Bush opens up backcountry trails to vehicles

Discussion in 'Land Use' started by Bubba Ray Boudreaux, Jan 1, 2003.

  1. Bubba Ray Boudreaux

    Bubba Ray Boudreaux 1 ton status

    Jan 21, 2001
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    Undisclosed Location

    Jan. 1 - The Bush administration, in a move that has outraged
    environmentalists, is about to hand a big victory to Westerners who want to
    use a post-Civil War-era law to punch dirt-bike trails and roads into the

    Untallied thousands of miles of long-abandoned wagon roads, cattle
    paths, Jeep trails and miners' routes potentially could be transformed into
    roads -- some of them paved. Many crisscross national parks, wildlife
    refuges and wilderness areas.
    Scheduled to go into effect shortly, the rule change was greeted warmly
    by off-road vehicle enthusiasts, whose numbers have exploded in recent
    years. Many oppose attempts to fence off wilderness areas where mechanized
    vehicles are banned. Where miners and wagons trains went, so should dirt
    bikes, they say.
    "We consider it a pretty substantial gain," said Clark Collins,
    executive director of the Blueribbon Coalition, an advocacy group for
    snowmobilers, dirt-bike and all-terrain-vehicle riders and 4X4 enthusiasts
    based in Pocatello, Idaho.
    "That historic use in our view should provide for continued
    recreational use of those routes," he said. "The government should not be
    allowed to close those routes."
    Environmentalists say the amount of noise pollution, erosion, water
    pollution and other harm done to the backcountry will depend largely on how
    the rule is handled by the Bush administration. And they're worried.
    "I don't think Congress in 1866 meant to grant rights of way to
    off-road-vehicle trails," said Heidi McIntosh of the Southern Utah
    Wilderness Alliance. "This is flying under the radar screen, but I can't
    think of another initiative the Bush administration is pursuing that would
    have a more lasting and significant impact on public lands."
    In Washington state, huge areas -- including parts of North Cascades
    National Park -- are honeycombed by old mining trails that could be promoted
    by off-road-vehicle devotees as open to motorized traffic.
    Other national parks that could be affected include Grand Canyon, Death
    Valley, Joshua Tree, Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias and Rocky Mountain. A 1993
    National Park Service report said the impact across 17.5 million acres in 68
    national parks could be "devastating."
    The law was originally passed when Jesse James was just starting to rob
    banks and the U.S. cavalry was still fighting Indians. Seattle did not yet
    have a bank or a public schoolhouse.
    It made federal land available for wagon roads, miners' trails and
    other transportation routes. Its purpose was to open the West to settlement.
    It would be nine years after the law's passage before the internal
    combustion engine was invented. Decades would elapse before many newfangled
    automobiles were scooting around the landscape.
    The rule change announced on Christmas Eve by the Bush administration
    rolls back severe restrictions slapped on the use of the law under the
    Clinton administration.
    "We're really concerned about this because it seems like the
    administration is encouraging (road) claims that will affect the parks,"
    said Heather Weiner, Northwest director for the National Parks Conservation
    Outside national parks, wilderness areas set aside by Congress in
    national forests and other federal lands also are in play.
    "It would disrupt the quiet and the feeling that you're away from
    civilization," said Seattle activist Pat Goldsworthy.
    Lots of land is at stake. In California alone, 19 wilderness areas and
    proposed wilderness areas could be affected. A full accounting of such areas
    in Washington apparently has not been compiled, but the Alpine Lakes,
    Pasayten, Glacier Peak, Stephen Mather and Mount Baker wilderness areas all
    contain old miners' trails.
    "You name it, miners have been everywhere" around the West, said
    Seattle attorney Karl Forsgaard, an environmental activist. "So keep that in
    The one-sentence, 21-word statutory provision in question, known as
    Revised Statute 2477, was part of the nation's first general mining law,
    passed July 26, 1866. It says, "The right of way for the construction of
    highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes is
    hereby granted."
    The idea was to induce miners to continue to fan out across the West
    and settle it. To do that, they needed roads, or at least what passed for
    roads in those days.
    That law and its replacements in 1870 and 1872 gave miners the right to
    buy public land for $5 an acre or less if they did work necessary to
    discover minerals on the land. Those prices remain in effect today.
    A few years earlier, Congress had passed the Homestead Act, which
    provided cheap land to settlers willing to build ranches, farms and homes on
    the acreage. That law was repealed in 1976.
    That was the same year Congress repealed the roads-for-lands provision
    of the old mining law. However, at the time Congress gave states and
    counties 12 years to settle their old road claims. Ten years later, Congress
    in effect extended the deadline. But the Clinton administration fought most
    attempts to turn wilderness into roadways.
    Now, the Bush administration says it will finalize a rule giving
    Western states, counties and cities -- some avowedly hostile to federal
    control of wilderness areas -- a better chance to enforce those claims.
    The Clinton administration made it difficult to get the Interior
    Department's Bureau of Land Management to approve the road claims. A burst
    of litigation resulted, much of it in Alaska and Utah. In Utah, some 15,000
    road claims are at issue; Alaska's state government has identified about
    In Utah, county governments angry about the establishment of a national
    monument have become embroiled in a fight over the issue. The state sued the
    federal government.
    And in Alaska, the state government contends that even some section
    lines -- the imaginary grid that marks off every square mile in the
    nation -- are subject to the provision and can be claimed as roads. Until
    now, proving that would likely have involved an arduous legal battle.
    Under the Bush policy, though, the BLM can process the claims more
    readily as an administrative action.
    It makes sense, says the Bush administration, because it saves state
    and federal taxpayers money on court costs.
    "The department felt this allowed them to address the . . . issues in a
    more straightforward way," said David Quick, a BLM spokesman.
    Stephen Griles, a former mining lobbyist who serves as the No. 2
    official in the Interior Department, told a pro-development group in Alaska
    that the rule change was spurred in part by the advocacy of the Western
    Governors Association.
    "The department is poised to bring finality to this issue that has
    created unnecessary conflict between federal land managers and state and
    local governments," Griles told the Resource Development Council in
    Griles told the group the rules would be "consistent with historic
    regulation prior to 1976."
    What's changed since then is that sales of off-road vehicles,
    particularly three- and four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles, have skyrocketed.
    Enthusiasts have started to fight to maintain access to back-country trails.
    Meanwhile, environmental activists are trying to declare additional
    areas off-limits to the off-road vehicles, saying they disturb wildlife and
    hikers, cloud up streams and cause erosion of trails and hillsides.
    The new rule could help put to rest a controversy over a related
    Clinton-era policy, said the Blueribbon Coalition's Collins. A Clinton
    policy banned most logging, mining and other commercial uses in 58.5 million
    acres of national forests where no roads are built.
    But under the new policy, if states, counties or others are able to
    establish a network of legally recognized "highways" through those acres --
    even if the highways are dirt roads or something less -- it would give those
    fighting the so-called "roadless" proposal ammunition.
    At least that's what Collins hopes.
    "That's why we have a real interest in it," he said. "It does have the
    potential to influence this debate."
    In national forests, those trying to open a route to motorized travel
    would have to show that the route existed prior to the establishment of
    national forests -- around the turn of the last century for most places in
    the Pacific Northwest. In many places, though, miners preceded establishment
    of the forests. Old maps can pinpoint their routes.
    "You're talking about going back and doing some fairly detailed
    research in old historical documents," said Paul Turcke, a Boise, Idaho,
    attorney who represents off-road-vehicle enthusiasts, including the
    Blueribbon Coalition.
    It's clear that counties and states have the right to try to open up
    the old routes. Cities would, too, under the new rule. It remains to be seen
    whether private groups such as off-road-vehicle clubs could sue to open the
    "If I had to predict, I would say the trend is going to be toward more
    private interests being involved," Turcke said.
  2. skelly1

    skelly1 1/2 ton status

    Sep 2, 2002
    Likes Received:
    San Diego, CA
    Beautiful. Bush is the most logical, most intelligent, and most bitchenest president ever. He's gonna open up Glamis again for me soon too.
  3. ZonkRat

    ZonkRat 1/2 ton status

    Jan 16, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Lawrence County Tennessee
    I'd like to see some of the old roads opened back up around here.Not really tough,just nice rides.Walked one recently and Used to be doable in stock rig.Would be really tough first few times in built rig.Been closed bout 10 yrs.Other trails still being run still bout same as before.A little trail maint. goes a long way toward preserving old trails.Don't want to make new ones,just keep old ones open. /forums/images/graemlins/crazy.gif /forums/images/graemlins/truck.gifer /forums/images/graemlins/thumb.gif
  4. bigjbear

    bigjbear 1 ton status Staff Member Moderator

    Feb 18, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Marietta GA
    No doubt, a maintained trail is harder for the Forest Service to close. If its on the map/survey and is being maintained it is a road.
  5. ZonkRat

    ZonkRat 1/2 ton status

    Jan 16, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Lawrence County Tennessee
    All they do round here to close trails is nail up red NO MOTORIZED VEHICAL signs and start writing tickets.Doesn't matter if still on map.Nailing the signs on trees usually does more harm than driving trails. /forums/images/graemlins/crazy.gif /forums/images/graemlins/truck.gifer /forums/images/graemlins/thumb.gif

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