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Closed Unless Posted Open - III

by Adena Cook,
BRC Public Lands Director

For the past two years, my September column has addressed the "Closed Unless Posted Open" issue. "Closed Unless Posted Open" is a management option used by federal land managers to control access by closing a large area and posting only the roads and trails where the public is allowed.

As I've said before, many land managers think this is wonderful. It seems to them more positive. They rationalize that the public will accept it better since the public never has to see a closure sign, only a "this road/trail is open" sign. They theorize that "closed unless open" will discourage off-trail damage. They think or hope that the recreating public will never perceive the gargantuan invisible "CLOSED" sign on the whole forest or district.

However, the word is spreading that public lands should be free and open to the public unless there is a good, site-specific reason that has been subjected to a public process. The closed road or trail is then posted with the reason. Closing an entire area and posting only where people can travel replaces individual freedom and choices with federal control. The site-specific reason is replaced with a broad, general prohibition.

"Closed Unless Posted Open" has been gaining ground. Nearly every draft travel plan or forest plan I've seen this year has some version of "Closed Unless Posted Open". Now, we've heard of the possibility that the Chief is considering a Forest Service system-wide pronouncement that would impose this policy unilaterally on all National Forests, possibly by executive order. As we seek confirmation of this direction, we'd be remiss if we failed to alert everyone on this possibility and suggest action.

This happened before in 1992. United 4WD officers, during meetings with Forest Service officials at the Washington office, came away with the distinct impression that the agency was heading toward a "closed unless posted open" policy. They alerted BlueRibbon and the OHV community nationwide. Letters, faxes, and phone calls poured in to the Forest Service and Congressional offices. We raised such a fuss that Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson felt obligated to clarify the agency's policy on travel management. The letter he wrote still stands as Forest Service Policy.

Alluding to a previous meeting on travel management in Denver and addressing the "closed unless posted open" question, the Chief said, "This was not advocated during the Denver meeting; this is not the current policy or philosophy; nor is it intended to be so in the future."

Chief Robertson continued, "[Management] approaches which designate areas as 'open, unless specifically closed' or 'closed, unless specifically open' lead to misunderstanding of agency decisions. Starting from an 'open' designation leaves the impression of maximum freedom of use, but also leaves the implication of only managing after problems have occurred. Whereas, starting from a 'closed' designation tends to limit use and implies an environmentally sensitive position of permitting acceptable use. Both approaches are being used in the agency and have contributed to conflict, confusion, and loss of trust. Neither approach clarifies the agency responsibility for managing travel. Designating appropriate travel, through the land management planning process, using the concept of 'allow, restrict, or prohibit' more accurately reflects the agency's site-specific, on-the-ground, management of travel on National Forest System lands."

When I wrote my column last year, several travel management plans that involved the "closed unless posted open" issue were pending. BlueRibbon and the Ohio Valley Trail Riders have filed suit on one of them involving the Daniel Boone National Forest. BlueRibbon and several California groups had challenged, through the appeals process, another in the Stanislaus National Forest. Our appeal was upheld.

In the last year, we have mounted a vigorous defense against "closed unless posted open". The Stanislaus decision demonstrates that we've made some progress. Now, we need your help to stop "closed unless posted open" from becoming national policy.

Once again, the Chief of the Forest Service needs to hear from you. Please write a letter asking him to affirm the current policy of "allow, restrict, or prohibit" on a site-specific basis. State your opposition to a national "closed unless posted open" policy. Write to Mike Dombeck, Chief; USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 96090; Washington, DC 20090-6090.

Please also send a copy to your Senators and Congressman. Ask them, on your behalf, to inquire about the Chief's intentions. Addresses are: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510; House of Representatives, Washington, DC, 20515.

--Adena Cook is Public Lands Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition. For questions or comments on this article, or on other Public Lands issues, she may be contacted at: BlueRibbon Coalition, P.O. Box 1427, Idaho Falls, ID, 83403. Phone: 208-524-3062, Fax:524-2836. Email [bradena@sharetrails.org].

June 1, 2016 3:10 PM

POCATELLO, ID (June 1, 2016) – Sharetrails.org/BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) is pleased to reveal that its long-time partner in the fight to protect recreational access, Rocky Mountain ATV-MC (RMATV-MC), has agreed once again to generously match each dollar* raised to support BRC at the upcoming annual COW TAG event hosted by Klim, another long-time partner for access.

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April 26, 2016 9:54 AM

POCATELLO, ID (April 26, 2016) -- Sharetrails.org/BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) is pleased to announce the recent release of issue #4 of the BlueRibbon Magazine. This issue is packed with outstanding winter articles and a variety of recreation topics.

Hard copies of the BlueRibbon Magazine should be arriving at doorsteps this week (if they have not already arrived). If your copy has not yet arrived, there's no need to wait! The digital edition of the BlueRibbon Magazine is available today, in FlipZine or PDF versions.

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April 13, 2016 10:04 AM

It's time once again for the annual COW TAG event! Please join KLIM and the Sharetrails/BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) at this one-of-a-kind ride to be held on Saturday, June 25 at Kelly Canyon, ID. Proceeds benefit trail organizations and Sharetrails/BRC. Enter to win a 2016 Beta 300RR Race Edition!...

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