associated Press reported that Jake Howard, director of the state Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board, said that the board would likely prosecute Dart for illegal outfitting if the Forest Service citation stands up.

But Collins emphasized that "the plain fact of the matter is that in our legal system he's innocent until proven guilty, and that's pretty much where we're at."
 
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