By Garrett VeneKlasen / Executive Director, New Mexico Wildlife Federation
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 12:05 am
In July 2004, USDA Forest Chief Dale Bosworth listed unmanaged recreation – specifically off-highway vehicles – as one of the top threats to the health of the nation’s forests and grasslands. He was talking to me.
During that time, my OHV and I were screwing up hundreds of square miles of national forest behind my home near Angel Fire. Driving wherever I wanted, I created miles of illegal routes, fragmenting big game habitat and creating long-term erosion problems.
And I was not alone.
Across the nation, there was an army of folks just like me doing the exact same thing in their little corner of public lands paradise.
When the Forest Service began to rein in OHV traffic in the fall of 2004, I found the process downright offensive. How dare the “Feds” tell me what I could or could not do out my own back door in New Mexico! How could some Washington bureaucrat know what’s best for my land!
But slowly, as I pondered my own personal effect on Carson National Forest, I began to change my tune. I realized that my motorized quest to quickly reach the game I coveted actually drove them farther away.
With other hunters, I helped in a citizen-driven effort to keep OHVs out of a small portion of the Carson. What was once a spider web of user-created routes with few elk, deer and turkey is now a veritable game hatchery.
Recently the Gila National Forest released its Travel Management Plan, which aims to rein in unrestricted OHV use. For decades, OHV users have been allowed to drive anywhere they want in that vast forest, fragmenting wildlife habitat and causing erosion that fouls streams.
After years of public meetings and exhaustive scrutiny, the new plan reflects a compromise between reasonable access and desperately needed resource protection. The vast majority of routes now closed to motorized travel were either unauthorized, poorly engineered and redundant, or they fragmented critical wildlife habitat and impacted watersheds. And the plan leaves open plenty of roads for the public to use — more than 3,200 miles worth.
In the next few weeks, you will hear cries from a few policy makers and a minority group within the OHV community calling it a “land grab,” and complaining that they’ve been “shut out” of our public lands. The irony here is that people like myself, without public process or permission, claimed this land for their own when we started riding roughshod wherever we pleased. That is the true definition of a land grab.
Now, through an exhaustive public process, our federal land managers are creating reasonable sideboards for Gila travel to make sure the current generation doesn’t cause irreparable harm to the landscape, fish and wildlife, thereby robbing future generations.
I can only hope that the OHV community – of which I still count myself a member – will respect these new restrictions. If we continue to abuse our riding privileges and disregard the law, I fear that land managers will be forced to impose even greater restrictions to protect the treasure that is Gila National Forest.Source... http://www.abqjournal.com/420355