NOHVCC Assists Iceland's OHV Clubs With Workshops, Parliament Meetings

January 2013 Powersport News Dave Halsey, NOHVCC contributing writer

Over the years, NOHVCC has developed many positive and productive partnerships with OHV riders, agencies and organizations across the U.S., as well as in Canada and Australia. Iceland is on that list.  

In late November, at the invitation of that country's OHV riders, Russ Ehnes, NOHVCC Executive Director, and Tom Crimmins, long-time NOHVCC workshop presenter and author of "Management Guidelines for OHV Recreation," spent five days at meetings and rider workshops in Iceland

"We've long been interested in helping people outside the U.S.," said Ehnes. "The NOHVCC board formally recognized that we're now an international organization, so this trip fits in with our mission and purpose. The riders in Iceland needed help and the snowmobile, motorcycle, 4WD truck and ATV communities came up with the money and paid for all of our expenses."

Over the years, a number of off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts from Iceland have attended the NOHVCC annual conference. Recently, legislation being considered by Iceland's Parliament regarding land use prompted them to ask NOHVCC to fly to Iceland, meet with government officials and put on a series of workshops for OHV riders. "Their Parliament is considering a nature law, equivalent to our environmental law," said Ehnes. "The intention and purpose statement of the nature law is very good: to preserve the Icelandic countryside so that future generations can make a living. Unfortunately, there are some things in the law that are reminiscent of mistakes we made in the U.S."

OHV use is a relatively new activity in Iceland. Motorcycles have been in existence over there for only about 20 years, said Ehnes. "You've got a pretty sizable land mass with only 300,000 people on it, and there really haven't been a lot of restrictions or rules or concerns. But in the last few years, the people of Iceland have decided they needed to do some planning. They established some national parks, and now they're looking at more spatial planning, right down to a county-by-county level.

"In general, there's a lack of understanding of OHV management in Iceland because it's a new use. The public doesn't realize there are techniques to manage OHV recreation. They are where we were 30 years ago, where land managers were faced with this looming problem and the only thing they knew how to do was either ignore it or close it."

Arranging the trip for Ehnes and Crimmins were two members of a 450-member motorcycle and ATV club called Feroa og utivistarfelagio Slooavinir (translated: Outdoors Club Trail Friends): Asgeir Orn Runarsson, club chairman, and Jakob Thor Gudbjartsson, club founder and treasurer. "We have about 8,000 off-highway vehicles; that includes ATVs and motorcycles," said Runarsson. "And we have about 8,000 motorcycles that are fully road legal, but that number may include some off-highway vehicles. We have about 5,000 snowmobiles in Iceland." A small area close to Reykjavik is designated for motorcycle and ATV use and good for beginning riders. Otherwise, OHVs are used on roads and user trails, adds Runarrson. "Until now, `road' has been broadly defined and pretty much open to all use, sometimes with friction between different user groups," he said.

Over the course of five days, Ehnes and Crimmins held three meetings with government officials and seven workshops around the country with OHV riders. They were condensed versions of the OHV Recreation Management Workshop, and focused on four areas: OHV riders needs and desires; "The 4Es" (Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Evaluation); basics of OHV planning; and the new Iceland nature bill.

In discussing the new bill, called the Natural Protection Law, Ehnes and Crimmins addressed three main issues with both government officials and OHV riders. They are: 1) A requirement for maps but only printing what's open to motorized vehicles, instead of having a map that's useful for navigation. 2) There is no guarantee that people who are using the land will be considered stakeholders, even though there's a requirement for stakeholders being involved. 3) The government's wilderness definition would be expanded, creating massive buffer areas that would become non-motorized around wilderness areas. That will affect the actual value of the wilderness areas and degrade the value of that term. NOHVCC suggested an alternate definition such as "near natural" or "back country" that would allow people to enjoy it and still protect it from additional development.

Ehnes reports that the reception to their input was good, and that Parliament members were generally supportive of the ideas offered by NOHVCC. The messages on OHV management were also well received. "We're lucky to be in a position to help them avoid some of our mistakes and learn from some of our successes," said Ehnes. "We were able to offer them some alternatives and solutions that I think opened their eyes. They have a long way to go, but there was a definite interest to listen, and if the Icelandic OHV community continues to beat the drum with positive messages, the outcome can be very positive for them in the end."

Runarsson said the meetings and workshops were very helpful to the Icelandic OHV community. "All the experience that is gathered and accessible to us from Tom, Russ and NOHVCC helps us a lot and may shorten the time we need to gain some level of respect for what we love to do," he said. "We plan to translate the NOHVCC workshop PowerPoint presentations and adapt those to Iceland with domestic pictures. We plan to keep up the dialogue to the 60 persons we reached with Tom and Russ, and reach out to the political society to be heard, so that our interests are understood and recognized."

Here are the websites for the OHV and snowmobile clubs whose members helped arrange and contributed to the NOHVCC trip to Iceland (for those of you who speak Icelandic):

A 450-member OHM/ATV club:  
A travel club for Jeep owners, with more than 3,000 members:  
A national club for snowmobilers, with 640 members:  
A fourth club:

Finally, encouraging us all to keep the fun in our efforts for OHV advocacy, an observation from Russ on this, his second trip to Iceland: "If you are at a gas station near Selfoss and someone offers you meatballs that look sort of like ground up Spam and hot dogs on cabbage, have something else."

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