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BLM takes a detour, rethinks OHV policies

Jeep Jamboree
The Bureau of Land Management is developing a national strategy for responsible off-highway vehicle use.  

January 26, 2000
Web posted at: 2:21 p.m. EST (1921 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

The Bureau of Land Management is changing lanes to revise long-standing policies for off-highway vehicle use on 264 million acres of BLM-owned public land.

"The strategy we will develop is aimed at recognizing the interests of OHV users while protecting environmentally sensitive areas on the public lands," said BLM acting director Tom Fry. "The strategy will also enable the BLM to spend scarce funding resources on managing OHV use rather than on OHV-related litigation, protests, appeals and Freedom of Information Act requests."

BLM's action is the result of growing debate over public land use and the agency's lack of regulatory policies for off-highway vehicles. No deadline has been set for a final plan.

The popularity of OHVs and other forms of recreational transportation has grown exponentially since the 1970s. Technological advances have made it possible for OHVs to reach more and more remote terrain. Suburban sprawl, especially in the West, has turned once-remote public lands into playgrounds for OHV owners.

The BLM has kept an eye on OHV use since the early '70s. Two policy papers, one adopted in 1972 and the other in 1977, established procedures for regulating the use of OHVs on federal land. But many of the policies are outdated and don't account for dramatic changes in the environment.

The number of endangered and threatened flora and fauna on BLM land has jumped from more than 50 in 1982 to nearly 300 in 1997. While these public lands suffer, BLM's resources, including recreational specialists and law enforcement personnel, haven't kept pace with increasing OHV traffic.
BLM's resources, including recreational specialists and law enforcement personnel, haven't kept pace with increasing OHV traffic.  

"Our agency is developing this strategy at a time when westerners recognize the crucial role that BLM lands play in maintaining the appeal and lifestyle of their fast-growing, fast-changing region," said Fry. "Now, more than ever, the public is turning to BLM-managed land as the final frontier for wide open space, as an outdoor recreational playground and as a sanctuary from the stresses of urban life. The OHV management strategy will recognize the importance of each of those values."

The agency has established OHV regulations for about 90 percent of the public lands under its jurisdiction. About 37 percent of that real estate, or 94,850,054 acres, is open to OHV use. Travel off existing roads and trails in these areas, which include sand dunes and dry lake beds, is permitted.

Of the remaining land, 49 percent is designated "limited" and 4 percent is closed to motor vehicle use. Limited-access areas generally restrict vehicles to travel on designated roads or trails.

"The strategy to be developed will reflect substantial input from OHV user groups, environmental organizations, state and local agencies and the general public," said Henri Bisson, assistant director for planning and renewable resources at the BLM. "Once the strategy is written, the BLM's next challenge will be to implement it. I am confident that with adequate resources and the help of our public and private partners, we can achieve our on-the-ground goals."

The BLM, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages more public land than any other federal agency. Most of the land is located in a dozen western states, including Alaska.

Copyright 2000, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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