OHV recreation under fire from drive for new monument

Southern Oregon and Northern California have been particularly hard hit with the recent wilderness and monument proposals. I refer, of course, to the exclusion of motorized recreation from these beautiful places.

The list of these places and their size are quite impressive and include most of the areas that one would want to visit because they occupy the high ground or the mountainous terrain in this two-state area. They include the Soda Mountain Wilderness (230,000 acres), the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (52,940 acres), the Kalmiopsis Wilderness (179,755 acres), the Siskiyou Wilderness (183,000 acres), the Red Buttes Wilderness (19,940 acres) and the proposed Siskiyou Crest National Monument (622,760 acres encompassing the two latter wildernesses). That total is 1,288,395 acres. That does not include some other listed roadless areas, and leaves very little planning room for motorized recreation within the proposed national monument.

The planning process for the Siskiyou Crest monument has some merit, to be sure, and a lot of the values have been ours, as well. Most of these efforts have been pursued ruthlessly where off-highway vehicle use was of concern. We wonder why groups that have so eloquently described their arguments have seldom extended that talent to sharing those arguments at the same table, considering, for instance, possible answers to the OHV recreation dilemma.

Let's not forget the potential loss of recreation dollars that will be missing from those hungry and, these days, desperate coffers of surrounding communities. OHV recreational use has grown 300 percent in the past 20 years and I will be the first to admit that resource education in schools is lacking, if not nonexistent. It has been a major problem, and that problem should be responsibly addressed by all of us.

All of the national and state OHV organizations espouse "leave no trace" and "tread lightly!" themes. The 5 percent that create all the problems do not curry favor with us, either, and we can help by showing there is another way.

We know that first, management must strike for sustainability in the proposed trail system. Obviously that will provide the proper direction to provide for the environment.

The critiques of the many U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management travel management plans indicate an absence of OHV expertise. Those managers that did utilize common sense and expertise were heavily criticized and sued by anti-motorized folks. The feds folded under the dollar threat and went obediently with the one-size-fits-all Washington, D.C., edict. It's also true that funding for knowledgeable in-house recreation technicians in today's economy is pretty challenging.

Not everyone is aware of the funding mechanism for OHV, so here's a brief overview: Anyone who recreates on public lands (state and federal) with an OHV must have purchased an OHV sticker and affixed it to that vehicle. That covers ATV (Class 1), Full Size 4WD (Class 2), Motorcycle (Class 3) and Side by Side ATV (Class 4). Money from that sticker is held in a dedicated fund for the enhancement of motorized recreation in Oregon. Other states employ this system as well, but Oregon has thus far escaped state depletion of those funds. The California system has been tapped for about $116 million by that state system. These days it doesn't pay to have uncommitted money for something as frivolous as recreation lying about.

That doesn't mean that all those dollars get to the ground. At a recent Oregon OHV funding meeting a little over $3 million was awarded to answer requests for a medley of state, county and federal Law Enforcement Officer funding grants. Fifteen years ago, the amount would have been $10,000 for the year. The loss of adequately planned trail systems is directly related to this flagrant spending. Building, enhancing and monitoring trail systems is where the money should be spent

When we lose recreational opportunity, we also lose those dollars that visitors submit to motels, restaurants, gas stations, food stores, parts houses and equipment dealers. In other words, the local economy suffers and the domino effect continues to include job losses.

What I have written here should indicate that change is required on many fronts. Resource education, qualified OHV technicians, protected OHV funds and monuments and wilderness must be a clear referendum to the people, not some knee-jerk proclamation from afar.

One of the most important points is, we sorely need a caring and interested public. Join a club or other group so you can help turn these potential losses around. A collective voice has always been required to effect change. Good management can change to reflect attention to the environment and to a recreating public.

Tom Harris of Keno is a former 13-year member of the Southeastern Oregon Resource Area Council, former chairman of the Steens Mountain Advisory Council and a member of the Jefferson State 4WD Association, the Klamath/Lake/Modoc/Siskiyou Recreation Committee, the Klamath Basin OHV Club and the Pacific Northwest 4WD and California 4WD associations.

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