Sasha Nelson: Creating a road map
October 23, 2015
Adrenaline pumps through my veins as I thumb the throttle and bits of mud hit the visor of my helmet. I slow to navigate another muddy patch in a BLM two-track road. A glance in my rearview mirror shows my riding partners, which include a pair of intrepid floppy-eared dachshunds, one on each ATV behind me. Wide grins are stretched across human and puppy faces alike.
After years of interfacing with the land in either large trucks or by using my own two feet, I am finding the experience of riding the small, powerful vehicle exhilarating. It is a swift, powerful way to access the land and still relish the dirt hitting my face and, the smells and sights. The intimate experience I am accustomed to when hiking. I'm hooked, and as I learn how to ride safely and ethically, I also seek information about where to ride.
It turns out we live in a region filled with riding options, and we are living in a time when we can shape what that experience looks like far into the future. Both the Little Snake and White River Field Offices of the Bureau of Land Management are undergoing travel planning. Transportation and travel management planning determines the location and type of "linear transportation-based disturbance" allowed on BLM-managed lands.
Travel management planning has two levels: 1. an over-arching travel plan that acts as a blueprint, and; 2. a route-by-route mapping I think of as the conduits within the blueprint. During inventory of the routes, BLM attempts to gather data and assign attributes which, along with the blueprint, help determine the most appropriate use for each route. Just as mapping wiring and plumbing for a house ensure the right utilities are delivered in the right amounts to the right locations, the job of a travel planner is to work with the public to ensure route maps clearly delineate the mode or modes of travel appropriate for each specific route.
Creating a comprehensive travel plan for millions of surface acres is a complicated task that includes determining if a route (which could be a road or trail) is open or closed to use by OHVs. OHVs, or off-highway vehicles, are any vehicles able to travel across land. This includes ATVs, such as my shiny, cherry-red ride. And because case law singles out motorized travel, this sets up tension in the process. To understand the source of that tension and productively work together to create the best plan for travel on lands shared by all, I turn to history.
Historically, travel across public lands was "open," meaning a person could travel anywhere using any mode of transportation. In modern times, as the modes and purposes of travel have evolved and expanded management evolved, as well. As a result, travel is now proactively managed with specific modes being allowed on specific routes. While this can seem like a direct limit to our personal freedoms, I think we have to put this in context. In the past, there were both fewer people and less impactful modes of travel. Today, we are seeing more people on public lands than ever. Expanding transportation technology has created vehicles capable of accessing areas once thought impossible to reach, and with enough power to leave lasting traces behind. Much of the public land in our region is arid, with delicate soils and vegetation that does not regenerate rapidly, making it especially susceptible to habitat fragmentation.
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Preservation of our public lands and the promotion of their sustainable use is critical to the economic future of our region. Opportunities for motorized recreation needs to be balanced with similar opportunities for quiet recreation — including hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking — combined with the natural scenic beauty in our region — a consistent inspiration to our working artists — to bring in much needed dollars for local business and our county tax base. All of these factors demonstrate the need for clever travel plans.
As I ride along the remote trails, I have plenty of seat time to ponder the future of travel across our public lands. What new transportation technology might the future hold? How can we create plans that provide the best experience for current and future users? With millions of acres available, I am optimistic we can come together to create plans — literal road maps that will allow for exciting rides, as well as space for quiet contemplation.
Sasha Nelson has recently been appointed by the Northwest Resource Advisory Council of the BLM as the wildlife representative for a stakeholder subgroup formed to review the draft White River BLM Travel Management Plan Amendment which is currently available for public scoping.Sasha Nelson has recently been appointed by the Northwest Resource Advisory Council of the BLM as the wildlife representative for a stakeholder subgroup formed to review the draft White River BLM Travel Management Plan Amendment which is currently available for public scoping.Sasha Nelson has recently been appointed by the Northwest Resource Advisory Council of the BLM as the wildlife representative for a stakeholder subgroup formed to review the draft White River BLM Travel Management Plan Amendment which is currently available for public scoping.