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Leading Environmentalist Asks OHV Users: "When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife?"

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Editorial by Brian Hawthorne

Recently I received a copy of the latest newsletter from the Thunder Mountain Wheelers, an ATV club located in Western Colorado. It contained a trail improvement project story like one you’d likely see in the newsletter of your local OHV or snowmobile club. Check it out: Greenwood Trail Project Report by Mark Willis

All over the United States, OHV groups, whether of the single track, ATV, snowmobile or 4x4 persuasion, put hand to ground in similar volunteer efforts. We have a long history of taking responsibility for minimizing our impacts and making sure our trails are sustainable for all to use. You might think that's a socially responsible position. Think again.

Federal land managers are slowly, incrementally, eliminating our access to our public lands, simply because we either choose or are required to use a motorized vehicle. Today, the U.S. Forest Service is in the process of implementing a new standard for recreational activities. They call it "social sustainability."

You may be asking, "What's that?" With the finalization of the U.S. Forest Service's new Planning Regulations, Social Sustainability is now the new standard for recreational uses on our National Forests.

But since you asked me, I'll answer the question this way: Because the term is not defined, it is nothing less than an engraved invitation to radical environmental groups that says, "please sue us if you don't like our recreation plans."

This effort is designed to rely on public opinion to bar individual forms of outdoor recreation from the National Forests. Hunting and off-road vehicles are two forms of outdoor recreation that are often targeted by so-called "environmental groups" who will be forming even longer lines at the doorstep of our federal courts to impose their personal views on land managers.

The concept of "social sustainability" is new to federal land planning regulations, but it is not new to the environmental groups. Social sustainability was first publicly articulated by George Wuerthner in his well publicized treatise "ORVs: No Right Way to Do the Wrong Thing."

In it Wuerthner proffers the notion that operation of OHVs and snowmobiles, which he terms "thrillcraft," is essentially immoral, and it is time for people who enjoy this type of recreation to be forever eliminated from public lands. He writes:

It's time to ban all recreational use of thrillcraft from the public domain. I personally can not understand how anyone can make deals about thrillcraft abuse. Why is it wrong or bad to operate these machines in one place and not another. Isn't the damage equally as bad? If it's not acceptable on some of our public lands, it's really not acceptable on any public lands. We need to get beyond the idea that we need to "compromise" on abuse. There is no compromise on some things.

While jetting across the United States speaking at various universities and panel discussions, Wuerthner reaches the heights of hypocrisy by equating OHV and snowmobile use to wife-beating and racism.

To those who think we have to accept thrillcraft because they are "traditional" activities, I remind them that the same arguments were once made about segregation, beating up your wife, about smoking in public places, and many other behaviors and cultural "traditions" that were once commonplace. Society now views these things as wrong, and has outlawed them.

(Bold emphasis added.) We don't know if the new U.S. Forest Service "social sustainability" mandate  sprouted from Wuerthner's theory, but it seems reasonable to wonder if the U.S. Forest Service is regretting their 2005 Travel Management Rule. The 2005 Rule established OHV recreation as a legitimate use of our National Forests. The USFS leadership may or may not contain Wuerthner acolytes, but this new "social sustainability" requirement is an open door to people like Wuerthner to achieve their long sought goal.

Americans who enjoy OHV and snowmobile recreation long ago understood that our use needed to be sustainable. All over the US, we essentially "taxed ourselves" via OHV/snowmobile registration programs in order to provide funding to make our uses sustainable. Today, OHV groups like the Thunder Mountain Wheelers are putting efforts on the ground all over the US. We do this in recognition of the need to prioritize recreation management in an era of shrinking budgets and in the face of broader governmental challenges.

For that responsible position we have been placed in the same morally repugnant category as wife-beaters and racists.

BRC and other groups exist to defend responsible and sustainable OHV and snowmobile recreation. We are challenging this new "social sustainability" standard in court. Our groups are not funded by donations from large powersports businesses. We depend on individual OHV and snowmobile recreationists to pay for the work we do.

Please support your local, state and national OHV and snowmobile advocacy group. They are the proverbial "tip of the spear" in defending you from those who would eliminate your access to public lands.

Brian Hawthorne, Public Lands Policy Director   
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