Off-roaders ostracized by executive order

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Updated Mar 11, 2016

From trucks to small 50cc dirt bikes, off-roading in California has been a popular pastime for decades.

Riding destinations located throughout Southern California in particular have helped create a lifestyle and spur an industry that has fueled sales among major OEMs.

Pickup commercials on TV frequently capitalize on the notion of going off-road and enjoying the scenic outdoors, whether it be in California or elsewhere.

But off-roading in the Golden State is especially popular to the point that it probably caters to more dirt-friendly motorheads than any other state.

In the 1980s, I had a great time going out to Glamis. Here, trucks, dirt bikes and three-wheelers could take on wide-open terrain. It was exciting. There were no fences or boundaries. Just man, machine and endless terrain.

But now off-road terrain is a far cry from what it once was in California.

In February, President Obama issued an executive order that transformed two million acres of public land in California into three national monuments.

The White House reported that the monuments will provide “plants and animals with the space and elevation range that they will need in order to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

Off-roaders, ranging from rock hounds to racers to archaeologists, are disappointed that the president side-stepped local human interests in pursuit of federal goals for plant and animal preservation.

Ironically enough, many of the Californians that the president offended with his land grab are also interested in conservation.

Amy Granat, managing director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, reports that the president’s lone decision will have the greatest impact on what is now dubbed the Mojave Trails National Monument.

The future of roughly 2,000 miles of off-road trails, which includes about a thousand active and inactive mine claims, looks bleak. The Bureau of Land Management has three years to determine which roads will remain accessible to “motorized or mechanized vehicle use.”

Granat, who’s worked tirelessly for years championing access to public lands in California, says the Mojave Trails will prove to be real let-down.

“The Mojave Trails National Monument is going to cause a lot of problems and heartache for people because it’s a really well-loved area,” she said.

Compounding problems is the fact that Granat and others had worked through the years with California Senator Diane Feinstein and other politicians to create land-use plans that sought out a careful balance between recreation and conservation.

“The off-road community as a whole contributes more in California to the upkeep of public land than any other group,” Granat said. “It’s been calculated by the forest service that we make up 80 percent of the volunteer work force in the forests in California.”

All of the work, including research, attending meetings, making phone calls, writing letters, drafting a petition and all of the people interested in protecting off-roading were cast aside when President Obama recently signed his executive order while airborne above California in Air Force One.

It’s unclear if the president ever ventured out and took a single truck ride through any of the lands that he tagged as national monuments.

Just how much off-roading will be impacted remains to be seen. In the interim, Granat is hoping that businesses and OEMs that have benefitted from years of trail blazing in California will step forward and help her and others to promote and protect off-roading as a meaningful lifestyle that is not in conflict with core concepts of conservation.

“If you’re looking to save off-road recreation, you need to look at it more as ‘What can your product do to conserve?’ Whether it’s trails, roads, resources—it’s kind of all the same. What can your product do that can help conservation efforts?” Granat said.

Off-roaders are not doing doughnuts on every square inch of public land. Some simply travel the trails to go sight-seeing and camping. Granat, who has limited use of her legs, enjoys taking in scenic vistas in her Jeep. Banning or limiting vehicle use at these three new national monuments will leave Granat and other disabled off-roaders at a serious disadvantage when it comes to exploration.

The more serious concern for Granat is how quickly the democratic process was discarded regarding the future for roughly two million acres of public lands.

Shortly after Senator Feinstein praised the president for his executive order, she introduced legislation “to create 142,000 acres of off-highway recreation areas around three new national monuments in the Mojave Desert,” according to the Press-Enterprise. Granat appreciates the move, however there’s no telling what kind of traction it will gain. Prior attempts by Feinstein to regulate federal lands in her home state have been ignored by Congress. It was that inaction, combined with growing pressure from environmental groups, which led the president to enact an executive order.

“Off-roaders tend to be the canaries in the mineshaft,” Granat said. “We’re effected first. It’s sort of up to us to sound the alarm and say, ‘Our rights may be effected now, but everyone else’s rights…it’s coming down the road.’”