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What Were They Thinking?

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When a new U.S. Forest Service (USFS) guide to help land managers maintain off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails was discovered to contain anti-OHV language, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and other OHV organizations quickly sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack demanding answers.

The intent of the guidebook is laudable: to help OHV trail managers develop sustainable trails and protect the environment surrounding the trails.

But the document includes a variety of statements and innuendo that reflect an anti-OHV bias, and cites as a source for information an anti-OHV group. This type of government guide should be fact-based and neutral. It shouldn't include inflammatory, biased language and the recommendations of a group known to oppose OHVs.

The 318-page guide, "A Comprehensive Framework for Off-Highway Vehicle Trail Maintenance," was released in January in book form and was posted on the USFS website. But the document was quickly pulled off the website, apparently following protests from the OHV community about offensive language.

Among other things, the document:

-   States "This framework was developed to help trail managers corral the OHV management dragon. The author hopes it has provided some insight into the nature of OHV trails, and some tools to help keep the beast at bay. Happy herding and happy trails!"
-   States OHV use causes an "increase in frequency and intensity of weather events," and acknowledges gathering information from the Wildlands CPR, which is an anti-OHV group.
-   Cites a Wildlands CPR proposal that no routes or trails should be allowed in "citizen or agency proposed wilderness... and other lands with wilderness character."

The report drew attention from a Washington Examiner columnist. The columnist investigated the anti-access group and discovered its name was originally “Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads.” In 2006, the name changed to Wildlands CPR.

Can you believe a federal agency would cite such a biased anti-access organization for a report about best management practices for OHV use on trails?  

On May 8, the AMA received a response letter from Vilsack, whose department includes the U.S. Forest Service. The secretary states the “Forest Service elected to remove the report… from the agency’s website in order to clarify the context for the reference to Wildlands CPR’s BMPs [best management practices] and how the Forest Service develops and uses its own National BMPs. The Forest Service also had concerns about some of the graphics and the relevancy of some of the information.”  

In other words, the graphic images of dragons may have been over the top.

So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether the Forest Service deletes the anti-OHV language and the “best management practices” of a group that believes you shouldn’t be riding on public land.

If the Forest Service deletes the anti-OHV language in the report – after all, it is a report on maintaining OHV trails -- and gets rid of the Wildlands CPR references, then Vilsack and the Forest Service deserve a tip of the helmet for realizing they messed up.

And if they don’t?

Well, instead of asking “What were they thinking” by including anti-OHV language and an anti-OHV group in the report, we’ll be asking “What does this tell us about how the Forest Service really feels about OHVs?”

Let us know what you think. Sound off with a comment below.
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