Road closure sign

Disabled individuals are barred from entering Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas because wheelchairs are mechanical devices prohibited by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Therefore motorized access to national forests is critical for many disabled, elderly and even very young children to enjoy our national forests.

Introduction by Editor

On June 26, Amy Granat, Managing Director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association (CORVA), testified in front of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform (Energy and Environment Subcommittee). The hearing, titled “Access to Public Lands: The Effects of Forest Service Road Closures,” zeroed in on the Forest Service’s history of hampering public access to roads on National Forest lands due to pressure from environmentalist groups, or simply to control motorized traffic.

Ms. Granat represents many of California’s off road enthusiasts, and her testimony pinpoints recent Forest Service Travel Management plans implemented by former Forest Service Chief, Dale Bosworth, that appear to be biased specifically against OHVs. The agency’s creation of unclear and contradictory road maps are one example she uses to show that Forest Service barriers to public lands access for Californians are not just gates and chains across roads.

Ms. Granat makes the case that Forest Service road closures are impediments to wildland fire fighters and off-road vehicles, but even worse, the the policies are discriminatory, profoundly impacting people with disabilities, limitations in mobility, or other circumstances such as youth or advanced age.

Highlights from her written testimony are below. You can see her full testimony by clicking here.

*Emphasis added

•We request the Forest Service stay true to its byline as the “Land of Many Uses”. Additionally, we believe the Forest Service should adhere to Congressional intent contained in the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 that mandated forests be used as working landscapes, and: “…shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.”

•Since the inception of Travel Management the Forest Service has violated the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 by engaging in planned and systematic closures of public land to motorized access. The intent to close roads and trails was laid bare in a speech given by Former Chief of the Forest Service Dale Bosworth in 2004 entitled; “Four Threats to the Nation’s Forests and Grasslands.”

•In speaking of unmanaged off-road recreation, Chief Bosworth went right to the heart of the issues by stating; “Off-highway vehicles, or OHVs, are a great way to experience the outdoors. But the number of OHV users has just gotten huge…. We’re seeing more conflicts between users”. This formal condemnation of one form of recreation by the Chief of the Forest Service, and by extension those who participate in this form of recreation, set the stage for forests throughout the country to classify motorized recreation, and motorized enthusiasts as an inappropriate and undesirable component in our national forests. With the encouragement from the Chief of the Forest Service in his speech, closure of public land to motorized travel became not only acceptable, but required Forest Service practice.

Chief Bosworth further explained the rationale behind the Travel Management Rule in another speech given in 2004; “OHV Use: Rising to the Management Challenge” in which he stated;
“… other forms of recreation can cause similar damage—horseback riding, bike riding, even hiking or camping in sensitive places…User impacts and conflicts have grown by the same order of magnitude—maybe more. That’s why we’ve got to change the way we manage recreation”. However none of the other recreational uses stated above by Chief Bosworth have ever been subject to as a closure mechanism as comprehensive as the Travel Management rule. The cause of user impacts and conflict have been placed squarely on the backs of OHV enthusiasts, as no other uses or users have been subject to closure, curtailment, management or regulatory action. Never before has a federal agency condemned an entire group of Americans based solely on the manner in which they enjoy national forest land. Virtually every Forest Service NEPA analysis in California since the time of Chief Bosworth’s speeches have caused massive closure of roads and trails to motorized access, including over-land or over-snow travel.

•Dispersed camping is one of the most popular activities engaged by visitors to the forest and their families. Because of these changes in policy, families experienced finding an appropriate camping space difficult and confusing. Visitors were warned they would be cited and subject to a fine of $5000 and/or 6 months imprisonment if they were found on an undesignated route, even though they often had no idea where they were in any given forest because of the failure of this inadequate map and accompanying lack of signage. In an explanation about how the Travel Management decisions will be enforced, the Lassen National Forest Travel Management page states:

“The MVUM is not intended to be a navigational tool. It also does not display all
the features shown on a visitor map or topographic map…The MVUM will be the legally binding enforcement tool for the Travel Management Decision.”

In short, the Forest Service created a map, not intended to be used for navigation but the members of the public would be cited if they traveled off the routes on that non-navigational map. Aside from causing intense confusion, the deficiencies of the MVUM created criminals from average working Americans trying to enjoy public land.

•Environmental organizations played a key role in influencing Travel Management decision in our national forests. The Wilderness Society, a key influencer for the Forest Service wrote in 2009: “The majority of individuals that visit our national forests participate in quiet, nature based forms of recreation such as hiking, camping, bird watching, and fishing. These same quiet recreationists provide a significant source of revenue for local businesses when they spend money during their visit. It’s important that land managers consider the economic consequences of decisions that they make — such as approving a timber harvest or constructing a dirt bike trail — may result in the displacement of quiet recreationists.” The Wilderness Society actually coined the phrase ‘quiet recreation’ that has become the excuse for closure of motorized opportunities in many forests. But the Wilderness Society uses false information to determine that the majority of visitors to national forests engage in non-motorized activity. Bias in the Forest Service is so widespread, that the National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) surveys used to determine visitation to national forests we have found to engage erroneous information.

•The Wilderness Society recommends closing roads after an initial determination but before NEPA is completed and the public has a chance to engage, circumventing the entire purpose of the NEPA process. The Forest Service failed to comply with NEPA requirements in regards to working with local government agencies to coordinate their planning efforts.

•Catastrophic wildfire might seem like an inevitable act of nature, but in recent years the effects of Travel Management decisions and resultant road closures have proved devastating to fire suppression efforts. In the past, fires were accessible to initial attack because of an adequate road system; now that so many roads have been closed, fires burn out of control as bulldozers struggle to reopen roads leading to the backcountry. Because of road closures in many areas even getting a bulldozer to a fire is simply not feasible. After the extensive road closures with Travel Management it is no coincidence that the incidence of catastrophic wildfire has increased exponentially.

•The Travel Management Plan has had a disproportionate impact on disabled visitors, a fact recognized by the Eldorado National Forest response to comments for their Travel Management Final Environmental Impact.

•The effects analysis does recognize that those alternatives with greater restrictions on public wheeled motor vehicle use of roads and trails impact persons with disabilities to a greater extent than those alternatives with fewer restrictions, particularly for those routes which provide access to recreation opportunities such as dispersed camping, streamside access, etc. As a disabled off-road enthusiast, the effect of my physical restrictions became exacerbated by the disproportionate impact on disabled access by the Travel Management Rule.

•Disabled individuals are barred from entering Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas because wheelchairs are mechanical devices prohibited by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Therefore motorized access to national forests is critical for many disabled, elderly and even very young children to enjoy our national forests.

•The Forest Service refused to consider the importance of disabled access as part of Travel Management analyses. The fact they were denying access to thousands of individuals was no cause of concern to the Forest Service; rather they dismissed the importance of disabled access in numerous public meetings, without consideration or compassion, in a very rude manner. Although the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 specifically prohibits the exclusion of the public (including the disabled, handicapped and elderly) from participating in the use of any Federal facility or program the government offers, the Forest Service claimed these restrictions did not apply to Travel Management.

•Loren Kingdon is an 83 year old gentleman with a prosthetic leg, living in the Plumas National Forest. Now retired, all Loren wants to do is travel in the forest he loves, strapping his prosthetic leg onto his off-road vehicle. After Travel Management, trails around his house were closed and he was locked out of the areas he traditionally visited.

Loren’s experience mirrors that of thousands of other Americans who were purposely ignored by the agency. Considering disabled access would have forced the Forest Service to modify their plans for extreme closure of roads and trails. To this day the Forest Service chooses to disregard the disabled, elderly and wounded warriors in their zeal to implement discriminatory, exclusionary and elitist policies. When did it become acceptable for a federal agency to treat disabled and elderly like second class citizens?

See the full hearing video below

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