The majority of public lands are administered by the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture under the direct management of Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service. Both agencies manage public lands for multiple use and wilderness under a variety of classifications. Each classification of land use carries certain limitations of types of activity allowed.
National Forests are set aside for public use under the management concept of multiple use and sustained yield so that the public can gain the greatest combined benefits from the forests and managed by the Forest Service, an agency within the Department of Agriculture. In 1905, the National Forest System consisted of 83 forest reserves encompassing 63 million acres. In 2005, the National Forest System had increased to 155 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands encompassing 192 million acres.
The public benefits are in the form of timber for building and manufacturing as well as pulp for the paper industry. Forests provide water farmers use to grow crops for food and to supply city residents with a safe supply of drinking water. The forests also provide grazing lands for cattle and sheep as well as wildlife.
Beyond these uses are the recreational opportunities available to all visitors to the National Forest System lands. Recreational opportunities include activities such as hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, horseback riding, skiing, bicycle riding, and gem and mineral collection.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers other large tracts of public lands. Mining of minerals for medical, food and industrial uses are managed by BLM. Drilling and mining of oil, gas and coal is also managed by the BLM. Like the National Forests, BLM managed lands are also a popular recreation destination, a 264-million acre backyard.
A major component of both Forest Service and BLM managed lands is “wilderness”. The Wilderness Act of 1964 designated 9.1 million acres of wilderness – all of it within the National Forest System. Since then, Congress has designated an additional 25.7 million acres of national forest as “wilderness”. A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean an area retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation. Wilderness is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions: conditions which generally appear to have been affected primarily by forces of nature and providing outstanding opportunities for solitude.
Wilderness is managed under the National Wilderness Preservation System by four federal agencies, Forest Service (34.9 million acres), BLM (7.3 million acres), NPS (43.6 million acres), and Fish and Wildlife Service (20.7 million acres). The National Wilderness Preservation System contains 106,498,016 acres, an area slightly larger that the state of California, in 677 wilderness areas. The smallest wilderness area, 5 acres, is Pelican Island, Florida while the largest (in the 48-states) is Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho (2,366,757 acres).
Two other related categories of land designations are wilderness study areas (WSAs) and “roadless areas”. WSAs and roadless areas are areas that have been inventoried and found to have wilderness characteristics as described in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the Wilderness Act.
In 1976, Congress directed the BLM to evaluate all its remaining roadless areas for their wilderness potential according to the qualifications listed in the Wilderness Act of 1964: outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, features of scientific, historic, or scenic value, and little or no sign of human influence. The BLM manages over 620 WSAs covering about 15.7 million acres in all western states and Alaska.
Under separate direction, a similar evaluation of public lands was required of the Forest Service. That evaluation identified 58.5 million acres of “roadless areas” in the National Forest System with potential “wilderness” characteristics.
These lands remain open to recreation, including dispersed camping, boating, fishing, hunting, and skiing, but are closed to motorized vehicles, except designated roads. Extractive uses, such as grazing, firewood collecting, and rockhounding are permitted according to existing rules, but new mines or oil wells are prohibited.
Federal agencies have recognized that motorized recreation is a viable activity on public lands where such use does not conflict with the land use designation. In January 2001, BLM released “National Management Strategy for Motorized Off-highway Vehicle Use on Public Lands”. This Strategy is aimed at recognizing the interests of motorized OHV users while protecting environmentally sensitive areas on the public lands.
In July 2004, Forest Service released for public comment their Draft National OHV Policy regarding a national approach to govern OHV and other motor vehicle use on national forests and grasslands. That Policy became final during summer 2005.
These policies will provide guidance for motorized recreation access to millions of acres of public lands.
4x4Wire is an advocate for access to public lands for motorized recreation. We promote family oriented responsible recreation. We recognized the positive health and social benefits that can be achieved by through outdoor activities. We also recognize that motorized recreation provides the small business owners in the local communities a significant financial stimulus.
4x4Wire subscribes to the concepts of: 1) public access to public lands for their children and grandchildren; 2) condition and safety of the environment; and 3) sharing our natural heritage. The general public desires access to public lands now and for future generations. Limiting access today deprives our children the opportunity to view the many natural wonders of public lands. The general public is deeply concerned about the condition of the environment and personal safety. They desire wildlife available for viewing and scenic vistas to enjoy. They also want to feel safe while enjoying the natural wonders. Lastly, the public desires to share the natural heritage with friends and family today as well as in the future. How can our children learn and appreciate our natural heritage when native species are allowed to deteriorate and historic routes are routinely blocked or eradicated from existence?
Public lands – for the greater public good, is about your recreation opportunities.