Trail-Based Recreation Group Raises Concerns About Gao Surveyposted Feb 26, 2009
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The BlueRibbon Coalition, an off-highway vehicle (OHV) advocacy group, joined eight other off-highway groups in questioning the validity of a nationwide OHV survey of federal land managers. The groups made their concerns known in a February 5, 2009, letter to the Acting Comptroller General of the United States Government Accountability Office http://www.sharetrails.org/uploads/Letter_To_GAO.pdf
The GAO review of OHV use was originally requested by New Mexico Congressman Raul M. Grijalva, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. The survey is supposedly designed to determine trends in the amount of OHV use, potential environmental and human health and safety impacts and how federal agencies are managing OHV use and enforcing OHV regulations. Managers from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service received the survey and were asked to respond. Preservationist groups and OHV access opponents aggressively petitioned President Obama to appoint Representative Grijalva to the Secretary of Interior cabinet post, but Obama declined, opting instead for moderate Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Brian Hawthorne, BRC's Public Lands Policy Director, indicated that BRC and the other national OHV groups sought to work with the GAO to produce a quality product, which would incorporate the perspective of knowledgeable OHV users supportive of active recreation management. BRC spoke to several GAO staffers and provided a variety of information regarding the large volume of vehicle restrictions since the last GAO study (August 19, 1995), as well as examples of successfully managed OHV programs. "Unfortunately, this information was not included, assuming it was even seriously considered, in the final product," observed Hawthorne.
"Any cautious optimism was quickly dashed when we saw a copy of the survey that was going to be sent to federal land managers." Hawthorne said. "Often the call of the question skews the result, and these questions appear skewed to reflect the anti-access agenda from which this project was borne."
Greg Mumm, BRC's Executive Director, said the survey questions are ambiguous and call for subjective feedback not appropriate given the target audience of professional land managers. More importantly, the survey largely ignores the unprecedented and ongoing implementation of a change to "limited to designated roads, trails and areas" vehicle policies on both Forest Service and BLM lands. "The survey will inevitably lead to inaccurate and irrelevant observations about OHV use and access to federal lands, which will shift reasonable discussion away from fact and improperly fuel the anti-access agenda. All nine national OHV groups formally request its recall," Mumm noted.
House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Ranking Member, Utah's Rob Bishop, also wrote the GAO to express his concerns with the survey. Bishop stated, "First, the survey is critically flawed because it fails to consider that the Forest Service (and) BLM ... are in the process of implementing a relatively new policy for use on their respective lands." Bishop continued, "Second, the survey contains numerous questions that are far too subjective, littered with vague terminology, and lacking context." In a December 22, 2008, letter to Congressman Bishop, the Acting Comptroller General defended the study and flatly refused any further review. http://www.sharetrails.org/uploads/BishopLtr.pdf
OHV use occurring on federal lands has increased significantly. All stakeholders agree, and federal regulations require, that OHV use should be managed to minimize environmental impacts and agencies are required to include health and safety concerns in their OHV planning. One must question the validity of a study/report that apparently does not take into consideration success stories and ongoing management activities.
The survey is only part, albeit a critical part, of the whole GAO report. "BRC and other interested groups will wait until the report is finalized to pass final judgment. However, we are very concerned that the GAO report is designed to conclude that OHV use is unmanageable by its very nature, and that prohibition is the preferred management 'strategy,'" Mumm concluded.
BRC applauds the Americans for Responsible Recreational Access, American Motorcyclist Association, Motorcycle Industry Council, National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, Off-Road Business Association, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America and United Four Wheel Drive Associations for their involvement.