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DC Insider: They are at it again

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Unelected bureaucrats are trying to restrict responsible OHV access once again.

In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which established the legal basis for designating federal public land as Wilderness. This important legislation was passed to protect the most pristine federal lands for future generations – certainly a noble endeavor.

A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are prohibited – including riding a bicycle or using a wheelbarrow. This is why, to prevent abuse, only Congress can create Wilderness.

The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by the 1964 law. Until recently, this rule was generally followed by federal land management agencies. However, as we have seen in recent years, federal agencies have increasingly attempted to limit access to public lands by creating new land-use designations that mirror Wilderness.

However, these agencies are not seeking congressional approval to do so.

On Dec. 22, 2010, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed Secretarial Order 3310 creating a new land-use designation called "Wild Lands" that essentially allowed officials in the federal Bureau of Land Management to manage public land as if it had received a "Wilderness" land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval. This new policy would have restricted responsible off-highway riding in the designated areas.

When the "Wild Lands" policy first emerged, federal lawmakers called the policy a "land grab" and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority. The AMA agreed.  

The AMA opposed the "Wild Lands" policy because it would restrict responsible OHV riding with little or no public input whatsoever. Fortunately, Congress asserted its authority and blocked the "Wild Lands" proposal by refusing to fund it.

However, the fight did not end there.

On Aug. 2, 2012, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced that despite a lack of funding, Wild Lands had been reincarnated within the federal Department of the Interior. Instead of designating targeted land as Wild Lands, the DOI would label them as having “Wilderness characteristics.” This was the defining language used to describe the Department of the Interior's "Wild Lands" policy.

This de facto resurrection of the Wild Lands policy was in violation of the congressional funding moratorium that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order 3310.

Senators and representatives from western states were opposed to the administrative attempts to circumvent Congress.

"Even though these proposals have already been overwhelmingly rejected, the administration is attempting to administratively put these policies in place," Hatch said. "This proposal will give Washington bureaucrats more control over the lands in Utah and across the West. It's wrong, and the Interior Department needs to stop trying to keep the public off public lands."

"This is a prime example of why Congress must exercise vigorous oversight," said House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings. "The Wild Lands policy expressly circumvents Congress' statutory authority to establish Wilderness areas."

Now an additional threat has emerged.

The AMA recently noticed the National Parks Service introducing the concept of “semi-primitive areas.” According to a recent draft environmental impact statement, semi-primitive areas are “areas [where] visitors would experience a more natural setting with an opportunity for solitude away from roads…semi-primitive zone[s]…could be accessed by visitors using only nonmotorized means.”

The BLM has a similar definition, though less restrictive – motorized uses are allowed but kept to a minimum to protect a natural looking environment with only subtle evidence of man-made structures.

This sounds like Wilderness Lite to me.

The AMA is concerned that this designation will be used to ultimately limit – or even end -- OHV use on public lands. In the DEIS cited above, the NPS has stated that its goal is to increase the level of funding for these semi-primitive and rural zones to make certain national parks a destination for non-motorized activities.

Opponents of motorized recreation want to eliminate OHV use so that Wilderness characteristics can return to an area. If this happens, the agencies can then use language lifted from Secretarial Order 3310 to designate an area as having Wilderness characteristics. While the DOI has insisted this will not affect land-use within an area, this designation will be taken into account when designing future resource management plans and DEISs.

This is another example of federal agencies trying to do an end run around Congress to limit OHV access. Wilderness designation, because of the strict limitations that accompany it, is supposed to be difficult to obtain. Designating areas as semi-primitive is one administrative step closer to designating the land as having Wilderness characteristics. In turn, this is one step closer to a de facto Wilderness designation.

Because the restrictions in Wilderness are so great, only Congress should have the authority to designate it. What the agencies are trying to do is rule by administrative fiat, without utilizing public input.  

The American Motorcyclist Association opposes all of these administrative land-use designations because they can restrict responsible OHV riding.

Please join us in working together to defeat these proposals and any that are certain to follow. More members means more clout against our opponents, and your support will help the AMA fight for your rights – on the road, trail, racetrack, and in the halls of government. To join, go to

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Comments  6

  • Alan Roach 16 Jan

    Designating lands as "Wild Lands" without public scrutiny and without the authorization of Congress is wrong.  These lands belong to the people of the US, and as such, we should have a say in how they are managed and used.
  • Bob Jump 16 Jan

    File Class Action lawsuits against the bureaucracies that are doing end runs around Congress in obtaining all of these Wilderness/Wildlands designations without going thru all of the required steps
  • D hughes 16 Jan

    only congress can make this happen, but even if they do, we the people are becomming the endangered specis leave us the hell alone. our government is out of controll they are criminal.
  • John Bricker 16 Jan

    Forest Service uses a classification of Wilderness Study Area.  Once it has been "studied" it never gets "unstudied".  As OHV traffic decreases they decide that it is a Wilderness because motorized traffic is at a minimum. 

    I thought  that part of the requirements of the original Wilderness Act was that the area in question was roadless, or nearly roadless.  Nearly all of the Wilderness areas in Arizona have a large number of road beds in them.  They were traveled until access was restricted and/or denied.  The untraveled roads  eventually deteriorate due to lack of use and maintenance.  It is utterly amazing how many of the hiking trails in the Wilderness Areas are actually a double track, not a single track foot trail.  These roads and areas they are in are part of our western heritage, and we are being denied motorized access to where our ancestors drove wagons and trucks.  In order to complete the Arizona Trail along the Gila River, a popular 4x4 road/trail double track was closed to motorized vehicles.  It is just amazing that hikers could not walk on an active roadbed for a mile or so. 

    Considered the huge growth of motorized offroad activity in the last decade or so is much greater that the growth of hiking, why are we loosing motorized access in favor of foot traffic?  John
  • Thomas Dildine 16 Jan

    I don't care if the NPS wants to designate "Semi-Primitive Areas" which would not allow for OHV recreation. None of the lands managed by NPS allow for OHV recreation unless you consider winter snow machines as OHVs (Yellowstone). I appreciate your letter to me to gain my support of the topic and I fully agree that this is a problem on actual multiple use lands e.g., BLM. However, I suggest removal of NPS discussion as it's not applicable. 

    I'm trying ONCE AGAIN to get someone/anyone to listen to me in Congress etc.  I'm a 100% disabled veteran, and the ONLY way I can get into the back country/public lands IS by motorized means, this goes for water access also. Why can't I get someone to use disabled veterans and the handicapped access as a way to keep open PUBLIC lands to ALL members of the public. Because if you think about it, the only ones prohibited from public lands are the ones that TRULY fought to keep them open, disabled veterans!!!  Motorized vehicle users can walk in etc. BUT disabled and handicapped CAN'T.
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