It has taken a few weeks for my concern over the new Emery County Public Lands bill to grow. At first, I thought it would protect our local places of recreation for everyone to enjoy, OHV users included. Now I’m not so sure, nor am I sure when push comes to shove the OHV community won’t turn out to become a sacrificial lamb in the process.
My first concern is some wilderness groups are not on board with this bill. They argue the bill preserves traditional uses, leaves intact too many off-vehicle routes, and does not set aside enough wilderness to protect. We know from the past 20+ years how their opposition goes from all the numerous versions our representatives have presented and had defeated up to this point.
SUWA has released its call to action to defeat this bill stating “The Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018 is a significant step backwards for wilderness and conservation in the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon.” SUWA further states “the bill takes the highly unprecedented approach of excluding (i.e., cherry-stemming) all motorized routes and trails from the National Conservation Area (NCA) and wilderness areas,” and wants all cherry stemmed routes and trails removed from the map legend. (https://suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/Emery-County-Problems-and-Recommendations.pdf)
My second concern is the cherry stemmed routes and trails. The local OHV clubs, Castle Country OHVA and the Sage Riders, have already voiced their concerns over this matter to the bill sponsors stating “cherry-stemming all OHV routes to be excluded from the NCA is intended to protect OHV access, but we are concerned that it would not wind up benefiting OHV riders, and that it would wind up hampering effective management.”
In the House subcommittee hearing on June 21, it was said in testimony cherry-stemming all OHV routes would not actually protect OHV access because in fact the routes could be closed by the BLM-SUWA settlement agreement, which is due for the Swell in just three years.
My third concern is the OHV benefits which have been left out of the current bill but were included in past versions. Examples of some benefits omitted are the West Side Multiple User Community Connector Trail System along with “land desired by cities for open OHV areas” from the 2012 version of bill; and the “recreation zones” concept to promote OHV day loops and long-distance “OHV trail” concept to promote multi-day routes from the 2016 version of the bill.
I understand in the bargaining process there needs to be give and take for the greater good, so I include these items to show the OHV community has been willing to give up some benefits to help the bill. The two local OHV groups have concerns over some of the bill’s language and pressure being applied by some environmental groups. Together, with other parties interested in maintaining OHV access, they are working on 10 of their own proposed revisions to be made in the bill. While these changes do not address all their concerns about the bill they do focus on the larger issues.
So why do I say I’m afraid the OVH community may wind up being a sacrificial lamb? I have been studying this bill and reading all the numerous articles both in our local newspapers and online which are being written about it. One article in particular contained a quote from an Emery County commissioner who said, “The tourism studies we’re seeing say you need to attract nonmotorized users. Hikers and bikers tend to like to go out to eat and stay in hotels. Motorized users bring groceries from home, and then set up base camp with their trailered four-wheelers and never come to town.” (https://www.outsideonline.com/2302291/emery-county-utah-monument)
This same article touts some “facts” as to the demographics regarding some of those from the nonmotorized user’s community i.e. how they tend to be well-educated and well-paid, and how they’ve managed to turn around economies. In an attempt to hammer home the point of how much money nonmotorized users could bring into our area the article states during a PowerPoint presentation to the Emery County Chamber of Commerce July 2017 a picture of a Sprinter van came up. The article’s author says that’s when it really sunk in for those present when the presenter said “You have all seen these, right?” … “They all laughed, because of course they had. Then I said, ‘These things are worth anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000.’ That got their attention.”
An endorsement of the Emery County Public Lands Bill by Stuart Gosswein, Senior Director of Federal Government Affairs, SEMA states “This bill provides opportunities for off-road enthusiasts to recreate on over 7,700 acres of land within the proposed Temple Mountain Cooperative Management Area. This legislation recognizes the direct correlation between providing OHV access and the jobs tied to this $30 billion a year industry.” (https://curtis.house.gov/blog/quotes-of-support-for-the-emery-county-bill/)
Please let that sink in, the OHV community is a $30 billion a year industry. OHV users spend money in our area too. They do come into our towns to buy gas, groceries, eat at restaurants and stay in hotel rooms. Some of them also drive expensive trucks, pull expensive travel trailers and their dirt bikes, ATVs and Side by Sides don’t come cheap. If a demographic study of OHV users has been made I bet it probably finds they are also well-educated, well-paid and they too help turn around economies–otherwise a $30 billion yearly industry wouldn’t have built itself around them.
I urge the citizens of this area to do some research and become educated about this bill, and if something bothers you speak up about it. I also urge Congressman Curtis, the Emery County Commissioners and the Emery County Public Lands Council to please keep the interests of all groups in mind regarding this bill—including the OHV users, and please ensure that our rights and access are protected.