NOHVCC State Partner Details Total Public Acres Already Restricted

March 2013 Powersport News Dave Halsey and Joanne Spivak

Shortly after the January NOHVCC e-newsletter was sent out, it was clear that one article struck a chord with OHV enthusiasts and industry folks. It was the article titled "Wilderness Designations Have Negative Impact On Local Economies." Based on reader clicks to "read more," it clearly got the most attention and readership.

Following articles we publish on topics of great interest, we often receive a number of emails with more information. One of the emails in response to the "Wilderness" article was from Joanne Spivack, NOHVCC's State Partner in New Mexico. We wanted to share it with you because it contains some additional information on federal land designations and restrictions that may be helpful in your OHV advocacy efforts:

From: Joanne Spivack
Subject: Over HALF of all public lands are now under restrictive designations

I decided to add up all the federally managed lands that are under restrictive designations. What I found shocked me. Guess how much of our federally managed public land is already under restrictive designations?

Let's start with the amount of federal lands. Four agencies administer 628.4 million acres (93.5%) of these public lands, and most of it is in the West.

  • BLM manages 261.5 million acres and is responsible for 700 million acres of subsurface mineral resources.
  • USFS manages 192.5 million acres.
  • USFWS manages 81.4 million acres.
  • National Park Service (NPS) manages 79.0 million acres of federal land (and oversees another 5.4 million acres of nonfederal land). 

US Fish and Wildlife was the hardest to find; it's a mix of federal land, donated land and land under other agencies. I use the "primary jurisdiction" figure of 81.4 million acres from their 2001 land report.

There are 671.8 million acres of public land managed by federal agencies, almost 30 percent of the land area of the United States. (Another website said 655 million acres, which is 29 percent of the 2.3 billion acres of the U.S., but you get the picture.) 

Here are the federally managed public lands where motorized use is either entirely forbidden or where use is very limited:

  • 109.5 million restricted acres of Congressionally designated Wilderness
  • 73.6 million restricted acres in non-wilderness lands in National Park Service Lands (non-wilderness)
  • 23.7 million restricted acres in BLM National Conservation System (not including the BLM wilderness acreage)
  • 58.5 million restricted acres in U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Inventoried Roadless Areas (one third of all USFS land)
  • 6.53 million restricted acres in USFS under other Congressional designations (National Scenic, Recreation, Historic, Volcanic Areas, etc.)
  • 12.7 million restricted acres  in the BLM's 545  "Wilderness Study Areas" (which are described as `roadless areas of at least 5,000 acres offering opportunities for solitude'). The BLM manages these areas to "preserve their suitability for designation as wilderness."
  • 6.6 million restricted acres in USFS Wilderness Study Areas (1993 GAO report). Of these, 2.1 million acres are in Alaska. The other big numbers are California: 624,035; Colorado: 670,461; ID: 1.3 million; Montana: 1.4 million.
  • 3.15 million restricted acres of National Recreation Areas (2.95 million is USFS)
  • 89 million restricted acres managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (They manage 145 million acres as the National Wildlife Refuge System, but it's not all federal land.)

The 25 million acres managed by the Dept. of Defense are not included; these lands are considered "reserved". The land managed by the Army Corps of Engineers is also not accounted for in these numbers.

GRAND TOTAL: 370.58 million acres of the 640 million acres of federally managed public land that already has use and access restrictions. That's 57.9%.

These numbers include only those areas that are totally restricted throughout the boundaries. In all other areas of federal land, there are areas of restriction within its borders. These include areas designated as "Area of Critical Environmental Concern," "Critical Habitat Areas" or areas that are managed for their "Wilderness characteristics." All of these additional restrictions also add up to a large number of additional acres that are `preserved' against motorized access.

We've already lost access to well over half of all federal lands. This is before the Travel Management Rule decisions or anything else. This is before the next Omnibus land bill being planned right now.

We agree that OHV recreation is not appropriate in every place. We understand that some non-motorized recreationists don't want to hear or see OHVs. But it is also apparent that non-motorized recreationists have ample opportunity to recreate on all of the 370 million acres of federally managed lands where motorized use is not allowed.

Bring these numbers the next time you go to a public meeting. Ask them to designate motorized-only trails that don't allow access for non-motorized folks to ensure those people don't have to hear our motors running. See how far the non-motorized people are willing to negotiate losing some of their access to the remaining so-called `unrestricted' federal lands.

*Editor's Note: For information regarding where Joanne found the numbers, download this fact-check document she compiled. 

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