During my visit to Vermont, I visited a farm just south of Burlington. I was told by one of its owners that in the 19th century, Vermont was comprised of 80% farmland and 20% forests. Today, those statistics are reversed. Vermont is now 80% forest and 20% farmland. Now that is what I call "change."
While in Ohio, I picked up a copy of the Ohio Farm Bureau magazine. In addition to an article about ATV safety, which I was very pleased to see (and more about that later in this newsletter); there was also an article about the exploding deer population in the state. When I was growing up there, it was rare to see even one deer out in a cornfield let alone in someone's backyard. The article said that in the 1960's, the state had approximately 17,000 deer. Today, that number has exploded to more than 700,000. Deer are so numerous that in 2007, in Ohio alone, there were more than 26,000 deer-car collisions, 1,024 human injuries and 10 fatalities. Now, that is real "change" and a dangerous one at that. The focus of the article was the amount of damage (in the millions of dollars) caused by the voracious appetites of that ever expanding herd. I guess we can throw out the theory that civilization is threatening wildlife, at least wild deer.
Whether it is the encroaching forests on Vermont's farmland or the exploding deer population in Ohio (and in many other states), the issue comes down to how we manage the changing circumstances around us. This has to do with politics, the economy, and land and recreation policies. Managing "change" simply comes down to us and what we do with it.
Travel Management Rule
In its budget submission for FY 2010, the Forest Service notified the Congress that by the end of 2010, the Travel Management Rule process would be completed in all national forests and system wide, designated trails for OHV recreation would be fully implemented. Adherence to these new regulations will be the order of the day, but the details of ensuring its success are still very much up in the air.
ARRA has been very supportive of the Travel Management Rule from the very beginning, but we have also expressed concern about the timetable and the lack of adequate resources for the implementation process, the user friendly quality of the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) and the need for signage along the designated routes so that OHV enthusiasts will have all the tools available to stay on course and be in compliance with the rule. In other words, we want this "change" to a designated trail system to be successfully managed so that access to public lands for OHV recreation is guaranteed.
Some of the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) that are coming out of some national forests leave a lot to be desired in terms of specificity of designated route locations. The maps are large, cumbersome, and generally not very useful in identifying those routes actually designated for OHV recreation. In the beginning, compliance might be difficult, not because folks don't want to comply with the new regulations, but due to a lack of readily accessible information.
We believe OHV recreation can be successfully managed so that all can enjoy our public lands. The process is ongoing and will need to be fine tuned as we go along. Let's face it, some of the designated routes simply won't work and alternatives will need to be developed. And, in some locations, it will make sense to add additional routes to the system.
We need to be prepared that mistakes will be made and full compliance will vary from location to location. In time, however, as the motor vehicle use maps improve, as more signage is installed, and as user outreach programs become more widespread, we can make the Travel Management Rule a success. I'm a realist and I know this will take time. But, in the end, we will manage this "change" and all who enjoy the great outdoors will stand to benefit.
Taking Charge of OHV Safety
During the early part of June, recreation organizations in Washington observe Great Outdoors Week. A host of activities are held highlighting various types of outdoor activities, special people are recognized for their leadership and contributions to outdoor recreation, and invariably, the weather just isn't right for some of those events held outdoors. Washington can, at times, have fickle weather in the summer and one moment we can be experiencing a heat wave and before we know it, an afternoon thunderstorm can rush through the metropolitan area, at the very moment of a special outdoor event associated with Great Outdoors Week. In other words, Mother Nature has a way of telling us who is really in charge and it's a helpful reminder.
There is one area where we can take personal responsibility and be in charge and that has to do with OHV safety. I mentioned earlier in this newsletter that the Ohio Farm Bureau magazine focused on ATV safety and the importance of getting the right ATV safety training, wearing the necessary safety gear, including helmets.
Now that the summer riding season is about to begin, it's a good idea to sign up members of your family for an ATV or motorcycle safety course. They will have fun riding and along the way they will learn some very important safety tools. Once you all have been properly trained, it will give you an excuse to spend more time together by going to your closest national forest and riding on a newly designated trail, assuming, of course, you can read the MVUM!
To learn more about these courses, go to: http://www.arra-access.com/ct/d1zUY291_Y-G/ and/or http://www.arra-access.com/ct/ddzUY291_Y-F/
Enjoy the summer with your family and show your kids how to have fun by recreating in a safe, responsible manner.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access