Motoring on public lands

Coalition aims to protect the use of off-road vehicles

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Dirt bike and four-wheeler riders are revving up to oppose possible motorized vehicle restrictions on public land.

As the Little Snake Field Office revises its resource management plan for the 1.3 million acres it oversees, Jeff Whilden of Craig is working to start an off-highway vehicle users group to protect motorized use of public lands.

The BLM is developing several alternatives for managing OHV use. They include making no changes to OHV regulations and restricting OHV use to certain routes, said Rob Schmitzer, travel management specialist with the local BLM field office.

Right now, Schmitzer said, few restrictions exist for motorized use of BLM land.

But Whilden and other OHV enthusiasts think that most BLM management decisions are made for the benefit of primitive users, such as hikers, horseback riders and backpackers.

"There's never any compensation to the OHV community," Whilden said. "The OHV community seems to be expected to make all the compromises."

Trails are designate for only hiker and horseback-rider use, never just for dirt bike or motor use, he said.

Whilden hopes to gather OHV users at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Fairgrounds Pavilion to start a group called the Yampa Valley Vehicle Coalition.

"I decided someone in the OHV community needs to get off their behind and come up with a voice," Whilden said.

Rebecca Rolando works at Action Motor Sports in Craig and uses public land to hunt and ride snowmachines and four-wheelers. She thinks that no restrictions should be placed on public land.

"Once they put all these restrictions on them (public land), they're never going to lift them," Rolando said.

Rolando plans to attend Tuesday's meeting, but Whilden doesn't know how many others might show up. OHV users are a notoriously difficult group to mobilize. The Northwest Colorado Stewardship, a group that works closely with the BLM on the management plan revision, has struggled to get OHV users to join.

Whilden is co-chairing the Stewardship's OHV monitoring sub-committee but stressed that his efforts with the coalition are separate from the stewardship.

The subcommittee is monitoring OHV trails in the Sand Wash Basin, one of the more popular OHV riding areas in Northwest Colorado. Subcommittee member Luke Schafer said the group has no agenda; it is just trying to compile data about the effects OHV use is having on the land.

Schafer works as a field organizer for the Colorado Wilderness Network. The environmental group has proposed designating areas in the Little Snake Field Office, such as Vermillion Basin, as wilderness. The designation would prohibit motorized use of those areas. But the Wilderness Network hasn't made any suggestions for the management of Sand Wash Basin.

Just as it's hard for people to have a good hunting experience in a field full of gas wells, it's hard for people to have a primitive experience in an OHV area, Schafer said. The Wilderness Network supports managing land with separate uses, rather than having every use on every acre.

"We can manage for both, so there is a place for people who want to ride four-wheelers and dirt bikes," Schafer said. "We're not trying to shut people out."

In Utah, arguments about OHV use have led to lawsuits between the public and land management agencies.

"The idea is to get rid of that, so we don't have everybody suing everybody," Whilden said.

He hopes the Yampa Valley Vehicle Coalition can work with other public-land users to reach compromises that everyone finds acceptable.

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