Wilderness proposals from various advocacy groups frequently assert that there are numerous benefits resulting from the addition of public lands to the Wilderness system. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has released extensive new research contradicting these assertions.
Often, discussions with elected officials take a far more favorable turn for multiple-use recreation, when the officials realize that the benefit of putting land into Wilderness designations accrues to a very small portion of public users, and negatively impacts many important issues being faced by the USFS throughout the country. This new research includes the following conclusions, which you can use to address Wilderness proposals in your riding area:
1. There is no need for additional Wilderness for recreational usage. 20 percent of USFS trails are in Wilderness areas (Source No. 1 below), and these areas receive only 4 percent of all visitor days to USFS lands (Source No. 2). Routes in Wilderness areas are difficult and exceptionally expensive to maintain, due to strict management limitations (Source No. 3). Teams of horses and mules can move large amounts of materials but are not cost effective when compared to a pickup truck and the maintenance equipment cannot be left on the mules overnight.
2. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently identified that motorized users are the only ones who “pay to play” on USFS trails. And even with this funding, only 25 percent of all routes are financially sustainable due to high percentages of routes in Wilderness designations (Source No. 4). If motorized funding is not available for management of dispersed recreational opportunities, the resources available to maintain any trail greatly diminish and possible impacts expand.
3. The true economic driver for local economies is multiple-use recreation on public lands. USFS comparisons of user group spending profiles, made as part of the National Visitor Use Monitoring process, estimate that the motorized user spends 2 to 3 times the amount of money spent by non-motorized users (Source No. 5). This compounds the possibility of negative economic impacts to local communities from significantly lower levels of visitation after Wilderness designations.
4. Many Wilderness Proposals erroneously rely on the newly released Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Report that concluded that $646 billion is annually spent on outdoor recreation. Wilderness proposals frequently assert this was the result of quiet use recreation. This is simply incorrect, as the 2012 OIA study included motorized usage in their analysis (Source No. 6). Previously, versions of the OIA study attempted to only include non-motorized usage.
5. A recent USFS report to Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) specifically stated that Wilderness Areas are a significant factor contributing to poor forest health and the outbreak of mountain pine beetle throughout the western U.S. (Source No. 7). This position has been repeatedly stated by the Colorado State Forest Service, which has found management restrictions in Wilderness Areas have caused significant outbreaks of Spruce Beetle infestations (Source No. 8). USFS guidelines for management and protection of watersheds identify the critical need for active management of watersheds to insure water quality (Source No. 9). This management is impossible in a Wilderness Area. Limited forest management is specifically identified as a major factor negatively impacting endangered species such as the Canadian lynx (Source No. 10).
6. The critical need for motorized access to multiple-use recreation was recently identified by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). It found that a lack of motorized access was the largest single barrier to those wanting to hunt and fish (Source No. 11). A lack of multiple-use access is also identified as a significant limitation to herd management and herd health (Source No. 12).
7. Agency inventories and determinations on possible designations of Roadless Areas are not management decisions, but are rather inventories of characteristics of that area. Roadless areas are still governed by multiple-use management and changes to management require NEPA analysis or Congressional action. There are significant limitations on the scope of the Roadless Rule, as it only applies to new road construction or major reconstructions. Trails, even those over 50 inches wide, are not impacted by the Roadless Rule. Many areas that are involved in citizen Wilderness Proposals have been inventoried and found to be unsuitable for Roadless designation and this should weigh heavily against any suitability for Wilderness designation.
Conclusion: The next time you are faced with a new Wilderness proposal that is impacting your riding area, please let your elected officials know that you don't support the proposal, and substantively provide them with copies of the reports identified above. Good science does not support Wilderness designations, and makes a balanced discussion of the issue far more achievable.
1. See: United States Government Accountability Office Report GAO-13-618; Forest Service Trails; Long- and Short-Term Improvements Could Reduce Maintenance Backlog and Enhance System Sustainability; June 2013 at pg 30. Complete report is available here: http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/655555.pdf
2. See: USDA Forest Service; National Visitor Use Monitoring Results USDA Forest Service National Summary Report Data collected FY 2008 through FY 2012 Last updated 20 May2013; at pg 8.
3. See: United States Government Accountability Office Report GAO-13-618; Forest Service Trails; Long- and Short-Term Improvements Could Reduce Maintenance Backlog and Enhance System Sustainability; June 2013 at pg 30.
4. See: United States Government Accountability Office Report GAO-13-618; Forest Service Trails; Long- and Short-Term Improvements Could Reduce Maintenance Backlog and Enhance System Sustainability; June 2013 at pg 30.
5. See: USDA Forest Service; White and Stynes et al; Updated Spending Profiles for National Forest Recreation Visitors by Activity November 2010 at pg 6.
6. See: Outdoor Industry Association; The Outdoor Recreation Economy; Take it Outside for American Jobs and a Strong Economy; 2012 report.
7. See: USDA Forest Service; Review of the Forest Service Response: The Bark Beetle Outbreak in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming; September 2011; at pgs i, 5, 12. Complete report is available here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/barkbeetle/home/?cid=stelprdb5340741
8. See: Colorado State Forest Service; 2012 Report on the Health of Colorado's Forests; Forest Steward Ship through Active Management; at pg 5. A copy of this report is available here: http://csfs.colostate.edu/pdfs/137233-forestreport-12-www.pdf .
9. See, generally: Executive Summary; PROTECTING FRONT RANGE FOREST WATERSHEDS FROM HIGH-SEVERITY WILDFIRES AN ASSESSMENT BY THE PINCHOT INSTITUTE FOR CONSERVATION FUNDED BY THE FRONT RANGE FUELS TREATMENT PARTNERSHIP. A complete copy of this report is available here. http://www.pinchot.org/gp/Colorado_watersheds
10. See: Interagency Lynx Biology Team. 2013. Canada lynx conservation assessment and strategy. 3rd edition. USDA Forest Service, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, and USDI National Park Service. Forest Service Publication R1-13-19, Missoula, MT. 128 pp. at pg 75.
11. See: National Shooting Sports Foundation; Issues Related to Hunting Access in the United States; Final Report November 2010 at pg 7, 13, 56.
12. See: National Shooting Sports Foundation; Issues Related to Hunting Access in the United States; Final Report November 2010 at pg 11.