Whether you’re tearing it up in an off-road vehicle or all torn up about their impact on the land, you’ll probably want to know about the tongue-twisting new advocacy group known as Rangers for Responsible Recreation. The group, backed by Washington, D.C.-based lobbying outfit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), may be the most influential so far to push for broader regulations on off-roaders riding on public lands. And their efforts could have a spillover effect on private properties.
By Joseph Guinto
This summer, the group, which consists of former National Park Service rangers and former officials from the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, asked Congress to investigate the financial impact on public lands of damages caused by off-road vehicles. The group also suggested that off-roaders who divert from designated trails be subject to having their hunting and fishing licenses suspended and their vehicles confiscated.
Although their concerns are not new, the influence they wield may be. Off-road vehicles have been causing concerns for years, as suburban and ex-urban neighborhoods push into formerly open lands, forcing off-roaders to increasingly turn to the wide-open spaces of public lands and rural, private properties. But many public lands are not equipped to handle the vehicles-trails are poorly marked, if marked at all, and not enough rangers are on hand to guide riders to proper riding places.
That’s where PEER and Rangers for Responsible Recreation want Congress to come in. Calling “reckless” off-roading the “single greatest threat to American landscapes,” they’re hoping to convince lawmakers to account for the damage being done by off-road vehicles to sensitive ecosystems in hopes that it will push Congress to boost funding for protecting public properties.
Off-road riding advocacy groups bemoan PEER’s condemnation of off-roaders but support better trail development and efforts at rider education.
Congress may already be listening to both sides. The House and Senate have passed funding increases for the US Forest Service’s Trails and Recreation budgets for fiscal year 2008. That’s a key line item. Trails and Recreation are where the Forest Service is getting the money to pay for development of a comprehensive trail system for off-roaders to use. That project, launched in 2005, is to be completed by 2009. It would not only pave proper trails but more clearly mark them as well. This past summer, the House upped the Trails budget by $4.6 million from fiscal 2006. The Senate approved a lesser increase of $2 million. The sides are expected to come together on a compromise increase this fall.
In the meantime, PEER and its group of concerned rangers will keep pushing for more out of Capitol Hill.