Summer 2008 is coming to a close and the winter wheeling season is approaching. For many areas the summer brought record fires and interruption to wheeling opportunities. At one point, the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California had four “fire complexes” burning at one time. A “fire complex” is a group of fires within a 50,000 acre area. The toll on wildlife and habitat on public lands and private property has been tremendous.
The fire recovery poses challenges and opportunities for the agencies and recreationists. Agencies are being challenged to do more with less as federal budgets are being reduced. To address their budget shortfall, the Forest Service is entering a new era of “collaboration”. As the smoke clears, more forests roads and trails are becoming passable with fire damage becoming visible. The fire damage presents an opportunity for clubs to participate with the Forest Service to keep roads and trails open.
As the winter rains are coming, the burned areas are in need of marestoration work to prevent further damage due to erosion. Partnering with the Forest Service to assist the burn area recovery efforts is a win-win for recreation and the land manager. Recreation working in cooperation with land managers will help build trust and assurances that both want the same thing: a healthy environment for all to enjoy.
Former Chief, U.S. Forest Service Dale Bosworth stated in an April 2005 speech in San Diego, CA, “We believe that off-highway vehicles are a legitimate use in the right place. That includes many places on national forest land. But it’s a use that’s got to be managed if we want to keep it.” He further stated that the Four Threats—fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged outdoor recreation are long-term concerns that urgently need to be addressed.
Bosworth noted that the Forest Service is engaging in collaborative efforts and that these collaborative efforts are needed to meet the challenges of the future. He closed his speech by stating, “It’s up to all of us here to come together in a truly collaborative spirit, knowing how high the stakes are. Future generations will depend on us to rise to the occasion and find sustainable solutions on the ground.”
From April 2005 to August 2008, from then-Chief Bosworth to current-Chief Kimble: times have changed and leaders have changed. However, the commitment remains the same. The Forest Service is committed to collaborative efforts.
From my perspective, as this collaborative process moves forward, we need to view this as an opportunity to increase our efforts working with the agency to ensure the voice of recreation is heard for the variety of recreation experience we desire on forest lands.
Fire fighting efforts remain a major drain on budgets. Federal budget reductions mean the Forest Service will depend on collaborative efforts with recreation groups to provide recreation opportunities within the national forests. The opportunities are there. We need to take advantage of the opportunities.
Recreation issues decided in a collaborative process with shared goals and values is the preferred alternative to a court ruling. Courts have their place but are a “crap-shoot” with the final decision and unintended consequences of that decision.
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