ATV enthusiasts, land users gearing up for battle against wild lands closures
"The goal tonight is to send you home angry," declared Joan Powell, board member of the Castle Country OHV Association. Her audience of about 100 people - some of whom had traveled from as far away as San Juan County to reach the public lands meeting at Wellington City Hall - were ready to listen.
They were mainly people who enjoy driving their all-terrain vehicles along the dirt roads and trails of Utah's outback, along with some ranchers and at least one mountain biker. What brought them together Wednesday night was the consensus that their voices were not being heard in the debate over wild lands use and access.
The theme, repeated by speaker after speaker, was that the Interior Department was excluding all stakeholders in public land use decisions except for environmental interests.
"There's no way bureaucrats in D.C. and rich Yankees know better than we do," stated Fuzzy Nance, owner of Fuzzy's Bicycle Works in Price. Nance, who identified himself as "a pedal head opposed to wilderness," told the audience that the non-motorized community of road and trail users are natural allies.
The important thing is for all the users to stand together in opposition, he said. "They [government and wilderness advocates] know that divided we're easy to get rid of one at a time," Nance warned.
Scott Wheeler, another board member of the OHV group, recalled the time he was taking a tourist down a stretch of particularly rugged dirt road. When he referred to it as a road, she had trouble with the term. "So I asked her why she didn't think it was a road and she said because it wasn't paved. No wonder we're losing the battle," he told the audience.
Wheeler said his organization has a policy of working with the Bureau of Land Management on matters of common interest. Riders have taken it upon themselves to post reminders for people to close cattle gates, for example. They have launched an education campaign to promote responsible off-highway driving. Wheeler also noted that members of the association have gone so far as to assist in bat watching to assist biologists.
Ken Lake, who told that group that he is "a huge supporter of wilderness," criticized the Interior Department's recent Order 3011, which states that land being studied for wilderness inclusion will be managed as if it were already declared wilderness. "This isn't right," he stated.
Lake said that he had spent years as a ranger, and that his duties from time to time involved giving interpretive lectures to visitors. In speaking with some environmentalists, he said, he found that "they are well-intentioned people who have no idea what they're talking about."
Charlie Jones emphasized that the group should be more active in recruitment and influence. He cited the case of two San Juan County men who were found guilty and fined $35,000 for altering an existing public lands trail with picks and shovels. Noting that the Salt Lake Tribune editorialized in favor of the judgment because the work was unauthorized and illegal after all, Jones asked, "What would happen if we all deleted our subscriptions to the Tribune?" The paper would get the message, he insisted.
Jones also suggested that it might be possible for those opposed to wilderness might themselves join the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and then vote against wilderness issues. He also said that those opposing wild lands designation could amplify their message using social networking tools such as Facebook, as Sarah Palin does.
Michael Swenson, executive director of the Utah Shared Access Alliance, noted that his group will be lobbying Congress during hearings this week. "Obama is not king, and Utah is not a colony of the king," he stated, adding that, "We're gonna kick butt on wild lands. This policy is going down."
There were no comments opposing the statements of any of the speakers.