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Dedicated to conservation and multiple use of public lands for recreation opportunities.

Edited by: John Stewart

Greens Use Executive Orders to Promote Wilderness Values

By BlueRibbon Coalition Public Lands Director Adena Cook

Designated Wilderness is set aside to protect values such as solitude, natural quiet, and primitive and unconfined recreation. Yet radical environmental groups promote these wilderness values for the management of all public lands. How do they manage to insert these values as a major issue in recreation planning outside designated Wilderness?

Executive Orders (E.O.) 11644 and 11989, which govern how motorized recreation is managed on public land, provide the means by which wilderness values find their way into recreation management planning. The relevant part of E.O. 11644 states:

Areas and trails shall be located to minimize conflicts between off-road vehicle use and other existing or proposed recreational uses of the same or neighboring public lands, and to ensure the compatibility of such uses with existing conditions in populated areas, taking into account noise and other factors.

Please note that the E.O. says uses and not users. Are they identical? No. Uses deals with the physical aspects of a recreational activity. Users expands the physical part of the activity into the social attitudes and values of the person engaged in the activity. Radical environmentalists use users exclusively when they discuss conflict, expanding the concept beyond the language in the E.O. Most land managers use the two terms interchangeably and without distinction.

Expanding use into users has allowed radical environmentalists to inject whatever values they choose into the issues that land managers must address in managing motorized recreation. They could decide to take offense at hot pink riding gear. I have seen comments from radicals upset at wheel tracks on trails. Just the thought of you in the back country enjoying yourself on a dirt bike upsets them terribly, or so they state in their letters.

Groups like the Sierra Club have instructed their members who may never visit an area to write anti-motorized letters just to stimulate the user conflict issue. This tactic has effectively elevated user conflict as a major issue in many planning processes, even though it may rarely occur on the ground. As use has segued seamlessly into user, this is the result.

Of course, most dear to the hearts of radical environmentalists is the promotion of wilderness values across all public land. The use conflict phrase in the E.O. gives them the means by which to demand that all lands be managed for solitude, natural quiet, and primitive and unconfined recreation. Other multiple uses like grazing and timber harvest are not subject to the E.O., but they've been effectively demonized by other means. As these resource uses are attacked for impacts on the physical resource, wilderness values are promoted at the same time.

The E.O. states that conflict between off-road vehicle use and other existing or proposed recreational use must be minimized. It doesn't say HOW it must be minimized. Most importantly, the E.O. doesn't say that the conflict must be resolved in favor of wilderness values.

If land managers insist on using users and use interchangeably, then they are obligated to address conflicts in both directions. If they close an area to off-road vehicles to satisfy wilderness advocates, conflicts from off-roaders are increased. Off-roaders' values are violated because their recreation opportunity is lost. Physical use conflicts may be satisfied by separation, but user conflicts are made worse. Land managers can't have it both ways.

Happily, there are many tools available to land managers to adequately address conflicts of use. Information and education tools abound. User ethics and communication among different recreation groups are very important. Land managers need to follow the E.O., but they shouldn't allow them to be used to advance wilderness values across all public lands.


Adena Cook serves as Public Lands Director for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national non-profit recreation group that champions responsible multiple-use access to public lands. It represents over 1000 businesses and organizations with over 600,000 members.

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